[ASK TBM] Starting a Clothing Business? Here’s What You Need to Know to be Successful

Given the competitive market, the fashion industry can be daunting. With that, we asked Arnie Tadeo, the owner of Callelily, for tips on how to start your own clothing business.

How often do you shop online? According to a 2023 survey conducted by Statista, 24.83% of respondents said that they make online purchases at least once a month. 9.25% of respondents said they shop online at least once a week, while 2.57% said that they shop online daily. 

Given the rise of e-commerce during the pandemic, it is no surprise that many entrepreneurs have started just as many online businesses—most especially in the fashion industry. After all, there will always be a demand for clothes, which many new and old entrepreneurs can take advantage of. 

However, starting a clothing business is definitely not a walk in the park. There are fabrics to consider, along with finding the right seamstresses and marketing the products, among many other considerations. What’s more, growing competition and fast-changing trends are challenges faced by many in the fashion industry.

Tips and insights are always helpful for any entrepreneur, which is why we asked Arnie Tadeo—the owner of Callelily—to share her journey and experiences in starting her clothing business. 

Were you always knowledgeable about fabrics and fashion? How were you able to acquire the knowledge and skills related to your product?

No, I didn’t have extensive knowledge about fabrics and fashion when I started my business. However, I had a deep passion for fashion and a keen interest in learning and exploring the industry. To acquire the necessary knowledge and skills related to my product, I took proactive steps to educate myself through various resources. 

I sought guidance from self-help books that I acquired through bargain hunting, finding valuable insights and practical advice on fabrics, fashion trends, and garment construction. I also turned to online platforms like YouTube, where I watched informative videos on fabric properties, design techniques, and industry best practices. Browsing fashion magazines and websites further expanded my understanding of current trends, consumer preferences, and the broader fashion landscape.

Through these self-guided educational efforts, I was able to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to create high-quality garments. While I may not have had formal training, my dedication to self-learning and exploration has allowed me to grow and adapt in the fashion industry.

What kind of equipment and materials did you have to invest in to grow your business? Where do you source the fabrics that you offer to your clients?

To grow my business, strategic investments were made in equipment, materials, and sourcing channels. Locally sourcing within Bulacan, where our workshop is located, was a priority to support the community and reduce our carbon footprint. As for equipment, I chose a sustainable approach by purchasing secondhand, refurbished sewing machines—not only saving costs but also aligning with our commitment to sustainability.

In terms of materials, I developed direct partnerships with local linen suppliers from Bulacan and Metro Manila. These suppliers work closely with us to source high-quality linensensuring the best fabric options for our clients. Other materials such as threads, pins, and needles were bought locally from nearby sari-sari stores.

These choices have fostered a strong connection with the community and supported sustainable practices in the industry. Sourcing equipment and materials locally not only reduces transportation-related carbon emissions but also contributes to the growth of the local economy through nurturing relationships with suppliers.

Overall, our business maintains a conscious approach to equipment sourcing and material procurement. By investing in secondhand sewing machines and sourcing fabrics locally, especially within Bulacan, we uphold sustainability principles while supporting the local community. Our clients can likewise enjoy high-quality products that are locally sourcedreflecting our commitment to sustainability and community engagement.

What struggles did you encounter when you were starting out? How did you overcome them?

When I was starting out, I faced several struggles that tested my determination and resourcefulness. One major challenge was the limited financial resources I had at the beginning. As a budding entrepreneur, I had to be mindful of every penny and make strategic decisions to make the most of my available funds. 

To overcome this, I sought the support of my family, and my mom graciously lent me a small amount [PHP 1,500] to kickstart my business. I also became adept at finding affordable sourcing options and negotiating favorable terms with suppliersensuring I could keep production costs manageable. 

Another struggle I encountered was finding skilled seamstresses who could bring my designs to life. It took me months to find reliable partners who understood my vision and had the capacity to handle the orders. During this time, I maintained a persistent and patient approachreaching out to numerous seamstresses to find the right fit. Eventually, I found a talented seamstress who shared my passion and commitment to quality, and [from there], we built a strong working relationship.

Additionally, as a newbie in the market, building brand awareness and gaining customers posed its own set of challenges. I leveraged social media platforms like Instagram to showcase my designs, engage with potential customers, and build a loyal following. It required consistent effort, creative content, and responsive customer service to establish trust and credibility with my audience. 

By consistently delivering high-quality products and focusing on customer satisfaction, I was able to gradually grow my customer base and foster positive word-of-mouth recommendations.

What concrete tips and advice can you give to anyone who wants to put up a business in the fashion industry?

1. Define your niche and target market.

2. Develop a solid business plan.

3. Build a strong brand identity. Develop a unique logo, brand story, and visuals that reflect your personality and aesthetic.

4. Source quality materials and ethical suppliers. [It’s] really important to find the right and trusted suppliers and build a good relationship with them. This will benefit you in the long run.

5. Embrace sustainability in your practices.

6. Build a strong online presence. Utilize social media!

7. Prioritize excellent customer service. Good customer service really pays off!

8. Stay updated on industry trends.

9. Network and collaborate with others in the industry.

10. Be resilient and adaptable to challenges. Take breaks but never cease your efforts.

Arnie Tadeo, the owner of Callelily, started her clothing brand with just PHP 1,500 capital. Known for its premium and sustainable linen pieces, the brand has amassed a following and over 38,000 followers on Instagram.