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eCommerce

How to Start Your Own Online Fashion Business in 10 Steps

By
Leigh-Anne Truitt

The right clothing choice can help you stand out or blend into the background. Clothes make statements about likes and dislikes, cultures, and beliefs. They allow people to express themselves without ever saying a word. That's why fashion and the clothing business are appealing to so many people.

If you're a fashionista who wants to break into the business, an online clothing brand is a great place to start. Ecommerce platforms, dropshipping services, and online marketing tools make creating a clothing line simpler than ever and can also cut down on start-up times and costs. If you have the drive and passion, all you need is some know-how to get started.

The Time to Start an Online Fashion Business, is Now.

Online apparel sales made up 38.6% of total U.S. apparel transactions in 2019 and 100% of growth in retail clothing purchases. Online clothing stores are likely to have an even greater share of the market in 2020 as COVID-19 causes people to move to online shopping.

Clothing brands that do the best online are those that are born on the web. These stores are digitally native, so they have a greater understanding of the marketing tactics and user experiences that can grow a successful business. They also know how to collect and use customer data, which helps them connect to the wants and needs of their target market.

While COVID-19 has led to a surge in online spending, many consumers have less money for discretionary spending. Although customers may decrease their spending on apparel, this isn't doom for online clothing brands. 

Business owners that can adapt quickly to changing conditions can thrive in the current market. This is by focusing on current trends, like lounging apparel, or through non-contact delivery or pick-up methods. For instance, one online survey found that 64% of respondents stated that they bought athleisure apparel online. And another study from 2018 stated that activewear accounted for 24% of total apparel industry sales.

Skills and Traits Needed to Start an Online Fashion Business

Starting any business is a difficult task that requires hard work and persistence, and clothing brands are no exception. There are hard and soft skills that are necessary to have or develop to help your business thrive.

1. Passion and drive.

The failure rate for ecommerce start-ups is about 90% after only 120 days. It can be hard to build up momentum when you’re first starting, and it's easy to feel discouraged by any setbacks. If you have a passion for your business and plenty of drive, you can power through the tough times and come out on top.

2. You can network easily.

Networking gives you opportunities to meet mentors and supporters as well as people who can provide you with the inspiration needed at different stages of your business journey. Networking is a skill that can be learned if you're not a natural. Look up online learning tools, read books, and get plenty of practice by talking to friends and family; they may even have invaluable resources.

3. Good with numbers and aware of business finances.

Business owners must always be aware of their finances. It's important to know what's coming in and going out so you can see where you're getting the best return on investment. If numbers aren't your strong point, consider taking a course in business finances so that you have the skills to guide your business towards success. LinkedIn Learning offers several free courses online that you can take to increase your knowledge of finance and accounting.

4. Time management.

There's a lot of work that goes into building a business and, especially in the early days, it all seems to fall on the business owner. There's no boss asking you to account for your time, so you need to be motivated and organized so everything gets done. Although you'll likely spend more than 40 hours a week at the office in the beginning, remember that the payoff is a successful fashion business.

Steps for How to Build a Clothing Brand Online

Starting your own clothing website can seem complicated, but breaking the big picture into small tasks can help you feel less overwhelmed. Following a step-by-step guide also ensures you don't miss any steps, increasing your chances of success.

  1. Decide the products you want to sell.
  2. Choose your clothing line business model.
  3. Find the best ecommerce platform.
  4. Create your clothing brand.
  5. Establish your business plan.
  6. Make a product development process.
  7. Select a name and domain for your online brand.
  8. Locate the right clothing manufacturers.
  9. Create your online store.
  10. Begin promoting your online clothing brand.

Decide the Types of Clothing You Want to Sell

The first step in starting your own online fashion business is to decide what type of clothes you want to sell. You have to know this before you can decide on a business model, find a manufacturer, or even pick a name in many cases. Having a focus also helps you market to your target audience. Some of the products you can consider are:

  • T-shirts
  • Jackets
  • Hoodies
  • Leggings
  • Dresses
  • Lingerie

There are opportunities and risks with every choice. Think about your own passions. How much do you want to be involved with the manufacture of the clothing, and how much money do you have for an initial investment?

Choose Your Clothing Line Business Model

There are four main types of business models for clothing lines. There are pros and cons for each model, and each has different start-up costs and time involvement.

1.Print-on-demand.

Print-on-demand uses special digital ink-jet printers to produce high-quality printed apparel. Generally, the business owner or a hired graphic artist designs images, and the manufacturer prints the designs as orders come in. Print runs can be as small as one order, which negates the need to keep large amounts of stock.

