What is Private Label Clothing and How to Start Your Own Business

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Private label clothing refers to apparel that is designed and manufactured by one company but is sold under another company’s brand. In the fashion industry, private label has become an increasingly popular model, offering benefits for retailers and brands looking for innovative ways to bring products to market. This article will provide an in-depth look at what defines private-label clothing, its key advantages, and how retailers can leverage it as part of their overall merchandising and branding strategy.

What is Private Label Clothing?

Private-label clothing allows retailers and brands to outsource the manufacturing of their products to partner suppliers and manufacturers, while retaining control over the design and branding. Unlike generic white label clothing with no distinct brand identity, private label apparel bears the purchaser’s own logo, brand name and unique packaging.

Some key characteristics of private-label clothing:

  • Manufactured by one company, branded and sold by another
  • Enables customization of product design and branding
  • Retains buyer’s brand identity and consumer perception
  • Provides flexibility in production and faster time-to-market

In a private label model, the retailer or brand handles conceptualizing the product, design, fabric selection, and branding. The manufacturer is responsible for sourcing materials, factory production, quality control, and shipment of the finished, packaged product to the client.

This allows the buyer to focus on core competencies like marketing while leveraging the manufacturer’s expertise in clothing production.

Examples of Private Label Clothing

Many major apparel retailers and brands use strategic private label programs for certain segments of their product line:

  • Target – Cat & Jack kids’ wear, Wild Fable women’s clothes
  • Macy’s – Alfani, Karen Scott, and Greendog brands
  • Nordstrom – Halogen, BP., and Zella clothing lines
  • Decathlon – Own-brand sporting and athletic apparel
  • Lululemon – Private label athleisure wear line

Beyond large retailers, many specialized boutique brands also adopt a private label model to design and produce their collections cost-effectively. This allows them to focus on their core competency – brand building and connecting with their target consumer.

Benefits of Private Label Clothing

Adopting private label manufacturing offers retailers and brands many advantages:

Greater Control over Product Design

Private label allows buyers to have complete creative control over their product – from sketches and technical specifications to fabric, color, and trim details. This enables much more flexibility compared to buying readymade, off-the-shelf clothing.

Customization for Target Consumer

Since private label clothing is made to order, retailers can develop apparel customized specifically for their brand identity and target consumer. This results in product differentiation.

Cost Savings

Private label production through specialized clothing manufacturers results in significant per unit cost savings versus branded manufacturing with no minimum order quantities. This translates to better profit margins.

Faster Speed to Market

Ordering readymade stock means longer lead times. With private label production, new designs can be turned around in a few weeks to respond quickly to consumer demand.

Improved Inventory Management

Private label allows demand-based purchasing of product quantities needed. There is less risk of both under and overstocking inventory.

Opportunity for Product Testing

The private label provides an ideal way to test and validate new clothing concepts before committing to large production runs under a brand name. Customer feedback can be used to refine the products.

Differences with Other Sourcing Models

Private Label vs White Label

White-label apparel has no brand identity. It is generic stock clothing. Private-label products are made for and branded by a specific retailer or brand.

Private Label vs Branded Manufacturing

In branded manufacturing, the retailer’s own brand name and identity is associated with apparel designed and made specifically for them. With private label, manufacturing is outsourced while design and branding is retained in-house.

Private Label vs Reseller

Resellers purchase ready apparel wholesale and resell it under their own brand. With private label, buyers actively participate in the product design process and have it manufactured exclusively for them.

How to Start a Private Label Clothing Line

For retailers interested in exploring private-label clothing production, some key steps are:

1. Concept and Design Development

This involves market research, mood boards, sketches, and tech packs to conceptualize the clothing line.

2. Finding the Right Manufacturer

Vet manufacturers for production capability, quality, lead times, and pricing to find the optimal partner.

3. Customization and Branding

Work closely with the manufacturer to refine designs and branded elements like labels and hang tags.

4. Quality Inspection and Testing

Evaluate prototypes and submit production samples for testing to ensure compliance with specifications.

5. Launch and Marketing

Plan launch timelines and introduce the private label line through marketing campaigns and merchandising.

Private Label vs Branded Apparel

Private Label Advantages

  • Lower minimum order quantities
  • Faster production times
  • Improved margins and profitability
  • Custom designs aligned with brand identity

Branded Manufacturing Advantages

  • Single point of contact and accountability
  • Seamless integration with the brand image
  • The retailer has a less hands-on role

For new and smaller brands, the private label offers an attractive, low-risk way to launch apparel lines cost-effectively. Established brands with large production volumes may prefer branded manufacturing for greater oversight and consistency.

The Rise of Private Labels in Fashion

Private label has seen significant growth in the fashion industry in recent years:

  • Wider adoption – Previously associated mainly with low-cost basics, private label is now used across price segments from value to luxury fashion.
  • Consumer acceptance – Private label brands have shaken off the perception of lower quality. Thoughtfully designed and manufactured private label is appealing to consumers.
  • Demand for differentiation – In a crowded market, retailers use private labels for unique products that stand out from competitors.
  • Direct-to-consumer brands – Many digitally native brands adopt private labels to design and test products before committing to large inventory buys.
  • Fast fashion – Agile design-to-delivery models enabled by private labels allow faster response to trends.

As competition increases, private-label clothing offers retailers a distinct edge in today’s dynamic fashion marketplace.

Challenges and Considerations

While offering advantages, some aspects of private label apparel require close attention:

Maintaining Quality Standards

Setting benchmarks and strictly monitoring compliance through pre-production samples and inspections during production runs.

Control Over Intellectual Property

Creating watertight agreements with manufacturers to ensure design confidentiality and prevent IP misuse.

Managing Logistics and Timelines

Coordinating design, production, and shipment schedules between multiple parties involves complexity.

Preventing Brand Dilution

Ensuring brand identity and consumer perception is retained across private-label product variants.

Building Reliable Manufacturer Relationships

Investing time to find manufacturers with shared values and capabilities to enable long-term partnerships.

With careful management, retailers can successfully mitigate these risks.

Private Label Success Stories

Many brands have built formidable market positions by leveraging private label:

Zella – Nordstrom’s private label activewear line has grown into a $100 million business known for innovation and premium quality.

Wild Fable – Target’s trend-focused, private-label women’s fashion line appeals to younger Millennial and Gen Z consumers.

Cat & Jack – This kid’s wear private label is Target’s second-largest apparel brand generating over $2 billion in annual sales.

Kirkland Signature – Costco’s private label covering clothing, homeware, and even wine and spirits drives customer loyalty and premium perception.

These examples showcase how a thoughtful private label strategy helps retailers differentiate, cater to specific consumer niches, and boost profits.

Sustainability and Private Label

The private label enables sustainable fashion in multiple ways:

  • Reduced overproduction – Demand-driven production and precise inventory management cuts waste.
  • Increased transparency – Direct buyer-manufacturer relationships facilitate monitoring and accountability across the supply chain.
  • Cleaner production – No middlemen allow buyers to select suppliers with ethical and eco-friendly practices.
  • Less unsold stock – Highly targeted private label lines are tuned to consumer needs and sell through at higher rates.

With growing environmental awareness, the private label gives retailers distinct advantages to reduce textile waste and build responsible supply chains.


Private-label clothing offers retailers the flexibility to design customized and differentiated product lines attuned to their brand identity and target audience. By leveraging skilled manufacturing partners, brands can bring creations from concept to market faster and more economically compared to other sourcing approaches. When executed thoughtfully, private label strategies can drive customer loyalty, higher margins, and a competitive edge for retailers in the dynamic fashion industry.