Costs Of Starting A Clothing Brand (Revisited)

My Name is Ray, I run, design, and own Lowdtown Friends & Freaks.

costs of starting a clothing line

A lot of you guys curious in starting a clothing brand have probably read my article “How To Start A Clothing Brand

Those series of blog entries have really taken off since I first wrote them, but I feel like I can talk way more on the subject now than I could back then, and I feel like it’s probably a good time to revisit them. Perhaps some of the old articles still stands true, but I’m going to try to give a fresh perspective on it, because I’ve been working a bit more intimately in the industry and I think I’m a bit wiser on the subject.

I’m not going to break it down into the “amateur, indie, and professional” categories, because they aren’t that relevant anymore. If you’re thinking about starting a serious clothing brand that has the potential to succeed, it only needs to be broken down a single way.

Ok so here it goes… starting a brand costs a lot of money! Fuck what you think about being like Nigo and selling at the club, because that doesn’t happen anymore. Unless you have really famous friends or know a shit load of important people, you’re going to need money if you want to be serious. The fact of the matter is that the indie t-shirt scene is incredibly saturated, more than you would even believe. Trust me, unless you do something really really special no one is going to give two shits about your “awesome” label. There are labels popping up every single day saying that they’re the next big thing, but unless you have the means to impress, no one is going to care.

Ok, so now that that’s out of the way, let’s try to think rationally about how much money you’re going to need. If you don’t have enough money to start a brick and mortar store, the most important thing you need is a website. Unless you’re a rockstar web designer yourself, getting a custom e-commerce site made costs a lot of money. Unlike blogs and other sites, it is essential for an e-commerce site to have excellent UX/UI because it has to be as easy as possible for someone to choose and buy your product. The site has to showcase your products well. If you’re selling something, you want the product to be the highlight, and not be distracted by the intense illustration in the background. The aesthetic of the website has to look professional and complement your brand. If I see a dope t-shirt, but it’s paired with a shitty website, I’m going to assume that the shirt’s probably bad quality too, regardless of the design. With a crazy nice website, you can even charge a premium for the same t-shirt, because people will think that the quality must be superior to Clothing Brand X with the shitty website.

However, this obviously does not come cheap. If you’re looking into getting a top of the line site that shows everyone else that you’re serious, you’re looking at a couple thousand. But if you’re willing to put down that amount and get the proper professional treatment, I guarantee you that you’re already better than 90% of the new brands out there, because it shows that you care. Nothing’s worse than a cookie-cutter default BigCartel or Storenvy site, because you’re automatically dropping yourself into a sea of the thousands of other mediocre brands. I’m not saying that BC and SE sites are always bad, I’m just commenting on the fact that if it’s not completely customized, you’re going to automatically be relegated into a list with all the other shitty brands.

The next thing that comes to mind, even before the actual products is the photography. I can’t believe how many brands overlook such an essential part of branding for your company. How are you going to create the sickest shirt of all time, and take a fucking cellphone picture of it? That’s just stupid! Instead, get your talented photographer friend, or hire a professional to take good quality photos of your products. Also, consistency is key. I cringe when I check out the shop page from a t-shirt website, and I see different proportions and sizes of the product photos. If you’re going to take a photo of your product one way, keep it that way, and if you’re going to switch it up, you better change it for all of them.

And finally, you’re obviously going to be dropping a dime on your products. Being a designer with an ego, I realize one of the hardest things to admit is when you’re not good at designing something. I know I’m not the best illustrator in the world, and it’s important to be able to hand over your design concept to a more suitable artist. Pay a professional designer to do a design that you know you couldn’t do yourself, because if you try to do it yourself, you’re going to end up with a half-assed design. Obviously you can art direct, and make it perfect, but if you’re not the best designer, acknowledge that and learn to step away from the reigns from time to time. Be willing to pay the premium when it comes to professional designers, because that’s what they are and do. If you hire Cheap Artist X from Myspace to design your shirt for $50, you’re going to get exactly what you paid for, a $50 design that looks like shit.

