Introduction to Starting Your Own Fashion Label | Greg Armas | Skillshare

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Introduction to Starting Your Own Fashion Label

teacher avatar Greg Armas, Assembly NY, founder + designer

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Establishing Your Niche Market


    • 2.

      Articulating Your Designer Mission


    • 3.

      Developing Key Relationships.


    • 4.

      Developing Key Relationships (continued)


    • 5.

      Designing Sales + Marketing Strategy


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About This Class

I'm the founder and designer of Lower East Side-based Assembly New York. I launched my menswear line in 2009 and presented my first womenswear collection at Milk Studios for NYFW in 2012. As a self-taught designer, everything I know about starting and running my own fashion label I learned by doing. Hindsight is 20/20 and in this class I'm going to teach you the fundamentals I wish I had access to earlier.


What You'll Learn

One of the most crucial lessons I learned over the past 5 years is that knowing what you're talking about - whether to potential partners, buyers, investors - makes all the difference in your success. Here are the fundamentals we'll cover:

  • Establishing Your Niche Market. Most small startups cannot even finance an entire collection, deciding what categories or articles you will focus on will offer legible and fiscally realistic goals. Staring out with a wide net  is a plan for difficult challenges, everything you may “catch” is a new, unplanned for, moving part you are now accountable for. Best to start with spearfishing and select your targets
  • Articulating Your Designer Mission. Independent designers are required to learn the language of their business and current marketplace attitude to effectively communicate their goals and needs relevantly
  • Developing Key Relationships. Labels live and die by their relationships with suppliers (fabric and trim providers) and producers (sewers) - how to successfully develop and maintain these relationships. 
  • Production Management. Understanding the production cycle and the key relationships necessary to produce your garments is foundational and often misunderstood/fantasized. 
  • Designing Sales + Marketing Strategies. How to get people to know about you and your product. Do you need a show room? A press show room? Tradeshow access? 
  • Building In-House Sales Processes. How to navigate the logistics of receiving, producing and shipping orders - surprisingly crucial skills for not losing money on your orders!
  • Securing Investment. What to consider when you don't have the luxury of someone else's cash. 


What You'll Do

In this class you'll be able to start the process of launching your label with some foundational first steps: establishing your niche market and articulating your designer mission. You'll have the opportunity to share your work for feedback from fellow classmates all over the world. 


Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Greg Armas

Assembly NY, founder + designer


Before relocating to New York in 2008, Armas worked as an architectural and retail consultant in Tokyo. Through a lifetime relationship with vintage, design was self-taught, learning from the past to inform future aesthetics.

Assembly New York opened on Ludlow Street in spring 2008, focused on debuting independent labels from around the world. Established the Assembly mens collection in 2009: a range rooted in authentic materials, tradition and future-primitive details. In Fall 2012, the womens collection launched with presentations during NYFW at Milk Studios and in the eponymous boutique, with online support from

A vertical company, all garments are sewn in New York city and currently stocked in over 45 finer retailers internationally. Ongoing pr... See full profile

