How to Start a Clothing Brand Online: A 10 Step Guide
This post was last updated on May 5, 2021.
While fashion is a highly competitive multi-billion dollar industry, starting a clothing line or an online clothing business is more accessible than ever before. Globally, Wix eCommerce stores saw year-over-year (2019 to 2020) growth of 151% in sales within the Clothing and Accessories category.
Whether you want to design your own clothing line from scratch, customize readymade wholesale garments, start dropshipping or launch a small t-shirt business with print-on-demand services, the number of resources available to new businesses like yours are at an all-time high, including easy-to-set-up-and-manage eCommerce websites. You can start a business, build a customized online store, establish your clothing brand, connect with potential customers and start selling online in no time.
For anyone looking to start a clothing business and sell online it is essential to lay the right groundwork for success, especially given that the competition is so high. You’ll want to make sure all your i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.
In this 10 step guide, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about how to start your own clothing line - from conceptualization to selling.
These steps don’t have to be completed one-by-one in a linear fashion. You can multitask and work on a few steps at the same time. For example, once you’ve decided on your brand identity (Step 2) you can start building your online store (Step 6). Use this guide as a checklist to keep you on track.
01. Choose your brand strategy
Before starting an online clothing business you need to ask yourself the following questions that will help to develop your brand strategy:
What is your mission? Perhaps you dream of creating a clothing line, using your own bespoke fashion designs. Or it could be as simple as creating a fashion business, offering quality, on-trend clothes you love. You might prioritize selling garments at an affordable price, manufacturing locally or using sustainable materials. Consider what factors are important to you and your clothing business. This is about your brand’s values and your purpose. This is about the product you want to provide.
What makes your clothing business different? This is your unique selling proposition (USP), and it’s what ultimately tells customers why they should buy from you instead of your competition. This is largely about how you want your business to run. What is missing from the market that you can provide? Think about how you can set your clothing business apart.
What is your niche? Is there a gap you can fill? Find your niche and see how you can serve it. Everyone wants to buy clothes that fit well, look great, are within their budget, and serve a purpose where it’s fashionable or practical. If you’re able to figure out which part of the equation is missing from the current market (which can be quality, price, ethics, design, function, or fit), then you have an instant in.
Ruby Love is an excellent example of a clothing business that found a niche in a market and offered a unique solution. The owner, Crystal Etienne, realized that there was something missing in menstrual products before releasing her own comfortable, leak-proof period underwear with a Wix eCommerce site. She has since found massive success, and now has 40 employees and a $22M dollar business, largely because she found an underserved niche.
Who is your target audience? Who are you creating your clothes for? Do market research and get an idea of your main customer base. Deep dive into finding your ideal audience and considering ways to serve them. You may not have niched your new clothing line all the way down yet, but you should know upfront whether you’re planning to create politically-driven graphic tees for college students or comfortable slippers marketed to senior citizens. These factors are important, as they’ll shape your decisions moving forward, even if they shift slightly as you progress. Don’t worry, you can always adapt them as your clothing brand develops.
A good tactic for determining your target audience is creating buyer personas. Think about their pain points that you can solve.
Let’s say that you want to create a clothing line that offers expensive washable silk pyjamas. The following might be examples of your audience buyer personas:
Professional women aged 24-35, with no children but who are high-income earners. They are looking for high-end pyjamas that look and feel great. They want something that will hold up well, while still feeling luxurious.
Mothers aged 30-45 in upper or middle-class families who have elementary-school-aged children. They love silk but need something practical. Silk would typically be out because dry-clean only doesn’t always work for busy schedules, but machine-washable silk opens doors to practicality and convenience.
You can learn a lot about your niche and target audience through social media. Join forums on Reddit, add yourself to Facebook Groups and follow relevant Instagram Pages and influencers to immerse yourself in the niche you are seeking to serve. This will help you find and create products or styles that uniquely fill a void in the market and create marketing campaigns that speak directly to your audience.
