brand, trade, and domain - how to name a clothing brand
Congratulations! You are living your dream and about to start the company that you have always wanted. There is just one problem. What are you going to call it? This guide takes you threw the process of how to name a clothing brand. Even if you have a name in mind, it's worth taking a read to ensure you don't make any rookie mistakes while naming your clothing company.
This guide takes you step by step through the naming process. And, as an added bonus I am sharing my journey naming virtue + vice to show you how it's a long and difficult exercise coming up with a name. It can be frustrating coming up with duds, but eventually, you will get there, so don't give up.
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In this article, you will learn about:
- Why are clothing brand names important?
- What is a brand name?
- How to determine your brand's personality
- Should you name your brand after yourself?
- 9 Strategies for coming up with a unique name
- Things to avoid while naming your clothing brand
- Final checklist before you commit to your brand name
- Should you Copywrite and trademark?
- DIY steps to trademarking your clothing brand
- Free workbook - How to come up with the perfect name for your clothing brand
why are clothing brand names important?
In short, a clothing brand name is going to be everywhere
When naming your brand make sure you like it because you are going to be seeing a lot of it. Picking a brand name is kind of like getting married, it's pretty permanent. Yes, you can always change your brand name, but remember if you do this you will need to get your loyal customers and potential customers who had become aware of your brand re-familiarized with your new name. So, for that reason try to pick a name that you can live with for a long time.
Did you know that virtue + vice was almost named Khadi Boutique? I was feeling frustrated and almost gave up, I wanted to get starting designing my logos, creating my branding, and building my website, and thought about settling for something, anything. I am really glad I kept on working at it and didn't go with that name, or some fo the other I came up with!
The name of your brand is the first touchpoint that a potential customer has with you. For good or bad, your brand's name will be the first impression your company leaves with a new customer. So, make sure it's a good impression.
It's how your customer remembers you
what is a brand name?
A brand name is also known as a business name. This is going to be the name that your customers associate with your company. Gap, Marc Jacobs, and Zara, are all brand names.
It is important to get your brand name just right as it is a reflection of your company and is not only your customer's first interaction with your company as I mentioned earlier but also the most lasting.
Before you start...
Who is your target audience?
Let's look at 4 different clothing brands and explore how their brand name connects with their target audience.
The name is an emphasis on youth, and following young trends. The Forever 21 customer is not a person looking for closet staples that will take them into the next decades of their lives. They are a customer who wants to consume the newest and youngest trends regularly. For the most part, the Forever 21 shopper does not have a deeply curated personal style, their style is whatever is rending at the moment.
Reformation is a fresh and fun take on the word reform. To call the brand Reform might have been a little too serious for their target audience of millennials looking to make better purchases while keeping up with trends.
Prana quite literally means breath. And, what better name for a company dedicated to yoga, then something related to breathing. While this name is perfect for their target audience of yogi's you can see how this might be the totally wrong name for our Reformation or Forever 21 girl.
Another sustainable line, Stella McCartney is known for luxury. It is not a coincidence that McCartney chose to include her last name in her branding. Her father is nonother than Paul McCartney - one of the Beatles. Basically the most famous band on earth, and associated with Royalty. By using her last name McCartney attracts shoppers who are looking for exclusivity (at the cost of a highly marked up price tag) and almost unattainable luxury reserved for the truly elite.
you can't be everything to everyone
Remember when choosing your target audience - you can't be everything to everyone. Pick the type of person that you want to appeal to, and appeal to them. If you try to please everyone, you will please no one.
An example of this is the great debate in the sustainable fashion world that asks, is leather or pleather more sustainable? Vegans will say pleather, hardcore environmentalists will say leather is more sustainable. At the end of the day, you will never please both groups. So, pick your values and speak to those people. The best advice I can give is to acknowledge the other group's values and explain why you made the decision you did.
First, think about your brand's personality. What are you trying to convey? Are you fun and flirty like Forever21 which chose a youth-centric name? Are you leading a revolution like Reformation by reforming the fashion industry? Or, do you want to go the ethnic route like Prana?
There is no right answer to what your brand's personality should be. But once you know the message you want to send, branding will become easier.
should you use your own name?
Well, kind of, unless your name is Sarah Jones, or George Glass or something super common like that. Using your own name is an easy way to create a unique brand name. This is a route that many designers choose to use.
It makes growing your personal brand and company brand easier
At virtue + vice I need to market my company, and myself. virtue + vice has become known as a source of free fashion industry information, tutorials, and manufacturing consultancy agency. While me, Melanie DiSalvo, has become a voice and expert in the fashion industry.
For example, when I go to tradeshows I represent virtue + vice. But, when I am writing or consulting for brands I am Melanie DiSalvo. If I had named my company Melanie DiSalvo Fashion Consulting, with a tagline or slogan that went something like sustainable fashion solutions. Well, then I would be able to brand my company and myself at the same time.