Another important lesson is to learn how to test the waters. Even if you think you’ve produced the most solid line on the planet, you don’t actually know that until you see the results. Instead of making 100 pieces of each design, try getting the minimum quantity, and once you’re selling them, see what’s actually popular and what’s not. I’ve learned this the hard way from having not enough of one design to having too many of another and not being able to sell out of them for a year.

Quality is important, which shouldn’t even have to be said. If you’re not making a quality product, why would you sell something that you’re not satisfied with? Spend money on quality, and don’t cut corners. If you’ve got your own printing set-up, and you can print just as good as the professionals, congrats to you. But if you’re not at that level, don’t pretend that you are; leave it to the professionals.

If you want your brand to be taken seriously, every bit of branding matters. Make professional stickers, hangtags, polybags, mailers, etc. You need to spend money to make money. It’s all about looking at your brand objectively. We all fall in love with our own products, but can you look at your own brand from the eye of the consumer? What looks unprofessional and poorly done, what could be improved on? Those are questions you have to ask yourself before presenting something as a finished product.

If you’ve managed to follow everything on this list, I’m hoping that you’re in the top 5% of new indie clothing brands out there. Summarizing everything we just looked at, I hope you understand the weight of starting a serious clothing brand. We’re talking about: $1500+ for a professional website; $1000+ for professional branding and logo design; several hundred for photography; $1000+ for designs; however much you’re spending on your products; and money for mailers and stickers. In total, I’d look to have at least five grand, if you want some decent capital to start with. Obviously these are just my thoughts on the subject, and there have been brands that have cut corners and succeeded, but not everyone would be able to do that. If you’re starting up your brand as just a hobby and for shits and giggles, that’s fine by me, but if you’re seriously saying that you’re going to be the “next big thing,” you better be backing your words up with the quality. Good luck!

Note from Jon Kruse:

Ray knows his shit and I agree with everything except the money it takes. You don’t want to cut corners but at the same time running a successful clothing company isn’t just about having an awesome site, great designs, and your final product. It’s a business and with any new business you need to learn how to run it and manage it. If you gave me 5 grand when I started I probably would have foolishly spent money on things that weren’t necessary. No matter how much money you gave me I still wouldn’t know how to sell shirts, you just have to learn. I have a good article called Fail Fast, which I would suggest any people new to the t-shirt world to read.

If you are a veteran though, by all means go all out. You know how to do it.

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  • Deee

    Thanks for that Ray, very useful tips!

  • Rohan A

    Hey ray nice article!!:) can follow some points!!

  • Dave Peele

    I read this article about 2 weeks ago and it was very helpful!  We are in the process of launching our clothing brand at this time and we are real excited!  Doing it on a budget is very important!

  • T Shirt Printing London

    Ray–great article. I keep trying to tell my friends the same things you articulate in your piece. Everyone thinks they can start a guerrilla tshirt label these days…

  • T Shirt Printing London

    Ray–great article and very well articulated points. I keep saying the same things to my friends who think that they can start an overnight guerrilla marketed t-shirt brand, but they just don't get it.

  • Gsbishop410

    Great Article, anyway possible I could get the authors email address? The “Contact the Author” tab isnt working. Thanks!

  • Iry

    This article is going to make a lot of serious people rich

  • Alina Meza

    thanks! took some notes!! I was looking into getting a something like a Big Cartel website, and all I could find were cheap looking websites, so I was disappointed. But I figured I'm not a professional yet, so why spend money on a professional website designer? I see now that it doesn't take as much as I imagined it would, and I would rather spend the money then be thrown into the “mediocre pile.” 😛 lol thanks!

  • Kyle K

    Thanks for writing this article. A couple questions for anyone out there i am working on my business plan still for my clothing company still, and was wondering if the best way to go would be to buy the clothing from a screen print company or find one where you supply the shirt. Also, I have been doing some pricing for sometime now, anyone have any suggestions of screen printers?

  • Louismoreau 2

    1500$ for a professional website is delusional. 10 times that amount is not enough for something regular.

  • jonkruse

    I know of many people who have gotten great work done for a lot less, and crap work done for way more. $1, 500 for a professional website is not a delusion.

  • Kirby

    Hi. Do you need to have all if the legal deals done before hand? Like copyrighting? Trademarking before you go the shops and approach people about your brand and products?