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1. Establishing Your Niche Market: So, in unit one, Establishing Your Niche Market, there are three steps that I have highlighted using my experience, like I said, first as a buyer and store owner, and then watching how clients actually buy clothes, and then as a designer trying to contribute back into that system. Your emotional investment into the brand itself, this is just one way of approaching, but in what I've seen in terms of, especially like a debut collection, if the designer is truly being honest and quite expressive and pure in their involvement with a collection, that's something that comes through. So what does that really mean? It means that if you're into swimwear, and therefore you like swimming in the ocean, you want to make some swim trunks. That to just go out and start a swim trunk company is all fine and good, but you haven't given any one any reasons to love you yet. You haven't given them the details about you and your company that are going to allow them to want to choose your swim trunk over your competitors. So, as opposed to having a swimwear line, you find those things about it that companies that are particularly of interest to you. Is it for men or for women? Do you have prints? Do you not have prints? Is it for people who surf? Is it for people who don't surf? That kind of identification of your goal client and based off of your personality, I find to be a successful model. The second then is the idea of editing to refinement. One of the reasons theret hat I find it's best to take your large concept, we'll just keep going back to the swimwear idea, and kind of editing coming down tighter and tighter and tighter usually is that you have financial and fiscal reasons for that. You cannot make a pair of a board shorts for every person and every color that fit everyone perfectly. So you need to identify by refining who is this for exactly and then what kind of words or kind of personality does your product have? So that meaning, like I said before, we're going back with the board short idea, is it an athletic short? Is it a short meant for someone who wants to look athletic but actually isn't? These are different concerns. So identifying the lifestyle within your label is important. That follows right into the third point of establishing your niche market, which is understanding your client's expectations. To quickly summarize there, essentially, especially you're beginning a company, it's difficult for you to match the quality and price of your competitors in the marketplace, whether it be someone who's made it for a long time or that has a greater resource. So, I think understanding where you're coming in with your product and what your client's expectation of your contribution are, are important. Meaning, if your item, your pair of shorts costs you $400 to create, then it's important to know who else around you is creating $400 shorts that your client is possibly purchasing from and how your item then measures up in terms of quality, in terms of longevity, in terms of details, packaging, things like that so that you understand as if you were out buying the pair shorts yourself, why is this person going to pick your item? Understanding what else is out also in the marketplace that someone is looking at compared to your piece is vital and I think getting out and actually shopping your competitors' and understanding your small niche market is part of establishing that you have to understand who else is in your niche market to actually establish it. So, for my own company, my emotional investment was the fact that I personally was unable to find these sort of smaller tailored suits that I was looking for in other shops. My refinement of my idea was the fact that though I did want to make an entire collection, I stuck with just making that one suit, that one particular thing that it was that I couldn't find and was most passionate about. Then, thirdly, in understanding my client's expectations, I then, in making that suit, I went and looked at who else was making suits and what price point there are available to see. Is someone going to be comparing my suit to brand X here or brand Y down here? In my sense, I had a unique advantage with understanding client expectation the fact that I had been retailing first for 15 years. So there's a lot of background with just seeing how people shop and their expectation on the sells were. One great tangible physical act that you can do to help reign in your concept is to go, A, to other stores that carry something similar to what you're going to be making and actually taking the time to look at what they have available, the colors, what sizes they have and then also we say look at the sale rack and see what hasn't sold within your category. I'd actually take the time to speak with the salespeople and ask them why those items didn't sell and why are these things in the sale rack. Why were they not popular? There's a way for you to help even edit down your visual but more by looking at maybe if you're really dying to make the pink men's board shorts, if you go to three stores, and they're on the sale rack, it may not be the most lucrative way to go. Secondly, with obviously online shopping mean so massive. You can hop online and do the exact same study which is really quickly look at what people have actually bought, what they have and available from their online stores, how does it measure up to what you'd want to contribute and then same thing what do they have on sale, what hasn't performed well for them? Making sure that your contribution to something that seems to be on the performing side and that you're not making an item it looks like it's going to end up in the sale rack hopefully. 