There’s something so satisfying about repairing a damaged garment so that it looks like new, or creating your very own custom garment from scratch. It’s a skill that few people have today, but it’s a valuable skill to have. If you enjoy sewing, you don’t have to only pursue it as a hobby. By starting a sewing business of your own, you can transform that hobby into a career. Sewing businesses have minimal startup costs, and you can even start your business part-time out of your own home. All of these benefits make for a business venture that’s accessible and practical, and that could help you to become self-sustaining so that you can pursue your sewing business full-time.
Sewing businesses can take on many different forms. Some of these businesses provide services to other businesses in need of products or samples, creating items to spec. Other businesses specialize in selling the garments and goods that they design and create. Many home-based sewing businesses are run entirely by the business owner, while other businesses do expand to hire multiple employees for larger volume work.
In addition to sewing, businesses may branch out into other areas like pattern design and production, garment tailoring and repair, embroidery, furniture upholstery, sewing machine repair, handmade product retail, and more. Some businesses specialize in hand sewing, relying on the value that society puts on handmade goods. Other businesses may be equipped with multiple sewing machines, embroidery machines, and other tools.
According to Data USA, the sewing machine operator workforce totals 144,000 sewers who are an average of 47.1 years old. The average female salary in the industry is $25,549, while the average male salary is $30,975. The highest-paying locations were in Rowan County, North Carolina; Franklin, Vance and Warren Counties in North Carolina; and in Brighton Park, New City, Bridgeport and McKinley Park, Illinois.
Sewing machine operators most frequently world in the apparel accessories and manufacturing, textile product mill, fabric mill, and furniture industries. Of those industries, operators working in the apparel piece good, leather tanning and finishing, and dry cleaning and laundry services tended to make the highest incomes. Sewers who make goods to sell may choose to sell them through stores, but increasingly sewers are selling their goods online through sites like eBay and Etsy.
The sewing industry continues to change, thanks to the trends that are shaping this industry. The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that sewing clothes at home has made a comeback, and that interest is partially driven by an increased awareness of the ethical issues behind fast fashion. With more people interested in where their clothes come from and the products used to create them, there’s an increased opportunity for handmade goods and small businesses. Sewing has always been an art, but many members of the younger generations haven’t learned this craft. This also creates an opportunity for talented sewers to offer courses and instruction to those who want to learn the art of sewing so they can make their own clothes.
The Strategic Sewing & Quilting Summit reports that the COVID-19 pandemic has also greatly affected the sewing industry. Sewers who have relied on brick-and-mortar sales are being forced to pivot to online sales and course offerings. There’s been an increased need for virtual sewing classes and complimentary services, like sewing machine repair, as more people want to volunteer to help create personal protective equipment. Sewers have responded by offering more online products and services and by sending out more newsletters with project ideas.
Sewing businesses’ target markets will depend on each business’ specialty. Potential target markets include clothing designers who need sample garments created, consumers who want to purchase handmade garments or goods, entrepreneurs looking to outsource some of their manufacturing, and home sewers who want to take classes and learn more about the craft.
Skills, experience, and education useful in running a sewing business
Starting a sewing business doesn’t require a business degree, but certain skills and experiences are valuable in both starting and running this business.
Sewing experience. Plenty of sewing experience is a must when starting a sewing business. A business owner needs to be knowledgeable in sewing concepts, machines, fabric properties, and more.
Attention to detail. Detail is so important in sewing, and a business owner with an eye for detail will be able to produce quality goods and to use quality control to ensure that all of their products represent the business well.
Troubleshooting skills. Problems and challenges will arise in the sewing industry, whether it’s working with uncooperative fabric or identifying an issue with a pattern. Any business owner will benefit from troubleshooting skills.
Creativity. A creative nature can be beneficial in this business, from developing new products to choosing great looking color schemes.
Awareness of fashion trends. A business owner needs to be aware of the changing fashion trends so they can select appropriate fabrics and products to create.
Customer service skills. Experience in working with customers, addressing concerns, and fixing problems can help a business owner to earn a strong reputation.
Teaching experience. If a sewer decides to branch out into instruction and teaching, previous teaching experience will be an asset.
Equipment repair skills. An understanding of mechanics and the ability to perform basic sewing machine repairs will be an advantage and can save the business owner some repair bills.
Costs to Start a Sewing Business
One of the great benefits of starting a sewing business is that there are minimal startup costs involved. It’s possible to start this business right out of your home, saving you on rental costs. Plan to spend about $2,000 to get the business up and running; you can then expand the business later on.
