How to Start a Clothing Business in 11 Clear Steps
While fashion is a highly competitive multi-billion dollar industry, starting an online clothing business is more accessible than ever before. Whether you want to design a complete clothing line or launch a small t-shirt business, there are an all-time high number of resources available to new businesses, including easy-to-set-up-and-manage eCommerce websites.
For those looking to start their own clothing business and sell online, it’s essential to lay the right groundwork for success, especially given that the competition is so high.
In this article, we’re going to go over everything you need to know about how to start an online clothing store, taking you through the steps from conceptualization to selling.
3 Things to Consider Before Starting An Online Clothing Business
Before you even begin asking “how to start a clothing business,” it’s important to ask yourself the following three questions:
What is your mission? It could be as simple as creating a fashion business, offering quality, trendy clothes or creating designs you love. You might also prioritize doing so at an affordable price, with sustainable materials, or with full customization potential for one-of-a-kind pieces. You could want to offer well-designed clothes to those in lower socio-economic brackets, or to become the next Asos. This is about the service you want to provide.
What makes your 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 business apart.
Who is your target audience? Who are you creating your clothes for? Get an idea of your main customer base. You may not have this niched 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. A good tactic for determining your audience is by creating buyer personas. Don’t worry, you can always adapt them as your clothing line’s brand develops.
These three factors are important, as they’ll shape your decisions moving forward, even if they shift slightly as you progress. Having a grounded idea of why you want to start an online clothing business can be even more important than the question of how to start an online clothing line when it comes to building your brand.
Once you do, it’s time to 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.
How to Start a Clothing Business
When you’re starting an online clothing business, you’ll want to be methodical to make sure all your i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.
Here’s how to start a clothing line in 11 steps:
Do Market Research
Pick a Niche to Serve
Decide What Products to Sell
Create Your Brand
Choose a Business Model
Connect with Partners
Design & Create Prototypes
Start You Online Clothing Website
Get Your Marketing Campaigns Up & Running
01. 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 and an 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 Most clothing lines will find manufacturers to create a prototype and then produce the inventory. The cost of the raw materials are usually included in the price of the manufacturing.
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’ll need to pay for site hosting and a domain, and choosing a platform with strong eCommerce features like Wix can help you do all this at once. 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.
02. Do Market Research
Before narrowing down your niche or establishing a business model, you want to take a look at your 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 their pricing and promotions. You don’t necessarily need to beat your competitor’s 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 affordability 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.
Ruby Love is an excellent example of a 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.
Everyone wants great clothes that fit well, look great, are within their budget, and do what they need to do. 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.
03. Pick a Niche to Serve
At this stage, you want to do a deep dive into finding your ideal audience and considering ways to serve them.
Go back to the buyer personas that you developed early on. Take some time to flesh these out more, thinking 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 convenient. Silk would typically be out because dry-clean only doesn’t always work for busy schedules, but machine-washable silk opens doors to convenience.
You can learn a lot about your niche 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.
Once you determine the audience you are catering towards, combine that knowledge with what you learned when researching your competitors to define your niche.
04. 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. “Online clothing business” covers a wide array of different potential store focuses, some of which we’ve already discussed briefly in this post.
Create a Pinterest board of business ideas you love. Build a list of brands you admire and styles you want to include in your store. Make sure they all work together into an overall consistent look and feel and fill the needs of your target audience.
There are so many different directions you can go with a clothing line, including the following:
Selling graphic tees using print on demand
Dropshipping cold-weather clothing for climates that get below zero
Designing custom-made bridal or bridesmaids gowns
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, account for your 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 wildly-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 bit off more than you can chew.
05. Create Your Brand
Now it's time to put together all the elements you have worked on up until now to create a unifying business identity. When you’re getting your 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, like costume jewelry, and reach different markets than higher end products, like diamond pendants. 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.
Design & style Put your unique flavor into your business. Make sure the overall look is consistent across your product collection, website, marketing campaigns and packaging. 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.