2. Articulating Your Designer Mission: So, within your designer mission, regardless of the variance of your aesthetic or different companies intentions, there's two or three points you need to always have, there's two or three ideas you need to make sure always clear and legible to people within that. Essentially, what you're doing with your designer mission is a little bit of storytelling. So, think of it as a bit of interesting writing, meaning that you don't want it to be just dry and informative. It also shouldn't be pure poetry. So, having something that is interesting, but also understandable and quick to read. Some of the elements that you're going to want to make sure that are in there are your history of the company. Now, that can mean a couple of different things depending on how your brand is structured. So, this could mean your designer history, you as a person, or the group of you that designed the collection, and why you're designing it, and for literally how long that process has been going on. That also could be the history of the concept if you have a strong concept that drives your aesthetic and the rest of the brand. Where did that idea come from? When did it begin? What was it inspired from? You also could have the history of your manufacturing. If your company is making socks and you're making them with a 100-year-old mill in Connecticut, then it's important to list that. Then you can have some personal history as well if it's of interests and can make a unique statement for you. What those allow is for a buyer, someone like myself, to be able identify what it is that you're going for with your brand and which of my clients it would be for. Meaning is this a heritage line that is rooted in its manufacturing and its history, is this a conceptual line that is for people who are looking for something new and is based in art and new ideas so on and so forth. The second thing after history that you're going to want to identify within your mission statement is going to be your brand intention. I call that the who for and what for. Who are the clothes intended for? Obviously, there's some basics meaning you need to list, is it a man's contemporary brand, is a women's ready-to-wear label, is it a children's evening wear line. Obviously it's clothing, but what type of clothing is it and who exactly is if for and what type of day and what's the perfect scenario for the clothing. So, painting a little bit of the picture for the buyer for whoever's reading your designer mission of what the, like I said, the ideal scenario would be that your clothes would be being worn then, and then the who for meaning who is that person, and what are they doing. Is this not, like I said before, is this an athletic line, is this something that's about the way it looks, is this line that's about the way it feels, is color important to you, is texture important to you, identifying what it is that you want people to appreciate in your intentions, and the actual language itself informs that. To the other example with assembly, we use a word, like I said, quiet authority, and their quiet is very intentionally used because I felt like within the fashion world, there were so many loud labels that I wanted to create something that was for the people that were looking for something quieter, for something that wasn't as loud and as kind of garish. But then the use of the word authority is important there as well because my clothing this is meant to have something that looks intentful and that looks kind of correct on a person, so that that equals out authority. If they walk into the room, they look good but they didn't necessarily stand out for it. So, that's my quick way of describing that person is by saying quiet authority. So, if you can boil down your your ideas, your history, and your intention into quick phrases for presser, for buyers to understand you with, those will be useful also for you in conversation as well as you're talking about your own brand to other people. As a buyer, like I said, we've received dozens. We're fortunate enough to receive dozens of submissions from designers. This Sloan says, each piece of jewelry is handcrafted to create one-of-a-kind, modern heirlooms. My values align with the slow fashion movement, which is based on sustainability and ethical practices. Quality, fine craftsmanship, and longevity, these are details that allow the work to transcend season to season. So, I would say that this is extremely excellent example of someone throwing a couple of catchphrases and being really quite frugal and effective with their language to tell you that their brand A is Jewelry, and that's handcrafted one of a kind. They drop the term modern heirlooms within the first sentence, which is kind of akin to my discrete luxury. So, this is kind of a quick saying that the designers come up with that they feel like expresses their brand and its emotional values, and they also talked about, "My values align with the slow fashion movement" which I mean, I really see this all day, there's no slow fashion movement. So this person has basically introduced something that they wish existed. This is really good use of language and and of describing, like I said, the who for and what for. Having your mission statement, having something in writing that's almost your commitment to yourself is something that's great to have in your pocket and a guiding light going forward. 3. Developing Key Relationships.: For unit three, you essentially need to have an understanding of all of the relationships outside of yourself that it requires for you to produce, deliver, and sell your beautiful designs. In general, it's going to take other people with their technical skills and their understanding. It's going to take you educating yourself. It's going to take the money to properly pay the people on time so that you can continue to work with them, and it's going to take you having that understanding the capacity of how to build your team as your company grows to facilitate that growth. So, in terms of understanding your key relationships that are required for you to have your label, there's definitely a learning curve involved. I remember personally because I was self-taught going into fashion that a lot of the technical aspects of say making a button-up shirt, I wasn't fully aware of it. I didn't even know what I didn't know yet, essentially. So, I've provided something in the project guide which is kind of to take the list of people required to make your item. It's a series of the people who are going to have to touch or supply you with something to in the case of the example given just make your button up shirt. Like personally, I remember making a pattern for the first shirt, taking it down to the sewer, and then saying that as soon as I had the pattern back from the marker and grader, they will be happy to sew on it. That's all fine and good except I had no idea what the marker and grader were. They're the people who, as probably many of you I hope know or some of you know, they're the people who size your pattern. I was so early on and I knew so much about clothing and seams and all these things. I didn't know about manufacturing as much. So, here's my sewer basically telling me that they're ready to start my job as soon as I can go to the marker and grader, which I had no idea who that was. I had to go and basically ask some people around me and kind of educate myself in the process. So, I kind of definitely included everybody in there that I wish I had known originally in that process to kind of basically a cheat sheet essentially of who's going to be involved in making your clothes. Because I didn't know all the steps involved when I started, and I think I had a smaller idea