Wondering how to start a clothing business online? It's not as complicated as you might think — in fact, you can have your own small clothing business by following just eight steps.
Ahead, we'll explain everything you need to know about how to start a small clothing business from home, from discovering your niche and choosing a business model to planning your supply chain and creating a store.
How to Start a Clothing Business Online
When it comes to the clothing industry, ecommerce is the (virtual) place to be. In 2020, for instance, ecommerce accounted for a whopping 46% of all apparel sales in the U.S., an increase of almost 20% since 2018:
Knowing that, it's hard not to wonder what it would take to start your own clothing business from home. Fortunately, it's not as complex as you might think, it doesn't necessarily require any sewing skills and it's completely possible for one person to do on their own.
These are the eight steps you can take to start an online clothing business.
1. Find Your Niche
Thanks to companies like Shein, H&M and Zara, clothing is now cheaper and more accessible than ever before. From $2 T-shirts to $10 jeans, fast fashion has changed the clothing industry as we know it.
Because of that, it's absolutely crucial for aspiring clothing sellers to find a unique niche before getting started. After all, if your potential customers can find nearly identical products at Forever 21 for half the cost, why would they buy yours? They probably wouldn't, so you need to set yourself apart.
Begin by asking yourself a few key questions:
Do I want to sell clothes for any gender in particular? If not, do I want to sell both women's and men's clothing or unisex clothing?
What age group do I want to sell clothes for? If none, how can I make clothes that will appeal to all ages?
Do I want to sell clothes intended to be worn for particular occasions?
What will make customers want to buy my clothes over others?
The answers to those questions will likely help you get a few steps closer to identifying your niche. For inspiration, you can also study which types of clothing niches are doing well or beginning to catch on.
For instance, one fast-growing segment of the fashion industry is sustainable and ethical clothing. The market for this segment is projected to balloon from $8.2 billion in 2023 to $15.2 billion in 2030.
Once you've settled on a general niche, be sure to spend some time nailing down what will make your clothing business truly unique. Let's say you want to focus on selling ethically-produced organic cotton shirts — what will make them different from the others on the market? Will yours be softer and comfier? Or will you perhaps offer them in unique colors and designs?
Whatever you decide on, what's important is that you have a firm idea of what niche your business will occupy and how it will stand out from the crowd.
2. Decide What to Sell
After determining a niche, you'll need to get even more specific by deciding exactly what types of clothing items you're going to sell. And remember, the variety of products you sell will affect the complexity of your sourcing and supply chain logistics down the line.
When deciding what to sell, you'd be wise to keep a few key considerations in mind:
What are you most knowledgeable about? You may want to play to your strengths by sticking to items you're familiar with. Sustainable womenswear brand Of Her Own Kind, for example, almost exclusively offers linen dresses.
What makes the most sense with your budget? Whether hand- or factory-made, it's unavoidable that more fabric = more cost. So, that might affect whether you choose to sell lightweight shirts or heavy coats.
What types of products will best represent your brand? Any new clothing brand needs a strong identity in order to stand out in consumers' minds. A nonsensical product catalog will achieve the opposite, so be sure to hone in on clothing items that are well-suited to your original vision and unique niche.
And if you're wondering how many designs you need to start a clothing line, know that it's always better to err on the side of caution. After all, you can always choose to offer more products further down the line, but offering too many right off the bat might hurt your brand and your bottom line.
3. Choose a Business Model
Depending on the types of clothes you're selling and the way you intend to produce them, your business model can vary greatly.
These are the main clothing business models you'll be able to choose from:
If you're able to sew garments yourself, or are planning on partnering with someone who does, then a handmade clothing business model may be best for you.
You can sell the clothes you create on a handmade business platform like Etsy or Amazon Handmade, as well as from your own website. With this business model, you'll need to source and store all the necessary materials yourself, from fabric to buttons to thread.
Cut and Sew
If you want to design each clothing item yourself but don't want to do the actual cutting, pinning and sewing, then you might want to use a cut and sew manufacturer. In essence, these types of manufacturers use your original designs to create 100% custom clothing items.
With this business model, you get unique products just like with a handmade clothing business, but you don't need to purchase, store or assemble any of the materials yourself.
If you want to put your own graphic designs on basic clothing items like hoodies or T-shirts but don't want to personally do any screen printing or sewing, a print-on-demand business model will be right up your alley.
All you need to do is create a graphic design and choose a print-on-demand service. When a customer orders a clothing item from you, the print-on-demand service you've chosen prints it and ships it for you.
Want to sell already-made clothing under your own brand? You'll love a private label business model, which allows you to purchase unbranded clothing from wholesalers, add your own branding and sell it in whichever way you choose.
The only downside is that you'll need to manage your own inventory, so a little extra storage space is going to be a must.
Business models based on dropshipping are very similar to those that use private label products because they involve purchasing already-made clothing from suppliers and selling it as your own.