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 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 brand name generator for some ideas.
06. Choose a Business Model
There are plenty of different business models you can choose from when it comes to starting your own clothing brand. Let’s take a look at the most common models that clothing lines use.
Private Label Clothing Line
If you want to design and create your own unique clothing line, you’ll need to find manufacturers and build your inventory yourself.
Once you create your designs, place an order for a set number of products at once, and keep the inventory 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 renting warehouse space or using a 3PL. But starting this type of business 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.
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 your dropshipping business, 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 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 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.
Custom Clothing Lines
If you want to offer made-to-order items, a custom clothing line may be an excellent choice. You can take orders for special-event clothing (including tuxedos for prom and wedding dresses), 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.
There are plenty of clothing subscription companies, selling anything ranging from specialty neckties to stylist-chosen boxes of designer garments. Users receive a box at predetermined periods (often monthly). These may either cost a set fee, or allow users to keep what they want and send the rest back.
Subscription business models often result in higher-than-average order values and more frequent purchases, though you’ll need to put a big focus on increasing retention to keep users engaged. You’ll also need to be careful to keep up quality and inventory; if people don’t like even one month, it can be difficult to maintain high retention rates.
There are options for setting up and selling product subscriptions through eCommerce platforms like Wix to make this process easier.
07. Gather Funding
After you’ve chosen a business model and started to put together basic cost projections, you’ll want to gather funding.
First, assess how much cash you’ll need upfront to get everything up and running. Use that market research from early on, and apply it now.
When you’re doing this, remember that you yourself likely won’t make a large profit or be able to take a salary right away. Your business will also need to be covering everything from transaction fees, manufacturing costs, marketing spend, and loss of profit from returns.
Break all your projected costs down, line-by-line, and try to estimate at least 5% over what you think you’ll need. This will allow you to be prepared for unexpected costs that arise. Try to minimize your initial costs as much as possible.
Store inventory in your garage instead of a warehouse, for example, and manage it using the Wix Owner app. There’s also the option to handle customer inquiries yourself using social media or through the live chat function on your site instead of outsourcing to an agency. You can scale when you’re ready, but it’s best to do so once your profit is up.
Before reaching out for funding, create a detailed business plan. Outline your expenses and why they’re essential, your profit margins, and how you plan to promote your business. Account for everything, because this will help investors feel more confident in investing.
If you need assistance with funding, there are plenty of options to consider.
If you belong to a credit union, ask about business financing. Credit unions often have competitive financing with low interest rates, and may be able to approve you quickly.
Look for investors. Investors may offer financing in the form of a loan, or they may want a certain percentage of equity in your company in exchange for the financing. Consider what options work best for you, and know that someone who wants equity may be more interested in a collaborative venture.
Regardless of where you go, there are a few key business financing options to consider:
Business loans. Business loans offer a one-time, lump-sum payment upfront. You’ll have a set period of time to pay it off (with interest!), and have pre-determined monthly payments. Some business loans have penalties for early payment.
Business lines of credit. Business lines of credit are a type of open, revolving financing. You’re approved for a set amount (like $20,000), and you can draw from any available funds as needed, like a credit card. The draw period will be for periods like five, ten, or even fifteen years, and you only pay interest on the funds you’re actively borrowing. This is often more appealing to businesses in early stages, as they can use what they need when they need it without paying interest on the rest.
Business credit cards. These are open lines of credit, and work exactly like personal credit cards but they’re in your business’s name. Be careful not to go too deep into debt here, as the interest rates are often much higher.
08. Connect with 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 line. Some of these partners we discussed earlier, like finding manufacturers or using a 3PL to help manage your inventory and fulfillment. Though dropshipping and print-on-demand businesses may not need as many vendors as other types of business models, they may still need third-party help with marketing services.
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.