  • T-shirts Online India

    hi Ray

    you mentioned many point here but i want to focus on one point to get more gain in my profession is BE and BC

  • Aliu

    We are on the same boat. Screening cost is broad, the thinner it is, the more expensive it gets. Anywhere from 5~15 usd per screen. Single sided.

  • Carminstant@twitter

    awsum article …FUNNY AS SHIT …thanks aloooot

  • SGallday

    there are a lot of good companies out there but i am using a compani called Jakprints. the customer servise is great and they will work with you every step of the way aswell as demand a proof befor an order is even started. depending on the amount of shirts you do they can be pricey but if you want quality they are there with it. minimum order is 12 shirts anf the max is 1152.

  • Yuji_sasaki_2

    im trying to make a streetwear clothing brand.. but the thing is im gonna do it in my country which is streetwear is not well exposed .. just thinking how would i expose my brand to people.. thinking of hosting battle of the bands then sell it there .. is it good idea? im only 20 btw major in business ..



  • B1417741

    As a person who has started his own clothing brand, I know you're full of shit and talking out of your ass. You're a retard. We started our brand for less than $500. My buddy's a photographer, I'm a designer. We got our stuff manufactured in China and now we're selling it for profit. WIN! …Fail post.

  • Scoota Watson

    I started Sold Out Creations in May 2011.  I spent money buying new equipment to make top quality custom clothes now I am in need of funds to keep inventory.  I have $4,500 worth equipment and failed cause now I have no capital.  I have loads of orders but stuck looking for investors now.  My work is in big demand an close to blowing up here in my city (Memphis, TN).  Its a hassle when I can't keep inventory up in stock to supply the amount of orders I have lined up.  Thanks to my loyal clients they are willing to wait on they order.  With this being said I learned my lesson in a major way honestly!  The nest business I start I will be a winner!  I am always looking for mentor, business friends, and others on the same path as I you guys can email me anytime at as well!

  • Billplowman

    you sound as smart as you talk…. taking advice from someone who doesn't even carry himself professionally in his article. Muttered words wisdom followed by profane obscenities. Take a minute and really digest and search to see how many truly credible websites follow his website in their posts, articles, and blogs.

  • jonkruse

    Are you made because he used a little profanity?

    I've known Ray for a couple years and he loves what he does and has done a great job with his clothing company. Instead of being a boy scout maybe you should listen to what he is talking about.

    What part of this article do you think isn't credible. Do you think you should not get a quality designer and pay $50 for a design? Do you think it is a good idea to get a bigcartel site and just leave it as a the cookie cutter preset design it comes with?

    Really I don't understand your argument because you haven't made one!

  • jonkruse

    I'm guessing this is you again Bill. Awesome you were able to make a clothing company by doing it all yourself. I haven't seen the outcome of your products, maybe they are good maybe they are not. China does have some good manufacturers but also a lot of shitty ones to.

    I know personally I am a good designer but I still pay others to design for me. I do the same for photography and anything else that where I can get the cream of the crop work for me and make my brand look better.

    Just because you did it differently doesn't mean Ray's way is wrong. Even I put a personal comment at the end saying it's not all about money.

  • jonkruse

    Nope. Someone can steal your name if it isn't trademarked but who would do that to a start up clothing company. Also what most people don't think about is that you'll have to find and prosecute those people that do use your name.

  • jonkruse

    I would recommend they supply the shirts.

  • jonkruse

    I have designed mostly on bigcartel and wordpress. You can check out my work at http://www.doubledragonstudios

    As you can see a lot can be done with bigcartel.

  • jonkruse

    There is a link to his brands website in the article. You can try there

  • Skewed Minds LLC

    Firs and foremost I want to thank you and just tell you that my Investment Opportunity Company, Skewed Minds (LLC) is going to be launching a LTD Apparel company focusing on T-Shirts, Hoodies, Costume Shoe designing, and PC & Mack Protective skin Designing.

    I have a screen printing concept that is working very well right now and EVERYTHING YOU SAID IS ABSOLUTELY “CHURCH”! (absolutely infallible.)
    Seriously, I spent $1500 on what it takes to generate T-shirts and I WILL make something to the effect of 2400 per unit of t-shirts (depending on where I get the shirt blanks from).