Who are your competitors? Before committing to a niche or establishing a business model for your clothing line, you want to take a look at the competition. You can learn a lot from what they’re doing well, plus find ways to outshine them or offer something new.
If you wanted to start a high-end sock business, for example, research might show that plenty of similar companies are using subscription packages to keep reengagement high and sales up long-term.
You also want to take a look at your competitor’s pricing and promotions. You don’t necessarily need to beat their pricing; many customers, for example, will pay up to 25% more for sustainably-made items, and luxury brands can charge more than those opting for affordable selling points. That being said, market pricing does need to be taken into account, especially when you’re looking at direct competitors.
During your research, look at customer feedback, including reviews on competitors' product pages. You can learn a lot about what your target audience is looking for and where your competition is falling short.
Once you’ve answered these questions, nail it all down by creating your mission statement. Don’t overlook this step because it’ll help you stay focused as you move forward on this journey to starting your own clothing line.
02. Create your brand identity
Once you’ve determined your clothing line’s brand strategy, then you can work on creating your brand identity. When you’re getting your clothing business off the ground, you’ll need all the elements to fit together well to form a strong, cohesive brand that your audience will trust, love and want to continue purchasing from.
These are the four pillars to creating a successful brand:
Quality: What are you offering and who will be buying it? Lower-quality items can be more accessible and reach different markets than higher-end products. Keep all your products targeted toward the same market.
Price: Consider your product quality, materials, manufacturing costs, target audience and competition. Then create a price range that's suitable for your items. Charge more for higher quality or unique items that are currently in-demand.
Brand design & style: Put your unique flavor into your business. Make sure the overall look and feel is consistent across your product collection, logo, eCommerce website, packaging, social media and marketing campaigns. The style you’re going for should also be in line with everything else on this list. If not, something will feel out of place and customers won’t purchase. Thankfully creating a brand identity for your clothing business is easier and faster than ever before, with AI-powered tools that help you create a logo and build a free website just by answering a few simple questions.
Brand name: For clothing lines especially, your brand name can be a powerful selling feature in and of itself, even if you aren’t a high-end designer label. Brand names can also include mission-focused associations that make your clothing business stand out, like using ethically sourced designers or high-quality materials. This will come into play as you build brand trust and brand recognition. If you’re struggling with a name, consider using our clothing line name generator for some ideas.
When considering how to start a clothing business, create a Pinterest board or build a list of businesses you love and admire. Study how they have created their brand identities. Look at their use of design—logo, typography, color palette and website—and see how it embodies their brand strategy.
03. Decide what products to sell
You’ve analyzed the market, you’ve delved into your niche, so now it’s time to use this knowledge to choose what products you will create and sell.
There are so many different directions you can go with a clothing line, including the following eCommerce business ideas:
Designing your own line of sustainable and ethically made wardrobe basics
Designing custom-made bridal or bridesmaids gowns
Customizing readymade wholesale sweaters with hand-embroidered designs
Starting a t-shirt business using print on demand services
Dropshipping cold-weather clothing for climates that get below zero
Personalizing items, like caps or mugs, with a customer’s dog on the front
Creating artisanal, hand-stitched accessories like scarves or hats
Manufacturing comfortable, high-quality athleisure wear
Hand-painting robes, pyjamas, and kimonos
Based on your target audience and niche, choose a target style, which can include any of the following and more:
You also want to think about the materials you’re using to create your products, as this can ultimately be a defining feature of your brand just as much as style. These choices may include:
High-end luxury knits
Eco-friendly options, like organic or recycled materials
Affordable low-cost and widely-available materials like mass-produced cotton
Remember to start small, especially if you will be manufacturing the products and not using a dropshipper. Design a few products (or even just one) to get started with and then take it from there. You don't want to bite off more than you can chew.
04. Choose a business model
There are plenty of different business models you can choose from when it comes to starting your own clothing line. Let’s take a look at the most common business models used:
Cut and sew private label clothing line
If you want to design and create your own unique clothing line and have it manufactured to your specifications, then this is the business model for you.