You become the face
Your customer will relate to you because using your name makes the brand much more personal. When they wear your clothes or use their products they think of you. Not a faceless brand. By using your name, you create an emotional connection between you and your customer. For good, or for bad.
you become the face
If your brand gets bad press or is in a scandal, well, that's on you. You will forever be directly linked with the drama.
Also, if you have a long or hard name to spell it could be difficult for customers to remember or find you.
loss of control
Many luxury designers do not own their names. That is how brands like Chanel are able to survive. The name Chanel did not belong to Coco Chanel in the end, it was a brand name. If you think you might be uncomfortable with strangers controlling your name in the future, think twice about naming your brand after yourself.
Personally I am happy I did not go with my name as my company business names. I like keeping my two lives separate.
strategies for a unique clothing brand name
Now that you know the type of person you want to appeal to, and how you want to appeal to them, it's time to brainstorm some ideas.
The first thing to do is take a piece of paper, or, in today's digital age, open a new word doc, and start writing down everything that comes to mind.
The only rule in brainstorming is that there are no bad ideas.
my personal experience with brainstorming
When I did my initial brainstorm for virtue + vice I had words all over the place from different types of flowers and fibers types, to obscure textiles terms, to some pretty dark stuff from my time spent in fast fashion. When I was done, and looked at the page it felt like there was no idea that brought all these random words together. I was all over the place. That's when I started playing with the idea of duality. How can we have our cake and eat it too? Good vs evil, the oxymoron or sustainable fast fashion, etc. And, the idea that when I first started virtue + vice I wanted to focus on old-world manufacturing techniques but updated for the modern world.
Eventually, we landed on virtue + vice. A name that could take on many different meanings in this industry, and played with the idea of dichotomy co-existing.
9 tips to turn your brainstorm into a clothing brand name
1 - be literal
A great example of a literal name is the brand Away. What are people who are shopping for luggage thinking about? Literally getting away. The name is literal. And, perfect. (Unfortunately, the founders and management were far from perfect.)
So, what are people who are shopping for your product thinking about? Are there any words that define what it is they are searching for?
2 - Acronyms
Try using the first letter of every word in a phrase or parts of words or names. …
Although ADIDAS denies it, many people believe that the brand was named after the acronym All Day I Dream About Soccer. Some say Sports, or other S - words.
Is there a phrase in your industry that could lend it's self to an acronym?
Here is one that just came to me while I was typing up this guide. How about the name FEW? Fashion Empowering Women. You could even play with the brand name within marketing materials and website copy. Like, too FEW women work in safe working conditions, FEW women in the fashion industry are paid a fair wage, etc.
Ok, it's not the best brand name. But, I am sure you get where I am going. Also, if anyone likes the name feel free to steal it, it's yours!
3 - try industry jargon
So I studied textiles at The Fashion Institute of Technology. My major was TDM - Textile Development and Marketing. We were one of, if not the smallest concentrations in the entire school. A small group of about 30 students per year obsessed with all things textiles.
So, one semester while me and my friend Katie were pulling an all-nighter (because we left our work to the last minute) we were feeling particularly giddy around 4 in the morning. One of us was using googly eyes for our portfolio, so we went around the knitting lab and googly-eyed everything.
Well, it turns out that apparently FIT has some sort of secret society, and all of the faculty were sure that the googly eyes were a mark of the secret society. We stayed quiet for a while as rumors swarmed the school. Somehow, I forget how it came out that is just me and Katie being stupid and sleep-deprived.
But from that, we did start out own joke not-so-secret society for our major TDM called Warp and Weft. If you don't know, warp and weft are terms in weaving that respectively represent the different directions of the yarns. We all liked the name because no one would understand what it meant unless you were super into textiles and know the industry jargon for how woven fabrics were made. Basically you needed to be an insider to really get it.
Apparently, others liked our name too.
Fast forward 6 or 7 years later and the brand warp and weft is everywhere.
Another example of a brand that uses industry jargon is 3x1 denim. 3x1 describes the type of weave that most denim is made from. And, the denim brand Mavi - meaning blue in Turkish - get it, indigo denim is blue.
4 - Mash-ups. …
It's just what it sounds like. Take two names on your brainstorm list and mash them together. Think Brangelina.
So, on my original brainstorm for virtue + vice I had terms like ethical fashion and textiles. I came up with Texical. Cool name I thought. But, I didn't want something that would be so limiting. While Texical would be a great name if I was solely sourcing ethical textiles, I felt it did not encompass everything that I wanted my company to represent.
