How to start an online clothing brand

How a grandmother’s sewing machine started a budding clothing brand

Marie Elaine Designs 

Starting a side hustle or any business is tough. But starting, launching, and growing your very own clothing brand is a whole other ball game. But one player was up for the challenge. 

Tara Trotter is a self-taught designer, founder, CEO, and creative director of Marie Elaine, an up and coming US-based fashion brand.

The brand, although in its infancy, reflects a modern take on fashion with a relaxed, laid back Caribbean feel. 

Inspired by her homeland, Jamaica, Marie Elaine seeks to capture elements of femininity and a unique and daring edge with clothing and accessory designs for the modern woman. Each piece is conceptualized and designed by Tara and handmade on a very special sewing machine. Wondering why the sewing machine is so special? Read on to find out!


I was truly inspired by the desire to stand out and be different when I was seen in public. This desire translated into wanting the same for other women, who wanted to feel confident, comfortable, and beautiful in the clothes they wear.

Creating and launching your own fashion brand involves an eye for fashion and creativity, but making it successful and generating a large and loyal fan base involves having acute business acumen, an eye for detail, dedication, and consistency. None of these things come easy, but when you have a dream and a passion, nothing can get in your way.

“I believe a garment should be made to fit your body type and measurements. This is what helps women to feel comfortable and confident. Marie Elaine produces clothing that is done to the clients’ measurements.”

The first step is to start

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    First Sale 

    As with any business, the first step is to start, but there is nothing quite like the excitement and validation you feel when you get your first sale to continue pushing you. For Tara, her first sale was an exhilarating feeling that made her feel free. 

    My first sale felt like freedom. Knowing there is proof to your business model and product is quite exhilarating.


    Every business has its challenges for Tara, creating awareness and attracting customers has been a challenge, but her main challenge has been defining her brand’s identity. With so many great designers and online boutiques out there, it can be hard to carve out your niche. 

    The greatest challenge has been defining the identity of the brand, Marie Elaine. With so many successful and unique brands around, you really want to have a competitive edge. 

    What Tara has realized is that as a business owner, entrepreneur or creative you can’t allow who you are and what you bring to the table to be defined by the competition. Instead, focus on your strengths and how you can stand out from the pack. 

    There have also been challenges in the production process, such as ensuring clients get the perfect fit.

    It’s challenging being an entrepreneur, especially if you’re still working a 9 to 5 job. So I try to allocate sufficient time for the business and stick to set deadlines.


    When just starting a business or side hustle, it’s a good idea to try and keep your expenses as low as possible. That often means bootstrapping, using what you have, and taking advantage of free marketing and social media tools available.

    Tara mostly focuses on her Instagram and Facebook accounts and utilizes hashtags and a unique grid design to make her page standout. She tries to maintain a daily schedule for posting to engage her followers and to attract new followers.

    My marketing strategy firstly includes sponsored ads on Instagram and Facebook. Secondly, fashion shows and conventions to network and partner with related businesses. Lastly, I still use more traditional methods, such as business cards and word of mouth.

    Facebook and Instagram

    When Tara started to conceptualize the vision for her brand, she started with a good old fashioned Facebook and Instagram account. These two social media tools are one of the most useful and effective ways of marketing any up and coming business. Even established brands utilize the power of FB and Instagram. That’s because of the sheer reach of these platforms.

    Facebook has more than 2.8 billion users each month. That’s a huge reach all around the world. So it made sense for Tara to create accounts for her brand. 

    Photoshop and Lightroom

    As a self-taught graphic designer, Tara uses her skills to create all her marketing material, including her logo and all her social media content. Striving to create a simple, yet elegant look and feel for her brand, Tara utilizes Adobe Photoshop as one of her main tools to create compelling images and typography. 

    Marketing Tip: One tip she shares is updating your About section to include the type of business you have. So for her account, she includes “custom designs.” This makes her page searchable. Anyone searching for custom designs are more likely to find her account. 

    Tools & Resources

    Fabric supplier

    Any designer will tell you, fabric plays one of the most important roles in bringing beautiful designs to life. Like a canvas for an artist, fabric is the medium in which creative designers like Tara use to bring her designs to life.

    From the color to the texture, Tara takes great pride in hand-selecting all the fabric she uses in her designs. She shops for fabric from several different suppliers, starting with Joannes and eventually moving to Fabric Wholesale Direct, an online wholesaler of fabric.

    I started with Joanne’s but I wouldn’t recommend it now as it’s not very cost effective. Right now A to Z Fabrics is my main source.

    Fabric prices vary depending on the type of fabric and the amount of fabric she needs for each of her designs. 


    After setting up her social media accounts, Tara realized it made sense to have an even greater presence online, so she decided to create a website. Designing and coding your own website without web design skills is pretty hard, but thankfully many easy to use website builders exist. Shopify takes it one step further by making it easy to set up, design, and launch an e-commerce site where customers can order her custom creations online.

    Shopify charges $29 per month, but they have a 14-day free trial.

    Big Cartel

    Shortly after launching her Shopify site, Tara realized that she wanted to cut down the expense of hosting her own e-commerce site, but she still wanted to have a strong presence online. After research and recommendations from friends, she found Big Cartel, an easy online store for artists and designers. Just about anyone can use it to sell online, and it’s priced much cheaper than other online website builders starting at just $9.99 per month. They also have a free plan, where you can list up to 5 products to sell.

    What you need to start a clothing brand like Marie Elaine?

    1. Sewing machine
    2. Fabric supplier
    3. E-commerce site
    4. Website hosting
    5. Instagram
    6. Facebook

    Start-up costs of a clothing brand

    Marketing & Branding
    Business Registration
    Product photography

    Tara’s advice for starting a clothing brand

    With all the ups and downs of creating, launching, and running an online fashion business you have to keep pushing. Tara’s advice:

    “Find your niche, be consistent, and trust the process.”

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