You’ll need to consider various factors. What will your first collection be? This is how you announce your clothing line to the world. It should reflect your brand’s unique identity. Will you make the clothes yourself? If you don’t have the technical skills to design a garment you could work with a fashion designer to bring your ideas to life. What fabrics will you use? You will need to source the right fabric, in the right amount, to keep your costs down. Do you want to hand sew each item or will you outsource the work and find manufacturers?
If using a manufacturer, once you’ve created your designs and placed an order for a set number of products, you will receive the inventory and keep it on hand to ship out as it’s ordered. Sometimes, this means you end up with left-over inventory that doesn’t sell, which can cut into your profits, so take that into account when you set out.
You’ll also need to manage your inventory, which means storing it yourself, renting warehouse space or using a 3PL. Take time to do your research and find the right answers for your business as each factor will impact your pricing and profits. Starting this type of clothing line gives you full creative control, and makes it easier to scale once the right processes are in place.
Check out how Ashco created a unique brand that’s trendy, comfortable and serves a specific niche in the market.
Custom wholesale businesses purchase premade wholesale clothing and then customize each garment by hand. Whether you decide to purchase contemporary or vintage wholesale clothing, this type of clothing line is a great way to stand out from the crowd. But remember that hand customizing can take time and labor. You’ll need ample space to work as well as somewhere to pack and store inventory.
Custom clothing lines
If you want to offer made-to-order items, a couture custom clothing line may be an excellent choice. You can specialize in event clothing, tuxedos or custom made suits for prom, wedding dresses or red carpet gowns, and create bespoke pieces made to fit each client.
Custom clothing also includes made-to-order branded products such as dress shirts with a customer’s brand logo printed on them, and even aprons with a customer’s name embroidered across the top. Or you can offer customized team uniforms, like Unicorn Sports.
Custom clothing lines allow you to create something truly unique for your clients as needed, giving you an advantage in the market, but it can be much more difficult to scale than other business models as creating custom items can take time to execute, which can create a backlog overtime if the demand is high.
If you are interested in curating products from sellers that align with your brand instead of manufacturing them yourself, dropshipping can be a good option. It’s low-cost with low overhead, because you don’t need to manufacture, store, manage, or ship any inventory. Instead, when the customer places an order, the third-party seller will ship it directly to the customer.
To start dropshipping, just integrate your eCommerce website with a dropshipping company, find great products and start selling.
Dropshipping has some downsides, especially considering the overall lack of control. You can’t control who else is selling the products you are, which can drive up competition levels. You also have very little quality control or influence on inventory availability on your end, aside from delivering customer service.
Print on demand
Print on demand is another low-investment option that lets you customize clothing from companies like Printful of Printify’s robust catalogs. The print-on-demand company makes and fulfills your orders. All you need to do is create designs that you can market and sell directly to consumers.
This option, sometimes referred to as “white labeling,” is all about quickly customizing and producing products to create something unique while streamlining the process. And if you choose to integrate with a print-on-demand service, it operates within dropshipping parameters; you market the item and process the sale, and then the printing company creates the product and ships it straight to the consumer.
This can work well for items that are quickly produced, like graphic tees, and it prevents you from needing to have an enormous stock of inventory in terms of finished products that might not sell. This can reduce your potential profit loss.
Worst Year Ever is expertly using this method to design and sell 2020-themed clothing. While the store focuses on tees, they also make use of other customizable products from the print-on-demand catalog.
Connect with reliable partners
Building relationships with third-party vendors who can help you create the products, styles and business you envision, is a key part of creating a clothing business. When looking to partner with another company, do everything you can to make sure they are reliable, professional, and responsible. If you’ll need someone to send you 200 yards of delicate white lace every month to make wedding dresses, for example, you’re going to want to make sure you can count on it.
As a start-up clothing line you might need to convince some of these third-party vendors, such as manufacturers, to work with you. Be prepared to answer their questions and understand their production process.