    PLEASE hit me up and I would like to ask you some direct questions about how things are done and i am willing to tender compensation for consultations.

    No BULLSHIT! you can find me & my work via Google, Key words “Skewed Minds”. I am an entrepreneur to the absolute core and I am actually attending school to refine my skills.

    THIS IS NOT SOME HALF ASSED POST TO INCREASE MY SEARCH RESULTS!!!  I mean what i say… or type. Any how please check out and look at the Skewed Minds Network. My apparel has MANY points of distribution and a unbiased (and brutally honest) professional opinion is what I need before I fork over the cash to my lawyer for trademarking and brand security.

    Thank you and I hope to hear from you soon,

    Nick “K.B.” Drew
    President & CEO
    Skewed Minds, LLC
    @SkewedMinds:twitter via twitter

    P.S. If you are reading this post, take if from a person who has failed enough to have what it takes to succeed. I am the web master & designer for every web domain on the Skewed Minds Network… without a web site in 2012 YOU ARE IRRELEVANT! Be blessed.

  • Issie Ishiyama

    Jon, how much should a premium logo cost to get done (minimum and maximum)?……

    Like I said, I printed this article out because I think it should be studied and used as a sort of check list. 90% of the things Ray discussed I do now, and as you said Jon if you don’t know how to sell shirts you just have to learn…this is where I am now, learning. Thanks guys!

  • The Gingerbread Man

    Best Fucking article ever bro! I learned a ton. Thanks.

  • Ahmadayyash99

    i’m a 15 year old teen, and i found this blog, and another one very well done. i’ve learned so much from it! i thank you sooooo much! i want to start my own “clothing line” i’ve already figured out the name and maybe what i wanted to sell, but i’m not sure on who can get the clothing done for me. i’m planning this out once i’m done with highschool. i hope it works out. i’d love it if you would suggest some websites to help me out on who can help out etc. i want to go big, big as in michael kors big. if i could rate this page out of 10, i’d give it a 11. haha! i’ll probably work my ass off for 3 years and then start out a business. i just don’t know where to start. it’s always good to know what i’ll be doing, but again, i don’t know anything…. i’m planning on learning and read through a lot of blogs to get an understanding of it. hope to hear from you soon! -Ahmad

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  • GregoryGMason

    good shit

  • Bigboy

    Your website is garbage! We’re in 2012 web design not the 90’s. Take your IRRELEVANT crap elsewhere!

  • morganculture

    I’d recommend doing a logo contest via one of the logo contest sites. Tons of designers will submit their work and you can choose the top few and have them keep working with you for any changes. The selected designer is the one who gets paid! These are way cheaper than working with an individual designer and are much more efficient- you get lots of ideas very quickly. Just make sure you make your goals and company and audience clear to the designers.

  • dott

    Thanks for your articles, helps me a lot understand clothing stuffs, sorry for my english.
    I’m running my clothing line too, also doing some freelance work in crowdspring, 99d’s, etc. Illustration is my best, mostly cartoony(simplyfied)illos.
    Push, push, push, keep moving forward everyone! thanks.

  • jonkruse

    These are cheap alternatives but you do get what you pay for. Any quality designer knows to stay away from SPEC work. It’s just bad for the industry. You wouldn’t have 5 different mechanics fix your car and the best one gets paid. It’s ridiculous in every industry except somehow acceptable in design. Check out

  • Morgan Culture

    I understand your point, and yes, spec work *can* be harmful to industries. And let me begin this by saying I personally have never used one of those contest sites or a contest, and have always been lucky enough in my life to be able to pay for or barter for design I needed. However… Spec work is *not* all bad for industries.

    Let’s start with your strange comparison with mechanics. No, nobody expects mechanics to work for free. However, mechanics are generally vetted via an apprenticeship and certification program- while most types of designers are not. Designers rely on these things called portfolios, which are only built by completing quality work and showing it to potential clients. Doing spec work may not result in a paycheck, but will always result in a finished product the designer is happy with (whether or not the client is), and that product can be added to the portfolio, which will be shown to other potential clients and make that designer some real money (therefore making the spec work worthwhile whether or not it is purchased). No, this type of portfolio-building is not necessary for proven talented professionals, but those beginning in the design world may find a spec assignment challenging and useful in developing their skills working with clients as well.