5 - Get inspiration from mythology and literature, but be careful
I see this a lot in the ethical and sustainable fashion and lifestyle world. IMO you should try to avoid it. I don't think we need any more brands named after Hindu gods, or religious Holidays like Holi. Plus, many people find names like this offensive.
6 - Use foreign words, maybe...
Again, be careful with this. In today's call-out culture it is basically impossible not to offend someone. Especially in the world of sustainable and ethical fashion. For whatever reason, we are an easy to offend bunch.
But, try to be careful what words you decide to appropriate. As a general rule stay away from any religious words.
7 - how about a nickname?
Earlier I mentioned the pros and cons of using your own name as your brand name. If you feel uncomfortable using your name, maybe try a nickname?
8 - Take a look at a map
I see this a lot on brand line sheets do this. Especially the brands I help to make their products in India with. There is the Jaipur dress, and the Goa top, the Kerala skirt, the Mallorca swimsuit, etc. IMO I think these brands should get a little more creative - using ethnic-sounding places to sound cool is a bit of a copout to creativity, and I think people, in general, are starting to get tired of if.
I recommend taking the mapping approach one step further. Choose words that associate with that place instead of just copying the name. For example, Jaipur is known as The Pink City. A lot of brands in Jaipur have the word pink in their names. From the boutique store Hot Pink to the artisan collective Pink Artisans they all play with the word pink.
Where are you making your products? Are their words closely associated with that area? Can you use them in your brand name?
9 - Mix things up. …
Have a name you like that is already taken? Try these tricks.
remove or add some letters
A popular tech trend is to add -ly to words. Think of the brands Grammarly and Calendly. Or to add other endings like -ify (Shopify ,Spotify) or -ico. For example, the idea for the brand name Ethical could become Ethify or Ethico.
The pharmaceutical industry is famous for this. Have you ever noticed how drug companies take words that are related to what they are trying to cure and then add a few letters?
spell it differently
There is a new plant-based restaurant in the city called Farmasy. Get it? It's a play on pharmacy and is suggesting that plants, that come from a farm, are the cure.
There is also a natural beauty company with the name Farmasy that specializes in, you guessed it, plant-based beauty creams.
It cute, topical, and definitely stick in your mind.
try a generator
If all else fails try a generator. There are lots of name generators online that you can pop words into and they will spit out ideas. You can also use a name generator as a secondary brainstorm tool to get your creative juices going.
things to avoid while naming your clothing brand
Check, check, and check that your name is not already being used in the industry. At least once a week I have to tell a potential new client that is living their startup dream that their brilliant game-changing idea already exists - and, all they had to do was a simple google search. The same goes for branding. Make sure someone else is not already using your name.
For virtue + vice, the only other competitors at the time of my companies naming were a tattoo and piercing shop and an Etsy jewelry line that looked like it might have been out of business. It was safe to say there was no competition in the fashion world for the name.
let's start with the basics.
try not to offend
Again as I said, as hard as you try you are bound to offend someone, somehow, eventually. But, try your hardest not to. Right now in sustainable fashion the "it" trigger word is Kimono. I am not getting into that here. If you are curious, google it.
avoid words that might become outdated
This is tricky. I grew up in a time when it was ok to call things gay as an insult. As I type, this makes me feel ancient. I am not that old. I am only 32. But, it's amazing to see how society changes and what was once acceptable no longer is. Looking back on my elementary school self using gay as an insult it would have been almost impossible to predict when or even if the term would become outdated.
When I was growing up everyone that the show FRIENDS was hilarious. TBH, I never watched it - which left me out of a lot of high school conversations. Anyway, today, a lot of what happened and was said on that show is considered offensive.
Don't be like FRIENDS.
Again, try your best here. And, I think the best way to avoid this problem of outdated terminology is to avoid terms that are associated with things like sexual orientation, race, religion, etc.
don't over complicate
Don't use names that have weird spellings, are hard to read and pronounce or are super long.
I wish I had some examples of names like these, but TBH they are long gone from my memory. Keep your name short, snappy, easy to say, type, and understand.
Speaking from my own experience with the name virtue + vice, when I am on the phone giving my email to someone they often think the v's are b's. So, I have to be very careful to spell out my name saying v like violent. Keep this in mind when naming your clothing line. Also, for whatever reason people remember my name as vice and virtue - which creates problems when they are trying to google me.
