So you have decided to start your own online clothing store. It’s no surprise why: with online apparel stores being a multi-billion-a-year industry, it’s by far one of the most popular eCommerce niches. With reaching $759 billion in 2021 and predictions it will reach $1 trillion by 2025, there is a lot of potential online business within the fashion industry to cash in on.
However, starting a successful online clothing store is more than just buying a domain and placing an ad.
A successful store is dependent on the niche you choose, the branding you create, the quality of not only your clothing products but your site, the customer service you provide, and fulfillment strategies.
Just because a niche is popular doesn’t mean you have instant access to potential customers. In fact, the opposite is true. With increasing popularity comes increasing pressure to differentiate your store from the millions of others already online.
If you’re new to the eCommerce game or looking to add clothing and apparel to your growing online business portfolio in 2021, then this post is for you!
In this guide, we will take you through how to start a clothing business online the right way, highlighting the keep steps you need to take to start a successful online clothing business.
Additionally, don’t forget to check out our Top Apparel Online Stores post, for inside tips on how to build a successful brand once you’ve set up your clothing brand.
Let’s get started!
Step 1: Choose Your Online Clothing Niche
Before you can choose your products, you need to decide which apparel or clothing niche you want to sell in. Choosing your niche ensures you choose products and create your whole clothing line business plan around the type of potential shoppers you want to appeal to and ultimately ensures you are able to position your store in a unique way.
The trick is to be very specific and really drill down your niche, as this will enable you to identify and market to your potential shoppers more easily. This will also help you develop your product list to appeal to your specific target market, allowing you to limit your competition and increase your chances of customer loyalty long-term.
An awesome example of this is the online apparel store HUMAN. Their niche? Pop culture. How do they cater to it? By using bold humor: a unique expression that appeals to what they call ‘pop culture nerds.’ And what appeals to potential shoppers in this niche? Not fancy chiffon skirts or name-brand shoes, but tees, hoodies, and socks.
Their site has so much awesome going on, but it’s their slogan that sums up their niche perfectly: “Dress Yourself To Express Yourself.”
So how do you choose your niche? Here are the four most important considerations when choosing your niche:
- Be as unique as possible to stand out from the crowd
- Choose a niche that interests you and you’re passionate about
- Ask yourself whether you can add value and/or position yourself as an authority
- Make sure the fashion niche has earning potential
You can get more detail on the above from our How to Find a Profitable Niche for Your Online Store post.
2021 Trending Clothing Niches
- Vintage clothing stores
- Athleisure clothing lines
- Genderless fashion
- Sustainable fashion
- Recommerce (second-hand clothing lines)
Step 2: Choose Your Online Clothing Store Products
Once you have a clothing niche, it’s time to choose your products. Will you be selling short-sleeve shirts or dresses? The clothing and apparel market is almost infinite, and you can be sure there are a bunch of options within the niche you’re selling in.
However, if you’re tempted to jump in and sell everything, this could be your undoing before you’ve even started. When you’re starting an online store, it’s always advised to start off small and slow and then branch out your lines as you grow.
A great example of this is one of our top merchants, Mrs Bow Tie. Mrs. Bow Tie made a name for themselves selling bow ties that are uniquely ‘Made in Britain’. Their success with just one product line was so big that within three years they have added neckties, pocket squares, cummerbunds, suspenders and cufflinks to their product lists and sold to over 300,000 customers.
Say you have decided to open an online clothing store aimed at the yoga fitness niche. Instead of putting a variety of products on your proposed list, isolate the must-have products you can launch with. Each kind of product – whether it’s a hoodie or a pair of socks – has a wide potential of building your new clothing brand.
What should you consider when choosing your products? Here are our top three tips!
1. Start Small
As Mrs Bow Tie did, start small and simple as you get your product list off the ground. Adding too many products upfront will not only add extra admin costs every step of the way – from product photo shoots to web setup – but it can add complications when you first launch. Complications can affect the service you give, and as a new store in a very competitive market, customer service, or the lack thereof, can make or break your clothing line business.