However, dropshipping differs in that you don't need to buy and store inventory in advance — your chosen supplier will simply ship out items to customers on a per-order basis.
4. Plan Your Supply Chain
After deciding which types of clothes you're going to sell and how you're going to sell them, you still have one logistical hurdle to clear: planning your supply chain. If you've been wondering how much does it actually cost to start a clothing line, this is the step that will have the greatest impact on your answer.
What your supply chain looks like is heavily dependent on the business model you choose. If you go for a print-on-demand or dropshipping business model, for instance, then you won't have to worry about a supply chain at all — the vendor you choose will simply handle it for you.
But if you choose a handmade, cut and sew, or private label business model, then you'll need to figure out how the clothing you sell will get from suppliers to you to your customers.
Selling handmade clothes undoubtedly involves the highest degree of supply chain planning. If you do so, you'll need to account for all sorts of materials, including:
A sewing machine
Needles and thread.
A dress form
Scissors, pins and other miscellaneous tools
Branded tags and labels
Alternatively, if you use a cut and sew or private label business model, you won't have to source your own fabric, tools and the like. You will, however, have to organize and store your inventory yourself. That means you need to consider the amount of storage space you have at your disposal, as well as how you'll keep everything organized and how you'll go about packaging and shipping each order.
And regardless of whether you use a handmade, cut and sew, or private label business model, it's crucial that you think carefully about how much of each item you purchase at any given time. Both your storage capacity and your bottom line depend on it.
5. Create Your Store
Now, for the really exciting part: Once you've nailed down all the logistical details, you can finally go about actually creating your very own online clothing store.
There are other platforms you might want to take a look at too, including mainstays like eBay and trendy apps like Depop.
Ultimately, the question of which platform is best for you depends on the type of clothing you're going to sell. For example, if you're selling handmade clothes, then Etsy and Amazon Handmade are the most logical choices, but if you're selling secondhand items, then eBay or Depop might make more sense.
No matter which platform(s) you choose, just be sure to think carefully about the impression your storefront will make on users. From your shop's profile picture to its "about" page and the tone you use when writing product descriptions, every aspect of its customer-facing appearance should be polished and on-brand.
Before creating a website, make sure to research your business name and make sure it's available in your state. Use our Business Name Search Tool to get started:
6. Get Social
If you want your at-home clothing business to truly thrive, then you'll need to leverage the power of social media.
Not sure where to start? Many small clothing businesses find social media success on either Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, or — even better — a combination of the three.
Make an editorial calendar so you can plan your posting schedule in advance.
Use Instagram's Stories feature so followers can see photos and videos of your clothes right at the top of their feed.
Encourage engagement by replying to your followers, promptly answering any questions that come your way and networking with other small businesses.
Use hashtags on all your posts (but only if they're relevant, of course). Hint: Don't be afraid to use hashtags you see on competitors' posts.
Grow your follower base by asking friends and family members to follow. You can even send free clothing items to relevant influencers in order to catch their audience's attention.
Create a variety of different content and take note of the type your audience responds best to. This could include product shots, customer features, behind-the-scenes sneak peeks and more.
You can branch out onto other platforms, too, depending on the type of content you want to create. What's important is that you make your brand accessible to as many potential customers as possible, and give them a positive experience to remember it by.
7. Implement Marketing and SEO Strategies
While establishing a social media presence is a marketing tactic in and of itself, you'll need to make additional marketing and SEO efforts if you want your small clothing business to be as successful and profitable as possible.
To begin, ensure that your brand has a strong online presence. For instance, you can:
Make your website's design more user- and mobile-friendly.
With marketing and SEO tactics such as those in place, you'll be able to build a strong reputation in the eyes of both search engines and customers.
8. Don't Forget About Bookkeeping
Taxes and bookkeeping may not be the most exciting part of running your own small clothing business, but it is one of the most important.
Whether you're operating as a sole proprietorship or you've filed an LLC, you'll need to file self-employment taxes. That means paying quarterly taxes that are based on your estimated income, which can be a daunting prospect if you're used to only paying taxes once per year.
From finding your niche to setting up your website to filing your taxes, starting your own clothing business from home is a journey. But by breaking down the process into bite-sized steps, it doesn't have to be a difficult one. And when you make your first sale, we know you'll agree that it's worth it.
Want to make the setup process even simpler? With Incfile, you can easily file your LLC for $0 plus state fees — both your schedule and your wallet are sure to appreciate it.
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Carrie Buchholz-Powers is a Colorado-based writer who’s been creating content since 2013. From digital marketing to ecommerce to land conservation, she has experience in a wide range of fields and loves learning about them all. Carrie is fond of history, animals and beauty in equal measure. In her free time, she enjoys knitting, playing video games and exploring Colorado's prairies and mountains with her husband.