So you think you have a name? Final checks before you commit.
if your goal is going global…
make sure your name is not offensive in other cultures. A simple google search should be able to help with this. For example, the brand FCUK while embraced by cultures that are ok with crude humor, might not be appropriate in more conservative cultures.
quadruple check it
Check again, just one more time that your brand name does not already exist in the industry.
ask your friends
Also, ask your friends what they think of it. So many times founders are so secretive with their startups. I am going to be real with you, your idea probably isn't that great that all your friends are going to try and steal it from you. And, even if they want to, the truth is most people are too lazy or too scared to do the work required to take the leap and start a brand. Use others' opinions to help prevent you from making bad branding and naming decisions.
when asking a friend would have helped
Here's a story about my friend, who's name I won't share. She wanted to get a super hipster jellyfish tattoo. And, being an artist she drew it out herself, didn't show anyone her masterpiece, and booked the appointment. She went and got the tattoo, and only after when she started showing people did she realize that she has made a terrible mistake. It straight up looked like a dick. Not even remotely like a jellyfish. So, now she has this dick on her ankle. I mean the tattoo artists probably should have said something to her. But, maybe if she has shown just one other person the concept before getting something so permanent she might have avoided a permanent dick tattoo.
The moral of the story is that sometimes we as founders and creators are too close to our product and brand. It is hard for us to take a step back and see what others see. That is why it's important to share, and to not get defensive when others offer honest critiques.
Use the smile test
Is your brand name easy to spell, remember, and understand?
Does it have something to do with your brand's mission and the product you are offering? Bonobos got lucky, (and it didn't hurt that they poached some of the most well-known talents in the fashion industry and had a ton of tech money to back them up). But generally speaking, naming a clothing brand after monkeys with an active sex life might now be the best choice from a clothing brand name perspective.
Did you know that Banana Republic was originally Banana Republic Travel & Safari Clothing Company? They sold safari-themed clothes that one might wear to, yes, the Banana Republic. But, in 1982 The Gap bought the brand, shortened the name to Banana Republic and gave it a more upscale makeover. But, to this day in the store you can still see decorations dedicated to its more tropical past.
Speaking of The Gap...
The name the GAP refers to "the generation gap", between children and adults which reached its peak during the hippie movement. Now the Gap is known for a preppy clean-cut, all American style. But, originally it was marketed towards tweens. Who knew?
How is your brand going to look as a logo? And, on paper?
The name should stay relevant for a long time. While naming your brand something current and relevant like "on fleek" might sound like a good idea now, trust me. It won't be in the future.
How does the name sound? Empowering? Relaxing? Fun? Words evoke emotions, what does your brand make people feel?
think about your brand's website and social media accounts
These are important especially if you want to have an online store to sell your products or services. When I went to check domain availability for vritueandvice I found that the domain name virtueandvice(dot)com was already taken. And, being a self-funded startup we didn't have the budget to try and buy it from its current owner.
But, we had spent so much time coming up with the perfect name I wasn't just going to give up on it. So I settled on using shop in front of the name. I also bought virtue-vice.
Another tip is that if the .com version of your name is taken try .biz, there are even .eco options now!
remember to stay consistent
There are workarounds to not getting your exact clothing brand name in your domain names or social accounts. But, one tip I recommend it keeping everything consistent so it's easy for your customers to find you.
Making a website that was viruteandvice.eco, and then an instagram @shopvirtueandvice, and a twitter virtueplusvice would be confusing. Pick one way, and stick to it.
copyright vs trademark
Yay! So you finally got your name. Congratulations. The hardest part is over. But, there is still work to be done.
Did you hear about Deadmou5 vs Disney? Disney sued Deadmou5 to stop using his signature mouse head with ears while djing because they said it too closely resembled their namesake charter Mickey Mouse.
Copyrighting and trademarking can be expensive. But, they are definitely worth at least learning about and then deciding if they are the right move for your company name.
Copyrights are for creative designs, like fabric prints while trademarks are meant for logos and slogans.
Once you have your brand name, logo, and slogans you are going to want to trademark them.
How much does it cost to trademark?
The cost to trademark a logo with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is around $275 and $325 if you do it yourself. You can also register a trademark with your state for $50-$150, The downside of registering with your state is that that option offers you less legal protection.
If you choose to have a lawyer help you, trademarking can cost thousands depending on your lawyer's fees. (Here in NYC lawyers are extremely expensive, like around $500 per hour, or more!)
How to trademark your clothing brand name
If you want to bootstrap and go the DIY route, here are some tips to help you trademark - but, please remember, in no way is this legal advice.
First, check out the trademark electronic search system to make sure your name and/or mark is already not taken by another company.
If it isn't, fill out the application and pay the fees here.
Then you wait. trademark and patent filings can take up to 6 months for the review process!
My promise to you - I will never charge for informational tools. Other companies charge $50-$200 for guides like this one. Not me.
I am going, to be honest, and transparent with you. I don't need your money. Between consulting and clothing sales I am doing just fine. The goal of virtue + vice has always been education. Educating customers on how clothing is made and how to become more sustainable shoppers. Educating brands on how to clean up their supply chains. And, now educating individuals on how to start their dream business. I want to give you the tools you need to succeed. Because to me, every sustainable and ethical company out there is a win for the planet.