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
09. Design & Create Prototypes
If you’re creating your own clothing line, you’ll need to get started on designing your clothes. Sketch out your designs, and create your prototypes. This can be done with the help of a designer or manufacturer, but can also be done in your bedroom alone with just your sewing machine.
Create a prototype yourself or have the manufacturer of your choice create one for you. Many manufacturers will include this in their cost, and it gives you a chance to see and feel the quality of the product before you commit to ordering a large amount.
Whatever you do, make sure you love what you create. You want to be absolutely certain that you’re happy with every product you’re creating before you order massive quantities of them—whether it’s a scarf or the packaging that the scarf will ship in.
Test the items yourself for quality if possible. You could wash clothing multiple times according to care instructions to make sure they hold up well, and even wear them to see if they stretch, fade, fray, or bleed onto anything. This is your brand reputation on the line, so you can’t be too sure.
If you’re dropshipping items or selling with print on demand, you should always order the items that you plan on selling in your own store to ensure that they’re exactly what you think they’ll be.
Make sure that your products are up to the standard that you expect, and that they’re consistently high quality. After you’re confident, you can start ordering your inventory.
10. Create Your Online Clothing Store Website
You’ve got your products, so now you’re ready to learn how to make your clothing website. Congratulations! This is a huge milestone.
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.
Once you choose the right platform, make sure your site includes the following:
A Strong Homepage
Feature your best-selling 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.
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 you’re looking for. The easier you can make it for your customers, the more likely they will buy.
An “About Us” Page
Your “About Us” page is where you can stress your mission and your USP to continue to highlight what makes your brand different. It’s also a great place to share the faces behind your brand to build rapport.
Wiltshire Wellness tells the story of how their business was built and why they do what they do.
High-Converting Product Pages
These are some of the criteria to include on your product pages:
Copy that aligns with your brand voice and explains the value of your product
A detailed product description, including materials used, sizing information, and care instructions
Multiple pictures and potentially a video to show the item from multiple views (or on multiple models)
Ecru Emissary couples beautiful photography with detailed product descriptions to make sure customers have everything they need to feel comfortable to buy.
A Customer Service or Help Page
Make it easy for customers to review your store policies, including your return policies, estimated shipping times, and terms and conditions. It can also be helpful to include frequently asked questions, so that customers can find the answers themselves without needing to reach to you.
Regardless, make sure you make it easy for shoppers to to receive personalized customer service if needed. High-quality customer service will increase customers’ confidence in your brand and can drive sales.
Include Easy-Pay Options at Checkout
Your checkout process must be simple, fast, and easy for customers. If it’s not, you have a much higher chance of ending up with abandoned carts and lost sales.
Incorporate easy-pay options like PayPal or Apple Pay on your checkout page to offer multiple fast and secure payments for customers. By reducing clicks in the checkout funnel and by offering different payment options, you make it that much less likely a shopper will abandon their cart.
Stalf makes it easy for customers to check out with an additional option to pay with PayPal.
11. Get Your Marketing Campaigns Up & Running
As soon as your site is launched, you should start promoting your business. After all, customers can’t buy from you if they don’t know that you exist.
Here are some options for promoting your clothing business:
Organic social media marketing: Create branded profiles and attract and engage with followers to build brand and product awareness.
Sell on multiple sales channels: Set up Facebook and Instagram Shop and start selling on social media. You can also integrate your eBay marketplace to your online store.
Brand ambassadors: Find and create fans of your products. Then encourage them to provide recommendations and site reviews.
Partner with another brand: Work with more-established brands that sell to your target audience but aren’t a direct competitor to increase your reach quickly.
Content marketing: Write blogs or create resources, like styling videos, to provide value to your audience.
Ready to start your own clothing line? Create your online store today.
eCommerce Content Marketer
Ana is a content marketer and ghostwriter specializing in eCommerce, finance, and marketing writing, though she's written in over 23 different niches. Based in Orlando, she works from home with her three very enthusiastic canine coworkers.