Print-on-demand businesses can be started quickly and inexpensively. It's possible to start a t-shirt company through this model in 24 hours with less than $1,000 investment. It's also nearly fully automated as far as manufacturing is concerned, leaving the owner to focus on design and marketing.

Although print-on-demand is available for many clothing types, including hoodies, socks, and leggings, the manufacturers use the same base clothing for many clients, so it's impossible for your brand to stand out through clothing quality. Print-on-demand also has lower profit margins than other business models.

2. Private label clothing line.

With a private label clothing line, you purchase blank clothing products and customize them by adding prints or tags, for example. Purchasing in bulk means you can get better prices and bigger profit margins, and processes like screen printing are cost-effective when done in bulk.

This model does take more time and money to set up than print-on-demand, but it also has higher profit potential, and customers may see these products as a better value.

Although you do get discounts for purchasing in bulk, you need to factor in warehousing costs as well as the time needed for managing inventory and shipping. It's also not cost-effective to keep a large inventory of designs, colors, and sizes.

3. Custom cut and sew clothing line.

A custom cut and sew clothing line is where you are in charge of every part of the process. The business owner designs clothes, turns them into patterns, sources the fabrics and manufacturers, and pays for a full production run. It's an intensive process that can take months or longer and has very high start-up costs.

This business model allows you to create a 100% custom product, which has increased perceived value in the eyes of consumers and allows for increased profit margins. However, it's definitely a high-risk approach.

4. Dropshipping.

In dropshipping, like Spocket, an online store sells a product and the order gets passed onto a third-party supplier who ships the order. As the business owner, you don't store or ship any products, which leaves you free to focus on marketing, advertising, and managing your online presence.

It's inexpensive to set up a dropshipping business, and ongoing costs are kept down as you don't need to worry about storage or shipping. These low costs mean it can be quicker to see a profit. It's also easier to remain flexible and pivot if you find a product isn't doing very well.

However, you have less control over the process in a dropshipping business, so make sure you partner with well-regarded manufacturers who have good quality control and shipping processes.

Find the Best Ecommerce Platform

Your ecommerce platform is where your customer buys your product, so you must find one that provides a good customer experience. Also, look for a platform that meets your needs and will grow with your brand.

1.BigCommerce.

BigCommerce is a full-featured ecommerce platform, with a standard plan that has plenty of functionality and 24/7 technical support. It's single-page checkout and multiple payment options make purchasing easy for your customers, meaning they're less likely to abandon a shopping cart.

There are social channel integrations, so everything can work smoothly if you advertise on Instagram or Facebook. You can also connect the platform directly to a WordPress website if you need a greater focus on content, such as blogging.

The best part is that you have unlimited products and bandwidth, so there's plenty of scope to grow your brand. You can also easily add new apparel as it's designed. Take the t-shirt company The Mountain as an example. It quickly added a range of masks when COVID-19 hit to take advantage of a new market need.

ecommerce platform example
(Image:https://www.themountain.com/face-masks/)

Although BigCommerce looks more expensive at first glance, numerous features come with the standard plan, which means you don't need to pay extra for multiple add-ons and plug-ins. There's also no transaction fees, which can lead to big savings as your business grows.

2. Shopify.

Shopify is one of the more well-known ecommerce platforms around. It can provide you with everything you expect from an ecommerce site, including SSL, unlimited products, integrated payment solutions, and discount cards.

3. WooCommerce.

WooCommerce is an open-source plug-in, meaning it's free to install, and it's often used by people with an existing WordPress site. Its open-source nature is very flexible, and industry experts regularly audit the code. 

Create Your Clothing Brand

A well-defined brand is essential to help you stand out from your competitors. Take time to create a clothing website that attracts attention and appeals to your audience.

1. Define your market audience.

Understanding your customers is the first step to reaching your customers. Think about the type of apparel you want to make and who's going to purchase the product. What value will you be providing to your customers? What makes it unique when compared to the competition. If you know these details, you can speak the language of your audience, making it easier to market products and inspire customer loyalty.

2. Establish your brand pillars.

Your brand pillars are three or four aspects of your brand that set you apart. Think of them as your brand's mission or essence. Some examples include quality, reliability, eco-friendly, humor, and innovation. Brand pillars add dimension to your core idea, and working them into marketing can help you connect to customers.

3. Develop brand visuals.

It's important to develop strong and consistent brand visuals. They enable you to be easily recognized by customers and can help grow your brand. It will give you a base for your design and photography aesthetics, which is especially important in a clothing line as the product is visual.

