When you're starting out, your road is unclear, and the path is windy, rocky, and neverending. Still, there is a timeline for how long it takes to build a brand with your own specialized product line. So let's break it down real quick.
Before we get too far, let's start by explaining a term that gets bounced around because we'll be using it a bit within this post.
Product Life Cycle
When the term Product Life Cycle is used in garment development, it is the process and time it takes for clothing to go from an imagined concept to a finished garment that can be sold online or in retail stores.
PRO TIP: You might hear the term “product life cycle” including the post-purchase garment life, meaning whatever happens after the first purchase. For example, after the initial buyer has given it, many wears, the garment might go to a resale shop, be donated, or be recycled.
We'll be referring to the definition used in garment development for this post, as that's what’s important to understand timing and how long it takes to build a brand.
So how long does it take for the product life cycle?
It takes 9 months to 2 years to launch a new product in intimates and swimwear. Of course, it could take even longer depending on how much time you spend perfecting your fit and materials. Getting the details just right takes time.
Most swim and intimate collections take around 1 year from the beginning concept to the finished garment in the customers' hands.
Timing is long because there are usually multiple fit sessions, design revisions, and many details to communicate. You also need that time to check the fit on various people and sizes to ensure you've got a well-fitting garment that your customers will rave about!
Here is a rough breakdown of our product life cycle if you're starting from zero, along with a visual to break it down for people like me ;)
Ideation phase: Ever since that eureka moment
Researching + validating market idea and opportunity: 3-4 weeks
Refining sketches + styles: 3-4 weeks
Sourcing materials: 2-3 weeks
Creating tech packs: 2-4 weeks
Sourcing factory options: 2-3 weeks
Cost samples with multiple factories: 2-3 weeks [not included on the calendar]
Decide factories to sample with: 1-2 weeks [not included on the calendar]
Sampling + waiting for first prototypes: 3-4 weeks
Prototype fitting + comments: 1-2 weeks
Sampling + waiting for 2nd fits, lab dips + strike-offs: 3-4 weeks
2nd fitting + comments, lab dips + strike-offs: 1-2 weeks
Place PO (Bulk completed 90-120 days from this date): 1 week
Sampling + waiting for 3rd fits, lab dips + strike-offs: 3-4 weeks
3rd fitting + comments, lab dips + strike-offs: 1-2 weeks
Sampling + waiting on grade check samples: 3-4 weeks
Final fit approval + bulk material approval: 1 week
Sampling + waiting on PP Samples: 1-2 weeks
PP comments: 1 week
Bulk completed: 1-3 months
On-site 3rd party quality inspection: 1 week
Bulk shipped via air: 1-2 weeks
Bulk shipped via boat: 4-6 weeks
Inspect bulk + report defects to factory: 2-4 weeks
Other important things to note while trying to expedite your product development and reduce your product life cycle timeline:
During the costing, sourcing, and sampling stages, expect to spend time fielding factory questions.
When you first send tech packs to manufacturing partners, there might be an array of questions that bubble up. Everything from sourcing suitable materials to ensuring the correct construction details. This is the time that you should expect to be available and ready to answer questions as any delays will hold up your costing + sampling process.
The date you place your first purchase order (PO) is critical as it affects when you'll receive your final goods.
This is where you tell the factory precisely what you intend to buy and how many of each. Then, the factory will need to order the raw materials to start being prepared by the material makers. It will help the factory get more serious about turning samples quicker because you've committed to a bulk order. For new styles, a standard timeframe for bulk completion from the PO date is 90 to 120 days. For swim + intimates reorders, a typical time frame of 60 to 90 days is more feasible. Still, 30 days might even be doable for some simpler styles if you're not changing a thing.
Have your business bank account set up, funded, and ready to roll.
When you place your PO, you will have to pay a deposit of anywhere from 30 to 50% of your total. This allows the factory to purchase the raw materials to get to work. Ensure you have the funds available for the deposit in your business bank account with international wires set up to complete a timely wire transfer. If you're transferring from a personal bank account, you may have some hiccups, so speak to your bank.
We recommend using a template when you first start, as placing your first PO can be a daunting and time-consuming process. We have a PO template available. Head over to this link to grab your download.
Things often take longer than you expect, so plan for it to be a little longer than you think.
This is just the nature of the work. As a new startup, you'll be a small fry in a big basket! However, working with a partner (like krstn ndrsn perhaps!?) who has built relationships will help you move quicker. Still, sometimes it's just that your business is a lower priority vs. customers making bulk orders. Sometimes this means your samples will take a back seat, and it could mean you end up waiting 6 weeks instead of 3 weeks.
How you ship will make a big difference.
Airing your first order is probably how you want to go since it will likely be your smallest order, and you'll be tired of waiting for it by the time it's ready to ship! This usually takes around 10 days from Asia to the US if everything goes smoothly. It may take longer if things get stuck in customs, but it's a much more ideal option than the 45 to 60 days it will take to boat. Still, that being said, boating is a much better option for the planet from a carbon emissions POV, so please do your best for the earth once you plan your 2nd collection and ship via sea.
I hope you feel more prepared for the endeavor ahead now that you have a full grasp of the time commitment it takes to start an apparel brand. Just remember to be patient and persistent! The months of development will be well worth it once your customers are raving about your new brand.
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