    Furthermore, saying that spec work is “ridiculous in every industry except design” is patently false. Have you ever worked on a film? Many of the films shown and picked up at Sundance every year were shot on spec- meaning that everyone from accounting to editing to camera operators to talent was hired on spec and will likely make nothing from the entire shoot. Most of those films are never even accepted into Sundance. A huge percentage of writers (fiction, non-fiction, and journalists) work entirely on spec, hoping their work will sell when it’s finished, and occasionally receiving an advance for an incomplete project. Many visual artists complete pieces for specific shows (ex. “make a sculpture entirely of zip ties and see if it makes it into this show”). I’ve worked on films myself, contributed costumes for fashion shows and magazine shoots, and even edited video on spec. Essentially, when I’m considering working on spec, I use a risk-benefit analysis, which ANY savvy businessperson should:

    -What can I potentially get from it? Is it pay, connections with the kinds of people I need for my next project, free products I’d be buying for myself anyway, or my name on a credit roll that will reach hundreds of thousands of people in my field?

    -How much time will it take, and how much is my time worth? If it’s for a charitable cause, can I write it off on my taxes for the time I spent donating to them, even if the spot or event doesn’t get picked up and sponsored?

    -Do I have any high-paying work that will take precedence? Do the organizers of the spec project understand that any paid assignment will be worked on in a much more timely manner than the spec one?

    And most importantly: Will I have fun?

    People not weighing these consequences will fail in business, whether it’s through spec work or bad business decisions later. Any designer who feels victimized by the idea of spec should simply not work on spec projects. And yes, businesses get what they pay for with these scenarios- but from what I understand, this article was written with the intent of helping people who are just starting out with clothing brands- which means they likely have few or no sponsors and very little budget for design at this point. They just need *something*. Therefore, small new businesses can work with small new designers to advance the credibility of both parties as both work towards their goals of bigger budgets and higher-paying work… and hopefully they keep working together as the clothing designer can pay more and the graphic designer can do better work.

    It’s really not as bad as people make it seem.

  • jonkruse

    I agree not all SPEC work is bad. With threadless and design by humans designers can post their designs and can end up being compensated very well for them. They are posting art they created not something a client has asked for or or edited in any way.

    Saying that SPEC “will always result in a finished product the designer is happy with” isn’t true at all. When you’re working for a client you aren’t working on something for yourself, you’re working for a client. You do what they want, it is a job, and with SPEC work it’s a job you might not be compensated for.

    With most of the examples you gave it was of artists doing what they loved, not someone telling them to make a movie or write a book then deciding later if they want to buy it. I think there is a huge difference in doing what you love with the possibility to be compensated for it and doing one of these SPEC logo contests where it is client driven. Making a designer work for free for you is not ok.

    You’re not going to find any respectable design source that is praising SPEC work and companies like 99 designs.

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  • ejtatts

    A good custom logo will start at $500. That will include all the files needed to produce your logo in any medium as well as the copyrite. Make sure out looks good in black and white too! The colors and effects, if any should be switchable.

  • bjon86

    Hey Jon. How much do you charge for a site like those on that link? My email is

  • jonkruse

    fill out a contact form on

  • Baztard Da Shrimp

    Wrong. A big brand/company, could come across your little fresh idea, just take it and use your name for their seasonal collection. They will use it, clean their ass with it and move on the next subject. Meanwhile you can’t have that name/slogan anymore and have to start everything from scratch.
    (This happens on daily basis, big brands and corporations bite everything they came across, they dnt have time to think and create.)

  • jonkruse

    Although this is true, the idea that some big corporation is going to steal your ideas before you’ve become profitable and have a decent following is laughable.

    Work on your company and becoming profitable and your customers and trademark your company name when it makes sense (when you have the money).

  • Mike Mazzone

    this article says nothing about where to look for a supplier of high quality clothes to make your designs with.

  • jonkruse

    Their are tons of wholesale suppliers, google it