How to start an alterations business

What you need to know to launch an alterations business.

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Does the freedom and creativity of opening your own alterations business appeal to you? Starting a business can be overwhelming with so many legal, financial and practical aspects to consider, but the good news is that you don't have to face them all at once. In this guide, we discuss what you need to consider before opening your own alterations business.

What is an alterations business?

An alterations business provides a clothing alterations service to customers. You or a seamstress make changes to clothing to fix or improve the garments, such as:

  • Bringing hems up or down
  • Adding pockets to garments
  • Increasing or decreasing a garment's size
  • Adding zippers
  • Button replacement
  • Repairing rips and tears

How to start an alterations business

Straightforward steps for setting up your own alterations business:

  1. Identify your niche. Identify who your customers are. Typically people want alterations services near their home or workplace. Research your competition. Work out if you have the skills for that area, such as suit alterations near offices. Write a list of how you might stand out from the competition with a better service, price or other speciality.
  2. Choose the right structure for your business. For many business owners, operating as a Sole Trader or Partnership is a simple option. If you have investors, you might want to consider registering your business as a company.
  3. Develop a business plan. Write a business plan to set goals, gauge the competition and to help you measure your progress. A business plan helps to convince lenders that your business will be a success. Include your own research on the competition, and your projected fees and costs.
  4. Create a brand name and logo. You may also need a logo to promote your shopfront and online presence. If you don't have the budget for a graphic designer yet, you can use these graphic design tools and services to create your own logo.
  5. Register your business. Most people will need to register their business name with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and get an Australian Business Number (ABN).
  6. Select a workshop location and buy equipment. If you want a shopfront for your alterations business, you will need to find a suitable commercial space. Otherwise check with your local council zoning rules to see if you are allowed to run your business from home. A large space that shields the noise of sewing machines from the neighbours is best. Write a list of your projected costs for equipment such as machines, fabric, accessories, changing room and tools. You may also need staff if you have a shopfront.
  7. Consider loan options. You may need to apply for a loan to start your business if you rent a commercial space. If you can't access a business loan, a personal loan option might be suitable.
  8. Consider legal needs. You may need to get legal document templates such as a Service Agreement. If you're renting a commercial space to run the office, you may also need to speak to a commercial lease lawyer and take out Public Indemnity Insurance.
  9. Market your business. Word of mouth is helped by a strong online presence, which can be low-cost. Consider investing in creating a website to build trust in customers. Walk-in business is important for a shopfront in high-foot traffic areas, so invest in signs to attract customers. Consider advertising your store's grand opening like a local social event. Flyers are also an effective way to reach new customers.

man altering clothes

Skills and knowledge you need

In order to start an alterations business, you need general sewing skills and knowledge around clothing design and fabrics. You need to be able to use a sewing machine, with the ability to move onto an industrial version of the one you have now.

To start charging for alterations you will need to have skills in:

  • Zipper replacements
  • Hemming
  • Taking in and letting out garments
  • Taper side seams
  • Shoulder and waist alterations
  • Readymade garment alterations and repairs
  • Special occasion alterations for suits and wedding dresses

You will also need a business plan and an idea of how you're going to market your services.

Buy the right equipment and software

Depending on the scale of customers and projects you want to take on, you will need:

  • A sewing machine
  • Fabric scissors
  • Needles and pins
  • Thread
  • A fitting room and full-length mirror for customers
  • Measuring tapes
  • A large table for marking clothes and cutting fabric
  • Pinking shears to cut cloth edges that won't fray
  • Iron
  • Seam ripper to undo stitching
  • Mannequin
  • Space to store customers clothes

You may also need accounting software to keep track of:

  • Invoicing and billing
  • Bookkeeping and inventory management
  • Payroll administration
  • Budgeting and auditing

Consider getting courses and qualifications

Working in alterations does not require a formal qualification. Your success depends on your work experience and skills.

If you are still learning, there are a variety of courses for every skill level. There is a wealth of information online – you can find a plethora of free instructional videos on YouTube, or find sewing and alterations content on the following paid online learning platforms:

Alternatively, if you learn better in a hands-on environment, then a sewing class might be for you. Generally, these are guided workshops with a handful of other people.

If you want to elevate the profile of your business, having a qualification in fashion or dressmaking can be beneficial. TAFE has a variety of courses that cover skills such as sewing, pattern cutting, screen printing, digital design skills and fashion drawing.

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    Choose a business structure

    Before you start working, you will need to consider how you are going to structure your business.

    It is likely your alterations business fits one of the following models:

    • Sole Trader. If it is just you starting a business, then you might consider registering as a Sole Trader. This means you will have full control and responsibility over the business.
    • Partnerships. If you are launching your alterations business with someone else, then it may be a good idea to register as a Partnership. A Partnership is defined as two or more people who go into business together. All partners have equal control over the business.