2. Think Ahead
As we know, fashion and clothing fads are ever-changing. Choose stable products at first that can be easily changed to suit the changing styles, such as bow ties or t-shirts as shown above. If you do decide to go more mainstream fashion, plan for the changing styles by creating a store that adapts, such as dropshipping orders, which will ensure you’re not stuck with unsellable stock. Ultimately, in the clothing game, there will always be shifts, so success will depend on your ability to think ahead and be innovative and creative in dealing with the changes.
3. Set Your Focus
Yes, be as specific and narrow as you can at the beginning, but have an eye on the end goal. Think about where you see your online clothing brand extending in the future, and make sure that you’re focusing on the end goal. This will ensure that, as you add products to your range or line and grow your store in your niche, you will be able to implement new or trending products onto your store more seamlessly.
Step 3: Choose Your Online Clothing Store Business Model
Now that you know your niche and have an idea of the types of products you want to sell, it’s time to pick an online clothing business model for your online clothing store business. This is where you decide if you using a clothing manufacturer, white labeling, or opting for dropshipping to build your clothing company.
There are four types of business models that online clothing and apparel stores fall into:
- Custom cut-and-sew
- Private label
Each online business model has its own pros and cons and choosing between them should be based on your overall fashion store objective and budget and your skills or potential for hiring a team.
Let’s look at each of them more closely.
1. Print-on-Demand Clothing Store Business Model
Print-on-demand is the easiest type of online clothing business model as well as the cheapest. In fact, custom t-shirt printing alone is expected to reach $10 billion in sales by 2025.
These are the types of stores where you print your logo and design onto blank apparel, and everything is automated.
There is enough variety in types and colors within this business type and it’s your most cost-effective option when dealing with small numbers of orders.
A good example of a company that offices this is Printful, which has grown into a mega print-on-demand brand, launching a variety of new products and services this year including activewear and warehousing and fulfillment.
The biggest drawback of this model is that these types of stores generally have lower profit margins and offer few options in the way of branding tags, labels and other finishes.
Bonus Content: How to Find Private-Label Manufacturers for Your Products
2. Custom Cut-and-Sew Clothing Boutique Business Model
Best for those of you who want to launch your very own clothing brand and design to create an online boutique. AKA for those wanting to design and make their own clothes and accessories.
This type of online clothing boutique business model is best for those of you who want to build a complete clothing line from scratch. Here, you do everything in-house from designing your clothes to manufacturing and fulfilling – yourself.
The biggest advantage here is that you are selling something very unique and can customize as you see fit. However, custom cut-and-sew businesses come with a lot of management, as you will be responsible for finding and coordinating your own pattern-makers and manufacturers, sourcing your own fabric, etc. This means a lot of upfront budget and time needed to launch your first line.
Pro Tip: Looking for pattern-makers? Here are three vetted suppliers to get you started:
3. Private Label Clothing Store Business Model
Private label business models are essentially the middle point between print-on-demand and cut-and-sew. They provide more clothing line customization than the former but less ‘work’ and needed budget than the latter. Essentially you will be buying wholesale clothing and accessory products, that you would then sell and market under your fashion brand.
How does wholesale clothing private labeling work?
You buy blank or label-less clothing items wholesale, and then add your custom design, label or tag before selling them in your store. This can prove to be a lot more cost-effective than print-on-demand, as you can negotiate better rates for bulk buying.
Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks, such as having to deal with fulfillment and inventory management yourself. However, there are platforms that will help you streamline the process, such as Threadbird, where you can buy and custom-finish your apparel and clothing. They also offer fulfillment services for those of you who prefer to hold your own stock.