of what it took to get a shirt produced and for the buttons to be perfect and to be sown on the right place and not fall off, let alone get it into a store and start wholesaling it. The second kind of outline that's in the project guide is like a transparent cost sheet, which is reviewing where the money goes and why an item costs what it does. So, you can kind of track there. We took one of our styles that we actively used in the collection and showed the cost of materials, where we source of fabric from, the import fees for the fabric, the cost for sewing in the label, the cost of having the label made, the buttonhole fees, the logistics, the storing, the distribution, everything essentially that adds to the cost of that garment that creates the retail cost of it. So, understanding all of the people involved to make your article and then understanding all of the elements that will affect the price of that article are extremely important. We've definitely as a company been at points where we've made our money on one item and almost lost it on the other because we didn't expect it was going to cost $80 to sew it, or we didn't foresee that a zipper was a $16 zipper that was in the garments. So, having a very clear understanding of everything that can affect your profit margins when you're pricing the collection is important. The third thing would be understanding the kind of staff that is going to take on your end to facilitate the design. So, the factory has their team, they have their people in place. What do you have on your side? So, say you're starting out very small, you're sewing the garment yourself for design and everything, that's great. If you do a good job, you need to be selling more and more of these items. Eventually, your production will be more than you'll be able to oversee and coincidentally design the collection. So, understanding what it would mean for your company to succeed and kind of planning for that success. Knowing that if you do your job well, you will need to add in a production manager who can communicate your desires clearly to the factory and have your sketches become reality. Understanding that you will need the interns and the other liaisons and that you'll have to share your concepts with these other people and you will have to be a bit of a team leader within that. Planning on that early is probably the best way to just kind of plan for success and know that it's going to take a whole lot more than just you for your brand to do well and to succeed. 4. Developing Key Relationships (continued): A clothing manufacturing is nothing more than a series of relationships. When you're entering into those relationships, I think it's really important that you understand what all the parts are and how they're functioning. You need to know what a pattern may occur and what the factory and what everyone else is doing so that you can communicate best to them, how you would like your jobs done, and also know where you fall in line with that order. So, essentially, as a buyer, if I look at someone's beautiful sample, there's a concern if it's a new brand, if they can they produce this in production as good as the sample six months later and deliver it to my door on time at the store. I know that without relationships in place, with their materials, and their trim suppliers, and their actual sewing facilities, down to their logistics and shipping company, without those key relationships, they can't do that. It takes all four of those, or five of those components to actually get the dress to the store and available to be on the rack. So, a lot of times with a newer designer, especially, there's a wait-and-see period. That means that the buyer at the department store, all the way down to a small boutique, is waiting to see if a line doesn't just stick around, but if they're able to produce what their samples looked like. One, two, three seasons and if you can see that as a buyer from outside and that's indicative of a company that does have those key relationships in place and then you feel confident to go in and buy more from them. Because you can see that, yes, I saw their beautiful gold shirt in the trade show and then six months later I saw it in stores and look just like the sample. So, that gives you that kind of confidence to be able to go ahead and buy that brand because you know as a buyer, you're not just buying that company and their aesthetic, but you're buying their relationships with their manufacturers. So, you as a designer, understanding your relationships with your manufacturers is vital. Within that, I think, A, literally knowing the order of how your clothes are made. For some people this is maybe redundant, because they've done all the processes, they make their own patterns, and they do their own sewing, and they do their own marketing grading, but if you don't or if you haven't done all the steps involved with producing your article all the way from concept to the delivery, then you should educate yourself on what those steps are and in what order they take place. This will also help you understand why people need things from you at certain times. If you understand the order of production, then you can foresee what kind of supplies you may need or issues you may have coming up, as opposed to, and this is what happens a lot, and this was a learning curve for myself and probably a lot of designers, which was you make very expensive mistakes. It's because you didn't understand you're going to need something by a certain timeline, or you didn't know that the buttons had to be there before the buttonholes could be put in. It is time equals money sort of equation, because with clothing and particularly you're delivering at least twice a year on these sort of deadlines. So, you've got to be able to quickly be able to put out any fires that come up along the way. Your comprehension of all the people who are doing, that are making your clothing is vital to being able to facilitate that process. The second and very direct kind of matter within production is especially when you're starting out and the money's important. Most factories are going to be paying their stores, every week, or every two weeks to make your clothes and not only is based on the money that they're receiving from you. So, especially, if you'd like your jobs to get sewn well and you'd like high priority in the sewing calendar and schedules the factories, you need to be known as a person that can financially take care of your company. If you're not, it's a red flag. If you're not able to produce comfortably and pay for your own samples, you probably as a company are definitely haven't been structured then to go on and handle full production and take in wholesale orders from other accounts. So, it's a great way of keeping yourself in check, which is that if your sample set and in your understanding of that is overwhelming, then, you need to work on step A before you're going to get to step B. Because you'll get into situations as well where you- may be the factory may closed and then maybe you don't have the money to pay for. That's just not a place you're going to want to put a factory or any sort of supplier, and because if you're going to maintain in the marketplace, you will never be able to go back to that zipper manufacturer or that seller again, because you didn't pay them, they won't be able to work with you. So, setting a strong precedent by being able to make sure that the scalability of all of your jobs is something that you have the capacity to financially be responsible for is an important reality. 