    You will also need to apply for an Australian Business Number (ABN) so you can invoice customers.

    Access legal documents and services online

    It is important to have a range of legal documents for your business signed before you start trading.

    • If you are opening an alterations business with someone, you will need a Partnership Agreement. This ensures you both have equal control and responsibility over the business.
    • You will need an Employment Agreement if you hire anyone to work for you. This ensures everyone is on the same page around rights, pay, duties and expectations.
    • A price-matching policy is an optional document that can ensure you have a competitive edge over other businesses that offer the same services as you.
    • Consider Public Liability Insurance to protect you in case a customer has an accident in your workshop.

    If you need additional legal documents or advice, you can find these services offered by a range of online legal providers.

    Name Product What's offered? Starting price to become a member Annual Fee from Free legal documents available?
    Lawpath
    Legal documents and templates, Access to lawyers, Legal guides, Legal advice
    $79 per month
    Essentials: $288, legal advice: $828
    You can view samples for free and you can create your first document for free.
    Choose an annual plan from just $288 and get unlimited revisions to your legal or business documents. Plus, unlock exclusive partner offers.
    LawDepot
    Legal documents and templates, Legal guides
    $4.99 per month
    $59.88
    Free one week trial available which gives access to hundreds of documents.
    Customise and download legal documents in as little as five minutes. Plus, LawDepot offers peace of mind with two service guarantees.
    Legal123
    Legal documents and templates, Legal guides
    Varies per template
    N/A
    No
    Legal123 offers a range of individual templates or document packages for consultants, app developers, personal trainers and more.
    LegalVision
    Legal documents and templates, Legal guides, Legal advice
    $49 + GST per week
    $2,548 + GST
    No
    Your business can take advantage of unlimited lawyer consultations, fast turnaround times and free legal templates with LegalVision.
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    How to find customers

    With an alterations business, a mix of physical advertising and online advertising can help you find customers.

    • Hard copy advertising includes business cards, flyers, posters and other physical marketing materials. These should be distributed locally – for example, a flyer on your community board or a business card at your local drycleaner. This will draw in customers from your area.
    • Online marketplaces are a great way to secure work as you're getting started. Airtasker, for example, has an entire category dedicated to alterations and dressmaking jobs. Gumtree lets you advertise your skills and respond to jobs posted on the site. Other business directories like White Pages and True Local help you reach a wider audience online.
    • Website. You can also consider setting up a website for your sewing and alterations business. Then learn, or hire someone, to make your business appear before others when potential customers search for "alterations". There are many other marketing tools that you can take advantage of as well.

    How much to charge customers

    Most alterations businesses charge per article of clothing. Small, uncomplicated jobs are usually listed at a fixed price.

    Here is a rundown of how much alterations typically cost:

    Alteration typeItemPrice to charge
    HemsTrousers and jeans

    Tops

    Skirts and dresses

    Jackets and coats

    $15 - $25

    $15 - $25

    $20 - $30

    $35 - $50

    Take in or let outTrousers and jeans

    Tops

    Skirts and dresses

    Jackets and coats

    $25 - $30

    $15 - $33

    $30 - $45

    $40 - $50

    ZipsTrousers and jeans

    Skirts

    Dresses

    $18 - $25

    $18 - $28

    $30 - $45

    SleevesTops

    Jackets and coats

    $10 - $30

    $25 - $45

    StrapsAlter length$10 - $33

    Complex alterations for formal attire such as tuxedos, ball dresses, wedding and bridesmaids gowns usually require an assessment in person before you can quote the customer.

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    Frequently asked questions

    How can I start a sewing business with no money?

    Some will start their alterations business from home to cut back on expenses like commercial rent. You can also use your personal sewing machine in the beginning and move up to a commercial grade machine as your business grows.

    How can I improve my tailoring business?

    Alterations are one of few services left that are dependent on local customers. If you can outperform other businesses in your area, then you will earn a bigger market share. A few ideas are:

    • Collaborate with businesses who serve the same customer base. For example, advertising at local drycleaners or clothing stores will attract the attention of people who already take good care of their clothes.
    • Take advantage of social media. Promote special offers and competitions to your followers to build up your clientele.
    • Make sure your website is optimised for mobile viewing. If it's not, you are alienating a large chunk of potential customers who search for businesses on their phones.

    Is a tailor and a seamstress the same?

    The short answer is no. A seamstress works with hemlines, fabrics and seams, whereas tailors create and alter custom-made garments. The term "seamstress" specifically refers to a female, whereas "seamster" is the male equivalent. "Tailor" is generally considered gender-neutral.

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