Common startup costs for a sewing business:
- Sewing machine
- Inventory, including fabric and thread
- Sewing supplies and tools
- Furniture, including work tables and a sewing table
- Shipping supplies
Steps to Starting a Sewing Business
Step 1. Write your Business Plan
After coming up with the idea, the next step in starting your business should be to write a clothing line business plan. Not only will a bank require you to have a business plan, but multiple studies have shown that a business plan helps increase the odds of starting a successful business.
Step 2. Form a Business Entity
A business entity refers to how a business is legally organized to operate. There are four primary business entities to choose from which include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation and LLC. Each type of entity has its own pros and cons such as liability exposure, costs and administrative requirements.
Related: Comparison of Business Entities
Step 3. Select your Location
Many sewing businesses start out of a spare room in the house, but as the business grows, it may be necessary to rent a workspace or a storefront. Additionally, being located in a visible and high-traffic location, may help to bring in new customers.
Related: Choosing a business location
Step 4. Apply for Business Licenses and Permits
The types of business licenses, permits and registrations that will be required to start a business vary on the activities of the business in addition to where it is located.
Step 5. Find Financing
Coming up with a good business idea and having the skills to run it are one thing, but getting the funding to start a sewing business is another. Fortunately, the cost to start a sewing business is relatively low, however getting a loan can be difficult. In order to get a loan, the borrower(s) will need to have good credit and be able invest 15-25% of their money towards the total start-up costs.
Step 6. Get your Marketing Plan in Place
Sewing businesses have a number of different marketing options. Common marketing techniques include social media marketing, online advertising, and print advertising. Establishing a referral program can also help to bring sewers new business. Marketing costs will depend on the type and volume of the activity that’s performed. In addition to creating a website, sewers who sell their own goods may want to invest in some photography equipment to capture quality photos to advertise their goods online in the best light possible.
Step 7. Get Insurance
A sewing business will need several types of insurance for full coverage:
- General liability insurance helps to cover expenses that can result if a customer is ever injured while on the business’ property.
- Commercial property insurance helps to cover expenses if the business’ inventory and equipment are ever lost or damaged in an event like a fire. This insurance is often overlooked when working out of the home. Most homeowner’s policies won’t cover damages to business inventory and equipment.
- Worker’s compensation insurance can help to cover expenses like lost wages and medical bills that the business might face if an employee is ever injured while working.
Many factors will affect insurance policy costs. To get the best idea of what insurance will cost, request quotes from multiple providers. When comparing the quotes, look at more than the difference between insurance premiums and consider other factors like coverage limits, exclusions, and deductibles.
Step 8. Hiring Employees
When just starting out, a business owner can probably perform all of the sewing work that the business requires. As the business grows, it may be time to hire employees. Salary.com reports that hand sewers earn an average of $50,574 per year, though salaries can range from $16,505 to $37,404. According to PayScale, sewing machine operators earn an average of $26,400 per year, though salaries can range from $20,000 to $34,000.
Employee salaries are just one expense that comes with hiring staff. A business will also need to budget for expenses like paid time off, health insurance contributions, and worker’s comp insurance.
Related: Hiring your first employee
Amazon has several good books for starting and running a sewing business such as:
- More Sewing to Sell―Take Your Handmade Business to the Next Level: 16 New Projects to Make & Sell!
- Etsy Empire [Updated 2020]: Proven Tactics for Your Etsy Business Success and Selling Handmade Crafts and Handmade Jewelry
- My Business Planner: Monthly Planner and organizer for sewing business with sales, expenses, budget, goals and more.
How much can you potentially make owning a sewing business?
While data on the profits of sewing businesses isn’t currently available, keep in mind that many factors can affect a business’ income. A sewing business that establishes multiple streams of income, such as by selling goods, providing services, and selling training and education courses can appeal to multiple audiences and achieve higher income. Other factors include how long a business has been in operation, the business’ rates and profits, and whether the owner runs the business full-time or part-time.
Things to consider before starting a sewing business
If you’re considering starting a sewing business, look for a niche where there’s unmet need. The industry can be competitive, but if you’re creative and find a way to do things differently, you can reduce the competition and provide a good or service that consumers both need and want. Sales platforms like Etsy are already heavily saturated with handmade products, so consider how you can make your products stand out or provide a service to an industry that needs your work.
You don’t have to jump into your sewing business on a full-time basis. Instead, this is a business that you can start slowly on a part-time basis while maintaining other employment. Create a business plan and set some goals to work toward and you may be able to turn your business into a full-time venture soon.