5. Designing Sales + Marketing Strategy: So, your concept has been refined. You understand how to produce your item, the people, and the steps that it will take to get you there. Then, of course, I have to sell it. So, this is probably the area that personally I feel like as a store owner I've run into the most misconception around what it takes, or what a small brand should have in terms of beginning their press and sales strategy. So, to start off, your job is to expose yourself to strangers, because like I say, though you've been working so hard on your idea and maybe you and your close friends know about it for months or for years, your whole lifetime, that's it. It's news to everybody else, and so that's why we make the designer mission, so we're giving that icebreaker, and that physical entrance in your company. But there's a whole lot more work to be done in terms of addressing social media and websites, things like that. Informing people on using that designer mission then to further educate people about your intentions with the line. So, and most people I think at this point we're all well aware of all the social media that's available to us, and the fact that it's 100 percent free. So, originally the way that showrooms and designers interacted was that you had presence sales typically under one roof, and then that company would work with the designer promoting their brand through print, and online media, and then the sales reinforcing that. Typically, now you have the sales and the press offices for the most part been separated. So, your press office then is going to be offering you opportunities depending on their relationships with placing your clothes on interesting people, celebrities, and making sure that your clothes are included in editorial polls that magazines are submitting for meaning. If magazine X is doing a story on safari prints, and you are the owner of this African swimmer line, you definitely want your press office to be submitting your shorts for that article. Your sales showroom then now essentially is working strictly with their relationships with other stores. At times there's crossover with press but for the most part, they're going to be in meetings and working with all the way from boutiques to department stores, and talking about how you're line can fit in with those vendors that they have relationships with. So, like I said before, it's best if you already have some ammunition for those people to be bringing to the table when they're taking you into their other relationships that they have. Producing sales with your collection, and getting the interests of press and buyers, your main asset, you're one largest weapon you have is to have clear and interesting photos of your garments. That may sound obvious, but an image that doesn't show the types of fabrics, the way they lay, the actual colors, give hints of how they were constructed. Consider a buyer looking at 20 to 30 different lookbooks maybe a week. If you're not legible, you're basically off the list, to begin with. There are art brands who can present extremely creative and more avant-garde images, or imagery that eludes to their brand that entices you want to know more about them. I'd say if you feel extremely confident that that's part of your aesthetic and that has to do with your entire company's ethos, then go ahead and do that. But for the 98 percent of the designers who are trying to debut their collections, I think for a buyer to be able to quickly understand, what type of dresses or pants you make, what the fabric is, and how it lays in the body, is completely irreplaceable. How those are formatted and presented, almost is secondary to the quality of the images. So, your website does not have to be a million-dollar website. Your website needs have million-dollar images on it. Your lookbook or correspondence that you send to press or to buyers, doesn't have to be on gold gilded pages, or wrapped perfectly with their registering, it needs to explain itself and it needs to have impact in those photos. So, they also shouldn't distract from himself. So, I think there's some bit of clarity and those images that you're going to want. So, maybe even finding a photographer earlier than you think that you appreciate their work. Someone that you feel like can take photos of your clothes, or if you're a talented enough honing in your skills of taking photos of very well yourself that tell the true story of your clothes quickly. So that someone can essentially have a flip book of you, without even having to read your words and get at least a snapshot of your brand, and who it's for. Once you have those images, and you have your designer mission put in place, and essentially I think the first thing to do is to find yourself five accounts. That your first storage, you going to go after that your focus, and set yourself a deadline at which point you'd like to create contact with those stores. That you're beginning place, and that's where you're going to get some feedback and whether or not you even hear back from these stores, or if you do what they want to hear and see from you. To throw out a wide net and to try to get everybody to like you and your new brand that just began, is a little bit unrealistic. It's a lot unrealistic in fact. You need to find the appropriate audience that can understand your collection and has a clientele for it, and you're strong images are probably going to be your best foot in the door. I know if I receive a lookbook on my desk that has strong interesting descriptive images, and a bit of the wording and the designer mission makes sense, I want to see the clothes. I'm going to contact that designer. I'm going to take the next step because they've shown me that they understand what it takes on their end to hold up the bargain which is to be creative, and to create a legible company that I as a buyer can go in and confidently resell to my clients.