Expert Talk: How to create your own sportswear brand in 5 steps

Did you ever want to know what it takes to develop a sportswear brand? What steps to think about from the very first idea to the finished product? And what kind of people to team up with? Well … then this interview is a must-read for you. We talked to Lukas who recently started his own label “Leiwand European Trail Wear”. For us, he breaks down the process into five steps, which – disclaimer – turn out to be useful for reaching nearly any goal, not only your own brand. (Pics: Leiwand)

Step 1: Idea & Concept

The idea came easily. I just wanted to create awesome products. Moreover, from the very start it was important to me that the products were going to be produced in Europe and available at a fair and appealing price, by selling them only online on our website. These corner stones became clear by taking a close look at our future competition. I couldn’t find a brand that was able to fulfil these three principles – hello new market niche!

Lukas Holzer, founder of Leiwand But let me explain: I work as a business consultant and I’m really passionate about business studies and mountain biking. Thus I’m a person that is pretty much aware of all sorts of risks. And when all goals are clear and I have a thorough plan, I don’t mind taking a risk. I think it’s the same as in sport. If you see a challenging trail, you can either take it and have an outstanding experience, or worst case scenario you fall off your bike. In terms of business this might mean losing money. However, I love investing. So spending money in this case wasn’t a hurdle for me. I saw it more as a chance, regarding self-fulfilment and learning new things. And to be honest I’ve learned so much already! No master’s degree could have ever taught me these things.

So after I had the idea the next step was to examine it in detail. That’s where the concepts and strategies I learned in business studies came in handy. Deciding whether you’re leading by quality or price point, scanning your competitors and the market situation. This took me 2-3 weeks. Despite all this, you can’t make sure that your products will be selling in the end. Therefore, you need to be aware of how big of a risk you want to take and if this requires extra money for example. For me it was very clear to start small, with a trail range. So we decided to produce 600 pieces, which in terms of a sportswear label is minuscule.

The name was also found pretty easily: I want my brand to be perceived as uplifting and my costumers to have a good time and great experiences. That’s why I came up with the word “leiwand”, which is German (Viennese to be precise) slang for “awesome” or “cool”. To be honest, I wasn’t feeling comfortable with this choice at first, but after rethinking it again and again; I knew that this had to be the name.

Step 2: Team & Qualifications

The team is the most important factor. My strengths are working and planning systematically, but the team are the people who make it all come true. It’s really important to define everyone’s tasks. I am responsible for conception, planning, financing and project management, while a friend of mine, who is also investing money in the project, helps with sales topics and administrative tasks. Clearly we needed someone with skills and know-how for design and production.

I found our designer, Irmy Beck via Xing. It was pure luck, because not only is she a sportswear designer, with over 30 years of experience and amazing connections, she is a trail mountain biker herself. For marketing I hired three of my friends, who happen to be a professional graphic designer, a photographer and a video producer and also passionate mountain bikers ;-). These people became the core team, so all together we could profit a lot of our own personal experience.

Vision-wise, it’s important that you are all on the same page. It was absolutely great to work with Irmy as we both are “achiever”, when it comes to character traits. It’s actually the same with my marketing team, who can transform my ideas, goals and set parameters into awesome graphics, videos and pictures. And I learned right away that I shouldn’t interfere too much with their creativity, but to be aware of my competence and where it ends. Furthermore, it was important to evaluate closely if and where external help was needed in exchange for money, since I needed to plan with a tight budget.

Also key to the project is the manufacturing company, Kirpte in Lithuania, which is specialised in sportswear apparel.

Step 3: Design & Materials

Our first products are T-shirts and long sleeves, available in four different colours and shorts, available in two different colours. All are unisex and come in different sizes. My goal was to create good quality products, but in the beginning I had no idea how to do that. One way for sure would have been to copy existing styles or to even buy patterns from producers and just print my logo on it or choose the right colour. But Irmy showed me, thanks to her experience and know-how, how to develop unique cuts and details. So we went really fast from zero to a high quality product.

Our final goal was to achieve premium standard, simply because we could. So while creating the products, we had to define what was premium to us: a functional design, high quality material and good design. While going back and forth, we constantly check on these core values. We even went to a trade fair called “Perfomance Days” in Munich to connect with the garment producer.

One setback of our small number of items was that we couldn’t buy certain garments as they we’re only sold in much bigger quantities. In the end our production company made it possible to buy the materials we wanted. Design-wise we chose positive colours, no neon and never going overboard, but simple graphics. With our shirts, all the colours are printed onto the garment directly, which gives us more flexibility with the production. The materials for our shorts come in the correct colour right away. Our long sleeves have great details and our shorts have a really amazing cut, almost innovative. I’m really proud of my products.

Step 4: Prototypes & Production

The plan was to finish the production in early 2018. So after consulting with Irmy and the production company, I had to break down every step for detailed planning. First we had to create a so-called tech pack. That’s a detailed description and sketch of every item with all the colours, placement of the seams, zippers, materials etc., which took us 3-6 weeks to come up with. We then sent it to Lithuania, where they made the prototypes. Previously we had agreed on 2-3 prototypes. Their purpose is to be able to work on the product, so you can still alter a lot, for example the fit of the shoulders, the placement of the stitches etc. Worth noticing that the more know-how you have, the easier this process is.

So while the first prototype was about let’s say 50 per cent great, the second one, which included our feedback, was nearly perfect and the third one was the final product. All of this took us about four months. After approving of the final prototype, which is by the way one size only, you’ll receive a size set with all the other sizes for a final approval. During this time it’s a very close communication process with the development team of the production company. They provide a lot of input and support you with the perfect materials. It’s helpful to allow for some extra time, because with the developing phase you can’t arrange precise deadlines.

We also had to pay for the prototypes in advance, so they made a clear distinction between development and actual production of the garments. Producing in Europe was not only one of my assets; it was also very helpful in terms of communication. I also learned, when choosing a colour, it’s actually helpful to have a piece of garment in this precise colour and send it to the company, instead of only working with colour codes.

Step 5: Launch with Kickstarter campaign

Our plan is to sell our products exclusively online through our own website. By this we skip the margins for agents or retailers, so we can offer our products, which are premium quality for about 15 to 30 per cent less. To get started, we are launching a kickstarter campaign by the end of November. The goal is to earn the money needed for the production. A successful campaign would need 320 people to order a T-shirt. Either the costumers or we will choose the rest of the 600 pieces. We’re currently trying to get attention through facebook and instagram, as well as through multipliers, such as online magazines and blogs.

In a nutshell, here is what you should do in order to achieve your goals:

  • Work systematically. Make a detailed plan and plan through until the end. This will not only help you to make decisions, but to be more flexible too. Plus, you can easily work out a backup plan, in case something doesn’t go according to your initial plan.
  • Know your strengths and choose to get help where necessary. That way you’ll save not only time, but nerves too.
  • Get the right people on board, meaning choose your team wisely.

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