Starting an online clothing business is a dream come true for fashion enthusiasts who have a keen interest in design. However, lack of experience or funds can quickly lead to that dream becoming a seemingly impossible reality, particularly when considering the huge amount of time, effort and investment it requires to build a successful ecommerce business.
Thankfully, the rise of online marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon, as well as online store builders including Shopify and WooCommerce means that starting an online clothing business is much simpler than it was only a decade ago. Furthermore, easy access to leading wholesale and manufacturing companies for dropshipping, private label or white label services makes sourcing low-cost clothing products more achievable for the average Joe.
In fact, prime examples of previously unknown clothing brands making a sudden rise to the top include 11 Degrees, SikSilk and Gym King, all highly successful UK clothing brands which launched within the last decade, the latter being established only 5 short years ago. These fast-growing companies are indisputable proof that it’s still very much possible to launch a successful clothing brand and significantly penetrate the market, even when competing with 50+ year old brands such as Nike and Adidas.
But how do you get started with such a business you ask? Well, in this comprehensive guide, I’m going to take you through the entire process of starting and launching a successful online clothing business. Whether you want to sell sportswear, womens clothing or kids clothing, follow these simple steps and you’ll be well on your way to becoming the next Gym King or 11 Degrees.
Step 1. Create a Business Plan
The first step towards building a successful clothing business is to put together a business plan and selling strategy. You need to decide whether you want to become a general clothing retailer like JD Sports or a specialist fashion brand like Calvin Klein, the difference being JD Sports sells a mixed range of 3rd party brands while Calvin Klein focuses exclusively on own brand products.
You also need to decide where you want to start selling your clothing lines. While eBay and Amazon are incredible platforms for attracting new customers quickly, building your own store is a more suitable long-term option, particularly if you want to build a real brand which customers will trust. You’ll also retain full control over the business and avoid the high (15%+) fees attached to selling on third party marketplaces.
- Decide on the type of clothing business you want to start e.g. a traditional clothing retailer or clothing brand on a private label basis
- Think about where you want to sell the products and how you will generate sales, whether through marketplaces like eBay or your own web store
- Determine whether you want to buy clothing items in bulk or harness a dropship model by sourcing directly from a clothing wholesaler
- Decide if you want to become a specialist clothing retailer in which you sell a specific type of clothing (e.g kids clothing) or a generalist retailer where you sell a bit of everything
The goal is to come up with a basic plan of action and predetermined selling strategy to follow. Think about the type of company you want to build and research other existing clothing brands or successful retailers to establish an understanding of proven business models.
Step 2. Choose a Brand Name
Once you’ve created a business plan, the next step is to come up with the right brand name for your business. A memorable and catchy brand name is particularly important when launching a clothing business, even more so if you plan to launch a range of your own brand products. Your name should be unique, original and relevant, as well as short enough to be easily printed on various clothing items if you do decide to go down the route of private labelling.
To help you come up with that perfect name, try researching other similar companies to spark some initial ideas, then enlist the help of a free business name generator such as NameMesh or NameLix to further those ideas. Create a shortlist of potential options and choose the one which ticks all of the following boxes:
- Unique, original and not already taken by another company
- Short and easy to remember with high branding potential
- Is trademarkable and able to be printed on various clothing designs
- Cannot be mistaken for other existing brands
Step 3. Make a Logo
Making a professional, attractive and unique logo is essential when launching a new clothing business or fashion store. Furthermore, if you plan on building a private label brand, having a flexible, high-quality and scalable VECTOR logo is a must, as it needs to be easily printed onto clothing items of various colours, sizes and textures.
From using an online logo maker such as Tailor Brands to hiring a professional design company or freelancer, you have multiple options when it comes to acquiring a logo. Don’t always opt for the cheapest solution and shop around for the best deals or offers. Freelance marketplaces such as Fiverr or PeoplePerHour are often overflowing with talented designers who can create unique logo designs from scratch, often for a fraction of the price that large design companies charge.
Step 4. Find a Trusted Clothing Supplier
Now that you have a business plan to follow and a catchy brand name, as well as a professional logo, the next step is to find a clothing wholesaler, manufacturer or dropshipping supplier. The type of supplier you need and the best places to find them largely depends on your business plan and selling strategy.