4. Dropshipping Clothing Fashion Brand Online Business Model
Similar to print-on-demand, dropshipping clothing stores allow you to sell clothing that is fulfilled from wholesalers. This is a cost-effective route, as you don’t have to deal with buying stock up front, storing, packing or shipping. The disadvantage is that your products won’t be as unique and there could be a variety of stores selling the same products as you.
However, it can be pretty easy to set up. With apps such as Oberlo, you can find and coordinate a lot of suppliers and integrate them into your online store.
Step 4: Outline Your Online Clothing Store Business Plan
You have your niche, products, and business model; it’s time to outline your business plan. You should be outlining your:
- Market (drilling down your potential shoppers into segmented markets or fashion audiences)
- Products (deciding what makes them unique)
- Biggest competitors (listing your top competitors)
- Online business model/fulfillment strategies
- Brand identity/clothing company description (how you want your target market to view your fashion store brand)
Pro Tip: To quickly grow in such a saturated market, investing in building a strong brand identity is super important. Brand identity is more than just a logo and a name – it’s how your brand is perceived. It’s human side if you will. This is where creating a look, feel and voice for your fashion brand comes into play. For a detailed strategy on how to build a strong clothing store brand identity, visit our Build a Strong Brand Identity Using These 9 eCommerce Branding Strategies post.
When it comes to eCommerce strategy, you want to make sure you’re answering questions such as where your traffic (potential shoppers) will be coming from and what will make your products appealing to that traffic.
Additionally, and very importantly, part of your business plan should also include your pricing. Budget the price per product with these important clothing line cost considerations:
- Equipment, web development, hosting, etc.
- Design and development
- Production cost per product, including that of samples
- Labor and transportation
Once you know the costs, you are then able to work out your margins, where you’re looking for a margin of around 30-50% if using cut-and-sew models. However, at this stage you should also be looking at your biggest competition for pricing, ensuring you are not pricing yourself right out of the market.
Bonus Content: Want to Know How to Spy on Competitors? 12 Tools & Hacks
Step 5: Creating Your Online Clothing Store
Now comes the fun part: creating your online store.
The first thing you will need is your domain. We suggest buying this separately upfront as soon as you have your main idea. You want to make sure that the domain is still available after you have designed your range and built your site. For this, we would recommend Namecheap.
Next, you will want to choose your platform and then your theme (or vice versa). This is one of the most important decisions you will make when creating your store.
Because your website, its design, and user-friendliness are as important as the product you are selling and shouldn’t be rushed. The most popular eCommerce website and store builder options are:
If you don’t have the budget to hire designers or the time to teach yourself WordPress, then we suggest online store builders such as Wix or Shopify. If you need more help choosing an eCommerce platform or online store builder to launch your clothing company then these guides are a good place to start.
- Main Differences Between Shopify and Shopify Plus, and How to Choose
- Magento Commerce vs. Shopify Plus – Who Comes Out On Top?
- Shopify, WooCommerce or Magento: How to Choose the Right Platform
Pro Tip: Another important part of setting up your store that deserves special mention is your product pages. Online shoppers only have product photos and pages by which to judge the quality and details of your products, so make sure that product photos and pages are of good quality – even when you’re dropshipping. Visit our How to Create Perfect Product Pages for Conversions post for more tips!
Step 6: Launching Your Online Clothing Store
Once your products are in place, online business plan is set up, fulfillment is organized and site is done, it’s time to launch your online clothing store. Here are some launch tips to help you get started.
1. Define Your Launch Strategy
Are you going to run a promotion? Do a Facebook Live video? Use an existing email database to push teaser mailers? Whatever strategy you decide on, have it in place to roll out step by step as you launch. This should include tasks such as proofreading and testing your whole store’s functionality before launching.
2. Prepare Your Social Accounts
Before you launch your site, make sure your social media account pages are set and ready. In fact, have these active – with content – before your big launch. This will enable you to run your social media ads with the launch and market your new store to an already-growing following. And don’t forget your content marketing plan to encourage engagement and brand loyalty from your fashion audiences.