Start with a moodboard. 

example of brand visuals
Image via skillshare.com

This is a collection of photos, colors, and graphics that help to define your visual style. Next, narrow down a color palette. Dominant colors often emerge from your moodboard. Finally, design a logo that ties it all together. This will represent your brand and needs to speak to your target demographic.

Establish Your Business Plan

A business plan is crucial when starting a business as it helps you make decisions and guides the direction of your company. It doesn't need to be 50 pages long, especially if you're not looking for outside finance. Instead, focus on the important points.

  • Describe your target market, including customer personas.
  • Look at your competitors and detail their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Include your products, the costs and profit margins, and your expected turnover.

Locate the Right Clothing Manufacturers

Finding the right manufacturer can go a long way to ensuring success for a clothing brand. Take the time to find someone who can make your vision a reality.

1. Conduct research on manufacturers.

Do some general research on clothing manufacturers so that you understand what they do and the services they can provide. Some manufacturers can help you with pattern making and tech packs, which is useful for people creating custom lines. You may also be able to get help with product development.

When you start to research specific companies, consider their location, capabilities, heritage, and reputation. Also, look at other brands they work with and talk to existing clients, if possible.

2. Places to find clothing manufacturers.

Several websites can help you find a clothing manufacturer. Some of the best include:

  • Maker's Row: Maker's Row, which consists of more than 3,000 clothing facilities to explore, is based in the USA.
  • Sourcify: Sourcify is linked to hundreds of Chinese manufacturers and will collaborate with you on identifying and testing the best option for you.
  • Sqetch: Sqetch is comparable to Maker's Row but rather focuses on connecting you to European suppliers.
  • FactoryFinder: By introducing you to the right clothing manufacturer, FactoryFinder can help select, evaluate, and develop products.
  • SourceEasy: SourceEasy is a comprehensive platform that supports you through the whole process of clothing production.

3. How to contact a clothing manufacturer.

An email is generally the best way to contact a clothing manufacturer. Factories will be slower to respond if you seem like a time-waster, so make sure you're polite and clear about your needs, and don't be afraid to follow up if you don't hear back. Remember to be concise. There's no need to overwhelm them with too much information in your initial contact.

4. Evaluating your manufacturer.

After you've received responses from manufacturers, it's time to decide where to do business. Some things to consider include:

  • Can you view samples?
  • Do they have a specialty?
  • What is their pricing structure?
  • What is their location?
  • How do they like to communicate?

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Create Your Online Store

Your online store is the portal where customers can purchase your products. But it's also a marketing tool, the face of your brand, and where customers can enjoy a shopping experience. So you have to take the time to get this right.

1. Choose a theme or template.

A template or theme is a ready-built page that you can customize to suit your brand. It empowers you to build a good-looking site with little or no coding knowledge. Think about the style, navigation, and customization options when you're deciding on the template.

If you want your fashion website to convert, here are a few website elements to keep in mind:

  • Use High-quality visuals that showcase the products.
  • Create size guides, FAQs and return policies to help answer shoppers' questions
  • Add filters that make it easy for customers to find the right size or color.
  • Include a variety of payment options to reduce abandoned shopping carts.

Clarks, an iconic footwear brand, has an excellent online store you can reference as an example of great design.

example of ecommerce store theme
(Image: https://clarks.com.au/)

2. Add products and descriptions.

Good product images and descriptions can help convince your customers to purchase. It can also help you get noticed by search engines. Use high-quality images to attract your audience, and make sure you include an appealing description. Categories are a useful addition that encourage customers to browse.

product description example
(Image: https://www.yumi.co.uk/green-plus-size-dog-shirt-dress/)

Women’s clothing company Yumi provides great examples of product descriptions. They have multiple images of the model wearing the dress, plus all the essential details about color and size. The written description truly shines as they use multiple keywords in a way that feels natural and provides more details about the dress, including how to care for it.

3. Add other essential pages.

Other essential pages include your about page, checkout page, contact page, and a page dedicated to policies, including shipping, refund, and privacy. A blog can be a great marketing tool if you're willing to post regularly, and FAQs can help cut down on frequent customer questions.

4. Generate checkout policies.

Checkout policies are the rules that explain what customers can expect from your store and how they can get help when situations arise. Your policies should cover your inventory return process, shipping, taxes, payment methods, and warranties. They should be easy to find, usually through a link at the footer of each page.

ecommerce checkout policy example
(Image: https://shoprevelry.com/home-try-on/)

If you have a policy that can attract customers, make it front and center. Bridesmaid dress company Revelry sends samples and swatches to customers to help bridal parties make final decisions. This policy is highlighted on the home page, and a separate page details how it works.