For example, if you’re looking to start dropshipping clothing items directly to your customers, using a free trade directory such as SourceLow would be a good place to start. Alternatively, if you’re looking to start your own fashion brand on a private label basis, sourcing directly from overseas manufacturers would be the better option.
Alibaba and Dhgate are 2 of the largest and most popular platforms for finding china based OEM and ODM manufacturers who can offer private label services such as logo embroidery and custom packaging. Place a large enough order and ODM suppliers can even manufacture entirely unique designs from scratch, exclusively for your brand or company. It all depends on your budget, business plan and future goals.
- Use a free trade directory such as SourceLow to find wholesalers or dropshipping suppliers
- Browse Alibaba or Dhgate to locate manufacturers who offer private labelling services
- Manually search on Google using long-tail keywords e.g. clothing manufacturers USA
- Attend trade shows in your local area to connect with manufacturers and wholesalers
- Contact brand owners (Adidas, Nike, Lacoste etc.) directly to locate their distributors
Step 5. Start Selling
By this stage, you should have a catchy brand name and a reliable clothing supplier to source products from, as well as a clear business plan to follow. If so, the next step is to start selling and get those profits rolling in. Whether you’re holding your own stock or using a dropship model, selling on as many platforms as possible is vital if you want to attract maximum sales.
One of the most effective ways to maximise your exposure is by creating your own website using a platform such as Shopify or WooCommerce, and then pushing your products to both eBay and Amazon with the help of a plugin or app such as Codisto. By pushing products from your website to online marketplaces using software, you’ll be able to manage listings, orders and returns all from one central location.
Alternatively, if you want to simply get the ball rolling, start by focusing on one specific platform such as eBay or Amazon. One of the biggest benefits to selling on a third party marketplace such as eBay is being able to gain experience with running a clothing business while attracting some quick sales in the process. You can also get started almost immediately without having to learn coding or web design. It’s certainly a great place for newbies to start, particularly newbies who lack tech skills.
However, your long-term goal should be to build your own website and sell on multiple platforms simulationsely. It’s by far the best way to build a global brand which you fully control and can grow without relying on one platform or sales channel exclusively. Therefore, once you’ve started generating sales on eBay or Amazon, invest any profits into building your own website as soon as possible.
Step 6. Learn Advertising & Marketing
Learning how to effectively advertise and market your clothing business is essential if you want to achieve long-term success. From running Facebook ads to partnering with Instagram influencers, there are several ways to advertise your clothing business and successfully generate a healthy return on investment, also known as ROI. In fact, clothing products are among the best items to advertise on social media platforms because people tend to be most engaged, alert and active when browning their newsfeed. Well-placed video Ads on Facebook or Twitter can be a gold mine for ecommerce.
With literally thousands of comprehensive video tutorials and guides, YouTube is by far the best place for learning how to market your business, particularly using online techniques such as search engine optimisation and social media, as well as paid advertising methods on marketplaces including eBay and Amazon. To point you in the right direction, here is a few of the best videos on advertising an ecommerce business:
- The Best Facebook Ads Strategy for Ecommerce
- Google Shopping Ads Tutorial for Beginners 2020
- 12 Ecommerce Marketing Strategy Tips
- How to Promote Your Listings on eBay
- The Ultimate Guide to Amazon Pay-Per-Click
Step 7. Keep Growing & Learning
According to several leading sources including Forbes Magazine, an estimated 90% of ecommerce businesses fail within the first 4 months. One of the main reasons for such a high failure rate is because business owners give up too easily. If you don’t see an instant avalanche of sales, it’s important to stick with it and keep growing the business while learning from past mistakes. The key to success is finding winning products which generate consistent sales and profits. While your first product might not be the instant success you hoped for, the next one could be your big hit. The only way to find out is to keep pushing through.
From creating a business plan to establishing a good brand name and finding a suitable supplier, follow these 7 simple steps and you’ll have your new clothing business up and running in no time. Whether you want to become a leading clothing retailer or the next trend setting fashion brand, work hard, stay motivated and it won’t be long until your dream becomes a reality. Remember, anything worth having in life takes a ridiculous amount of time and effort to achieve, particularly in the world of online business.
Paul Strachan is a digital marketing, SEO and web design expert, as well as a successful ecommerce business owner and dropshipping specialist with over a decade of experience in the online business world. After starting his first business at 16, Paul gradually acquired invaluable (self-taught) skills in all areas of online marketing and web design through endless hours of hard work, trial and error.