3. Have Your Email Marketing Strategy and Automation in Place
Make sure all your automation emails are set up and tested and that you have an email marketing strategy planned out for your first three months.
Pro Tip: Install a well-designed popup so you’re ready to collect email addresses, using discounts and coupons as incentives.
4. Make Sure Your Google Analytics and Google Ads Accounts are Set Up
Next, you will want to ensure that you have set up your Google Ads and Google Analytics accounts before launching. This will enable you to track traffic to your store during your launch in real-time and drive traffic through SERP ads.
5. Build Your Clothing Store Marketing Strategy
You will want your marketing strategy in place before, during, and after the launch of your online clothing business. A good eCommerce marketing strategy should include a variety of channels and approaches. This includes your:
- Content marketing strategy (which includes social media account posts, UGC, a fashion blog for your eCommerce website, influencer marketing; etc.)
- PPC marketing strategy (which includes all your Google, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube pay-per-click ads)
- Email marketing strategy (cart abandonment emails, promotional emails, weekly newsletters, subscriber growth strategies, etc.)
- SEO marketing strategy (blog and website content and optimization)
Step 7: Bringing Traffic to Your Online Clothing Store
The last step? Bringing traffic to your newly-launched online clothing store. The biggest traffic drivers are email marketing, PPC, content marketing, social media, guest posts on popular blogs, and influencers.
For a new store without a fashion brand name, established SEO, or email database list, you will want to concentrate on Google Ads for eCommerce and social media ads – particularly Facebook and Instagram – to get potential shoppers to your new store. but not any potential shoppers, your key target market audience. Here are the 5 Best Ways to Increase eCommerce Traffic to get you started.
You will also want to look to leading fashion examples for inspiration such as:
Pro Tip: You can see marketing and growth case studies on these and other leading online fashion brands here.
Although traffic campaigns are the most important factor in the success for any online business, it doesn’t need to be as daunting as it sounds.
With apps such as Traffic Booster, offering the best alternative to WordStream for online retailers – you can hand over the hard work, so to speak. This will enable you to focus on fulfilling your new orders and generating eCommerce traffic with real-time ad optimization.
There you have it: how to start a successful online clothing business in 7 steps. The key to any successful eCommerce business is being able to tap into buying intent. It is not only about figuring out who your fashion audience is and what they would be willing to buy and for how much. You need to penetrate a saturated niche (messaging and targeting) and separate yourself from your closest competitors (brand identity) and then follow it up with awesome quality clothes, unique designs and good service.
To recap the steps to follow on how to start a clothing business online the right way.
How to Start a Clothing Business Online
- Choose your online fashion/clothing business niche
- Pick your core apparel and fashion products
- Determine the best online clothing business model for your goals and budget
- Create a solid clothing company business plan
- Build your eCommerce website
- Boost initial sales with a good launch strategy
- Bring traffic (fashion-loving audiences) to your online clothing boutique with eCommerce ads
If you’ve just launched a clothing store or have questions before launching, post them in the comments below!
For more marketing inspiration to grow your clothing business online and boost sales, then these posts are for you:
- Ultimate Guide to Product Photography for eCommerce
- How to Scale an Online Clothing Business in 12 Steps
- How to Build Awesome Product Pages That Convert
- 26 Cart and Checkout Optimization Hacks to Boost eCommerce Sales
- Full List of Print-on-Demand Products and Where to Find Them
- 9 Must-Have Strategies to Drive Traffic to Your Store
- Facebook Ads for eCommerce [With Examples]
- Google Ads for eCommerce [With Examples]
Nicole is a content writer at StoreYa with over sixteen years experience and flair for storytelling. She runs on a healthy dose of caffeine and enthusiasm. When she's not researching the next content trend or creating informative small business content, she's an avid beachgoer, coffee shop junkie and hangs out on LinkedIn.
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