index_fashionlabel.jpgThere are a couple of emails and telephone calls that I get quite often. So I decided to create handy walkthroughs that deal with these questions. The first one on my list is: How do I start a label?

"Dear Angie, I have this great idea for a label. I spend hours a day designing but I can't even sew a button onto a shirt. How do I start? Help me pleaaaaaaaaaaaase!!"

First off let me just say that just because you doodle every now and then, or you can throw an outfit together that your friends love does not mean you will make a good designer. Also there are very few jobs in South Africa that will allow you to just design clothes so being a designer usually means being a business manager. Already this probably doesn't sound as sexy as designer.

There are many ways to get started as a fashion designer. The most traditional route is to study fashion design. There are a number of fashion design colleges in South Africa. Most of them offer a 3 year course that should teach you the basics of fashion design, patternmaking and garment construction.

Depending on where you study your other subjects could include History of Fashion, Media Studies, Business Management and Computer Aided Design. College and university fees range from R30 000 to R45 000 a year. Add a sewing machine, patternmaking equipment, textbooks and your monthly spend on fabrics/thread/glue/photocopies and you will have to add another R10 000 a year to your fees. While this may sound a bit nuts, all it really is doing is preparing you for a very cost and labour intensive business. Having a clothing label means paying upfront for fabric, finishes, staff wages, cmt services and distribution before you have even sold one item.

Going to college also has the additional perk of giving you three to four years to build relationships with people who will be active in the industry when you leave.

You can also opt to do part time courses. The two most critical are patternmaking and business management. With these two essentials you will be far more prepared to start a label than if you did a drawing class. Learning to sew is also extrememly useful as gives you the opportunity to manufacture at a cheaper rate. It also teaches you how fabric behaves and compliments the pattern making. But it is also very time consuming which may hinder your progress as a label. It is therefore not necessary to know how to sew, as you can outsource this to a CMT or hire someone to do it.

The final way to get some experience and an education is to receive training while you are working in the form of an internship. Finding these kinds of internships is next to impossible - unless it is your aunt who is willing to cut you a break. Most people are just too busy to train someone from scratch. Interns are generally there to give the business a (free) set of hands while giving invaluable working experience and they are therefore more likely to hire a graduate.
"Usually, you apply for an internship by sending a portfolio to a fashion house you're interested in. But it's a good idea to call them up beforehand to see exactly what they need. It's also important to note that competition is fierce, and unless you have personal connections, it's very difficult to get an internship without an education." Fashion.net

Once you have qualified as a designer you can start to build a portfolio of your work and begin searching for fashion design jobs.

If you would rather start your own label then you need to compile a business plan.

Now there have been many successful businesses that have started without a business plan. It is possible. But usually this is because:
a) the business started off very small with very little overheads: you made 5 tshirts, which you sold to your friends and now more friends want them
b) you have factored in all of the costs of your business into the products including your time and are able to make a sustainable profit
c) you are growing at a slow enough pace to build your business from the profit of your past sales without having to invest more capital

If you are running a business selling stuff for profit, you will need to pay tax. This means registering your business as a legal entity. It is highly recommended that you do this at the start as there are a number of tax benefits you can receive when establishing your business.

"To create your own label takes a lot of time, dedication and hard work. Not to mention living just above the poverty line for several years." Fashion.net

Once you have set up your business and manufactured a few samples the next step is 'where do you sell it?'. Depending on your strategy you may start off with selling to your friends first and growing from there. You can organise a party where they get to try on the clothes and have fun at the same time.  This one-to-one contact will give you great insight into what people want to buy, instead of what you want them to wear. There are a myriad of other options when thinking about selling your goods:

If you decide to go the boutique/retailer route keep the following in mind:


Here are some more links that will help you with your ongoing business:

Running your Business: 

Public Relations and Marketing:


Industry Associations and Services:


General Tips and Guidelines:


Wholesalers, Fabric Retailers, Label Makers and Machinery:

The Virtual Classroom: How To Become A Fashion Designer


Fashion Design Careers : Tips on Becoming a Fashion Designer

If you have any other tips, suggestions, helpful links please share them in the comments!

Add your comment (10)
written by Marygoround, September 03, 2012

Taking a course in fashion design would be a good step. Take a look at this page: http://www.inst.org/fashion-courses/become.htm

Hope this helps.

written by lpjg, July 25, 2012
Love yur worksmilies/smiley.gif
written by shivam gupta, June 21, 2012
this is really helpful smilies/smiley.gif
written by chlorisselection, May 17, 2011
am looking for some one who did graphic design> very artistic and talented in desingin concepts. smilies/cool.gif
written by chlorisselection, May 17, 2011
this is very helpful. smilies/grin.gif
written by raushana64, February 25, 2011
Hi Angie,

I like to comment you on the special attention to detail assistance you are giving to up and coming designers. May I just add that sometime we think of a project and we leave out the essential parts that spin the wheels in motion? I would like to also add to the essential part to a designer’s project by offering my service to designers teaching them how to professionally sew their own samples, in this way they will be able to detail out their specs to the manufacturing’s or cmt sector. Tutor – Smart Sewing Classes 0827392319 for more details.
written by Charles Ofdensen, August 19, 2010
Terrific article, Angie. very informative indeed. smilies/grin.gif
written by makii, August 14, 2010
Hi Angie

Thank you thank you so much for what you do.I really love this article and find it so useful. Just what I needed!!!!
written by TYAMM, July 27, 2010
Personally I think this is the greatest article to ever been written on iFashion. Thank you and your team Angie for putting this informative entry together. It's through this article that most aspiring fashion designers will have the courage to put their creativity into action.

written by Fallon, July 22, 2010
Angie this article is amazing,I've been doing some of my own research with regards to sourcing to CMT's and fabrics,and its so awesome to see that I wasn't far off from your advice!