5. Select accepted payment providers.

Your ecommerce platform may limit your accepted payment providers, but in general, it's good to have multiple options. This gives customers a greater chance of being able to purchase quickly and easily.

Payment providers include credit cards like Visa, online payment methods like PayPal, and Buy Now, Pay Later systems like Afterpay. Whichever providers you choose, make sure the system is secure.

6. Determine shipping and packaging.

The first decision to make is whether you'll ship internationally. If not, make sure it's clear on your website, so international browsers don't get frustrated after they've put items in their cart. Decide on shipping costs. Will you charge postage costs or offer free shipping for all or some purchases? If you're charging, is it a flat fee or based on weight?

Afterward, think about your packaging. Print-on-demand and dropshipping stores may not have a choice in packaging, but other stores can use packaging as part of their branding. Think about how you can make unboxing the product an experience for your customer.

Begin Promoting Your Online Clothing Brand

You should start promoting your business prior to launch so that you generate early interest. It's good to use a range of marketing techniques to gauge what attracts your target audience.

1. Social media.

Social media is an important part of many people's shopping journeys, with one study finding 74% of consumers use social networks to help them make purchasing decisions. Instagram is perfect for clothing brands as the visual medium lets you showcase your clothes.

Most brands also utilize Facebook but consider other channels where your target audience hangs out. Don't forget to gather and share user-generated content. Lingerie brand, Natori, mixes images of models and customers wearing their clothing, to help build social proof and authenticity.

social media promotion example
(Image: https://www.natori.com/)

2. Content marketing.

Content marketing refers to creating content that attracts customers to your store. The best content marketing brings users to you, and it's important because people prefer to learn about products by seeking information, rather than through paid advertising. Content marketing can include blog posts, buying guides, videos, and infographics. You can also think creatively like cosmetic company Bliss, which has a skin type quiz that helps draw in customers.

3. SEO.

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, means using your content effectively to help it get to the top of Google search results. Think about how your ideal customers would search for a product and include those keywords in your product descriptions, home page, and other pages on your site. If you're not sure, there are professionals that can help you create optimized content.

4. Email marketing.

An email list lets you contact your customer base directly. It's a resource that you own and isn't influenced by changes in social media algorithms, nor do you have to pay the way you would to place an ad. You can use your list in a variety of ways.

Abandoned cart emails can help bring people back to their shopping, while thank you emails create connections with purchasers. Customers can hear directly from you about promotions and sales. Emails are also a great way to touch base with customers so you can build relationships and make sure you're in their thoughts.

Elements of a Successful Online Fashion Business

It takes hard work to create a successful online clothing brand. In addition, you need to stand out through your designs, quality, and branding.

1. Great design.

People use clothes to express themselves, so they're purchasing an aesthetic. Make sure your designs look great in the eyes of your target market. Clothing designs don't need to be complex, in fact, many customers prefer simple styles, but your designs do need to connect with your audience. Here’s an example from Olive, a British contemporary clothing brand, that showcases how simple designs can still be high fashion.

great clothing design
(Image: https://www.oliveclothing.com/new/men/p-oliveunique-20200209-018-navy-menswear-balloon-box-jacket-navy)

2. Quality materials.

Choose your materials carefully because quality speaks to customers. Consumers don't want to buy a t-shirt that fades or shrinks in the first wash. High-quality clothing feels better and fits better, which will lead to loyal customers who recommend your products to friends and family.

3. Make your brand defined.

A lot of clothing lines are built on a strong brand, so much so that companies like Gucci and Louis Vuitton use their logo in their designs. A strong brand helps you connect to your target market, encouraging them to purchase and recommend your products.

Think about what your brand stands for and the lifestyle associated with it, and emphasize this in your marketing and products.

Conclusion

Building a clothing business can be hard work, but it's also an opportunity to create a brand in an industry you're passionate about. By deciding on the right business model and concentrating on solid designs, quality materials, and a strong online presence through your ecommerce store and social media channels, you can give yourself a head start in creating a successful clothing brand.


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Leigh-Anne Truitt

Leigh-Anne Truitt is an SEO Specialist at BigCommerce where she researches and discovers strategies to increase organic traffic. Prior to joining the ecommerce industry, Leigh-Anne perfected her marketing skills at The University of Texas at Austin and CanIRank.

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