Here are some things to look out for before partnering with a company:
Look for reviews online
Use social media to ask if anyone has experience working with them
Seek out recommendations, including businesses you can verify yourself
Ask the company about previous work
Ask to visit their premises and see their process (In person or via video call)
05. Review costs
Before you make any decisions, the first thing you should do is crunch some numbers. Knowing your expenses at the outset will help you to prepare and even secure proper funding if needed when you create your business plan.
Remember that while starting your own clothing line or online clothing business will always involve some financial investment, it can absolutely pay off.
The following are common costs associated with starting an online clothing business:
Design: These may include any costs of hiring a third-party designer, paying for design software, and any materials you’re using to create designs yourself.
Manufacturing: While you might choose to source your own materials and make your own prototype, most clothing lines will find manufacturers to create a prototype and then produce the inventory. The cost of the raw materials is usually included in the price of the manufacturing. With many manufacturers, the larger the order quantity, the lower the cost per unit. This is because they have set up costs for each design. However this option is not always ideal for a small business on a tight budget with limited space for inventory.
Inventory storage and management: If you aren’t dropshipping, you’ll have a large chunk of inventory that you need to store and manage somewhere. Storage space (which may include a staffed warehouse as you grow) is an essential part of this, but inventory management software can help you keep track of your products.
Packaging: Many clothing lines opt for custom packaging in order to enhance their store’s branding and to create an unboxing experience. This can include branded boxes, tape, and tissue paper. You’ll also want to think about price and brand tags for your different products.
Shipping: Consider the costs to get the inventory to your warehouse as well as the costs to ship it to your customers. You’ll need to make sure you’re charging the customer accordingly so it doesn’t eat into your profit margins.
Legal contracts: You may have legal contracts with a manufacturer, third-party marketing company, rental space, or storage space. It’s best to have a lawyer review these contracts first before signing them, so you’ll want to account for legal fees.
Necessary licenses and permits: You’ll likely need a business license, and you may need special permitting depending on where you live and where your business will operate. If you’re in the US, note that these requirements vary by state. You should check your state’s requirements and review the standard licenses you may need.
Website: You can get site hosting and a custom domain, and choosing a platform with strong eCommerce features like Wix can help you do all this at once. Beautiful product photography is key, so invest in a quality camera and some lighting or hire a photographer for a professional look. If you hire someone for site design, SEO work, or site copywriting, this should be factored into your costs, too.
Marketing: Once you’re ready to promote your brand, you’ll need to budget for marketing, which can include paid ad spend, referral fees, affiliate fees, sponsored posts, and more.
Taxes: All businesses will need to pay taxes. You can talk to a qualified accountant to determine exactly how much you’ll want to set aside, and find out how often you need to pay. Some businesses may need to pay quarterly instead of annually depending on your business structure.
06. Start building your online clothing store
Once you’ve refined your brand strategy and identity you can start working on creating a professional website for your new clothing line. Your online store should embody the spirit of your brand.
When setting out to start your online store, you’ll want to choose an eCommerce-focused platform that has plenty of features. This’ll make it easier to build your business and offer exceptional customer service.
A platform like Wix eCommerce offers a large number of key eCommerce features you’ll need to create and grow your business. Use a free designer-made template or build your site from scratch and customize it to fit your brand identity by changing details like color palette, font, and layout.
Once you choose the right platform, make sure your site includes the following:
A strong homepage
Here you should feature your key products, and include a tagline that highlights why potential customers should purchase from you. Your tagline should be short and sweet, no more than a single line, while still being clear about what value you can offer your customers.
No products yet? No problem. Make an impact with a ‘Coming Soon’ landing page. Add a Subscribe form and use it to build a contact list. When you’re ready to launch, send out an email marketing campaign letting customers know when your first collection will drop.
Once you have stock you can make your online store visible and add a clear CTA that directs your customers immediately to the product catalog. Use banners to showcase limited time offers or coupon codes.
House of Sunny draws shoppers into their store with a big Shop Now button and displays their product categories above so customers can easily find exactly what they’re looking for. The easier you can make it for your customers, the more likely they will buy.