Are you creative?
Do you enjoy designing clothes?
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Online clothing retail is an $80 billion-a-year industry, and that online merchants are projected to account for 95% of total clothing sales by 2040.
If you're ready to tackle this opportunity and start your own successful clothing business, you'll love this guide.
We'll take you step by step through the entire process and give you everything you need to get started.
Why start a clothing comxpany?
There's no better time to start your own clothing business.
With the ability to seamlessly run an eCommerce shop from anywhere, you, too, can realize your dream of owning a clothing business—and make a pretty decent living while you're at it.
Those aren't numbers to bat an eye at.
Whether it's been a longtime goal of yours to own your own clothing company, or if you're looking to dabble in something different than your typical business endeavor, owning a successful, profitable eCommerce business isn't out of reach.
Before you can start selling, let's take a look at the steps you need to take to build a prosperous clothing business from the ground up.
1. Define Your Niche and Products
First, you must figure out what kind of clothing you'll be selling and to whom.
Are you planning on creating a single product and being known for that, or are you going to be a curator of different styles, trends, and product types?
In other words, will you design one product, like a line of hats for men, and be known only for men's hats? Or will you purchase clothing from a designer or brand at wholesale prices and sell in a boutique format?
Defining your niche is a critical part of starting any business in any industry. If you don't have your niche locked down, how will you which customers to target, which products to make or buy, and how to sell them?
Having a clear understanding of your target market will help you with decision making—from how to reach your ideal customer to how you set up your inventory. This will all be determined by your target market.
Not sure what niche you're interested in?
Think about the fashion industry as a whole. Does it lack anything in particular?
Like high-quality bathing suits for women at a reasonable price point. Or maybe you'd like to make a charitable impact with your business and create a line of t-shirts that benefit a non-profit organization you're passionate about.
Still not sure how to find your niche?
Ask yourself a few of these questions to get your mental gears turning:
- What type of clothing are you passionate about or interested in selling?
- Who would you like to sell to?
- Is there a niche you could add value to?
- Is there a particular pain point that your product could solve for a niche?
- Is a market lacking a specific product?
Whatever your inspiration, your product or products will dictate whom you try to reach and how you go about doing that. Knowing your ideal shopper will make it easier for you to market and sell to them.
2. Decide on a Business Model
There are a few business models to consider when opening up an online clothing business.
With the power of eCommerce comes great flexibility—and lots of options to create a business that lines up perfectly with your career goals.
Depending on your product and goals for your business, some models will make more sense than others.
Let's take a look at a few of the most popular types of business models.
This business model is best if you're trying to launch your company as affordably as possible. With this model, you print your logo or design on a clothing item when you make a sale, hence the "on-demand" classification.
This model offers easy automation and ensures you aren't spending too much money on stock right off the bat.
If you're going to be designing or creating the clothing yourself, this is the business model you'll want to look into. This structure is a bit more involved, because you're not only running the business side of things, but you're carrying out the labor of physically creating the clothes yourself.
Because you're not purchasing clothing from a wholesaler, you'll need to account for the associated expenses that come with making clothes, such as fabric, design tools, and other production costs.
With this business model, you buy "blank" items in bulk and print your logo or design on every item. This way, your products are ready to go, and as soon as someone makes a purchase, all you have to do is package it up and drop it in the mail.
This model can be more cost-effective than on-demand, because you're purchasing your product at a wholesale price.
This model offers the least amount of control when it comes to your products—both delivering and shipping them. Drop-shipping is when you sell a product that is fulfilled and shipped from a wholesaler, meaning you don't have to deal with any shipping, logistics, packaging, or stock.
However, because you're not handling the logistics or stock, it can be difficult to manage quality control and ensure your customers are getting what they ordered. There's also a chance that your products won't be as unique as you'd like because of this limited amount of control.
Research each business model and see what might be the best route for you. Once you've decided on a business model, you can then make other decisions that will help you grow your business and reach your goals.
One of the greatest things about being a business owner is that you can (and should) make changes as you see fit that will benefit the business in the long run. You're in the driver's seat, and you can take your enterprise in any direction you want.
3. Figure out Your Shop Type
There are various ways to structure a business in this day and age thanks to both online selling options in addition to brick-and-mortar shops.
Let's take a look at both opportunities in more detail.
Selling on an eCommerce platform
There's no question that selling online is one of the more cost-effective ways to run your business. Besides, having an online presence will help you reach more people in markets you otherwise wouldn't if you only had a physical store.
So how do you approach this?
First, you must understand the importance of excellent shopping UX.
Clunky online shopping experiences are the quickest way to get clients to move away from your site, no matter if they're shopping on their laptop or on their smartphone.
In fact, a study from Animoto found that 52% of users are less likely to engage with a company if their mobile browsing experience isn't up to par.
Therefore, creating an online shop that not only looks great but is easy to navigate on all devices is critical.
When building your store, consider the following elements:
- Excellent product photography
- Filters for searching through your product catalog
- Categories for easy searching
- A menu for simple navigating
- Descriptive product pages that include information like sizes, fit, materials, etc.
You know what you need to include when you build your store, but what should you look for in an online store builder?
Keep these questions in mind when researching:
- Is the platform secure?
- Does the platform allow for easy mobile navigation?
- What is the checkout and browsing experience like for customers?
- Can you integrate the apps you currently use to power your business with this platform?
- Is the platform scalable?
Most popular eCommerce builders offer demos so you can get a feel for what it would be like using that platform.
Now, it's time to research online store builders that can accomodate your business' needs.
There are several high-performing eCommerce platforms to choose from like BigCommerce, Shopify, WooCommerce, and Squarespace, to name a few. Learn about each platform and figure out which one has the tools to help you grow and run your business the best.
Your online shop is likely one of the first interactions a customer will have with your brand, so it's essential to create something that will set your business up for success from the start.
Selling in a brick-and-mortar shop
As laborious as this can be, there's something about shopping in a brick-and-mortar store that can be difficult to recreate online. There's a lot to be said for trying on items in-store, asking store associates for help in person, and, of course, taking items home immediately after purchase.
If you're interested in opening up a physical shop instead of selling online, there are a number of things to consider before you can switch that "closed" sign to "open" including:
- Finding the right store space with agreeable lease terms.
- Figuring out stock and inventory logistics (e.g., will you keep your products on-site at the store or will you have to rent a warehouse space?).
- Designing the shopping experience including the layout of the store, where certain items are placed, the color scheme and decorations, etc.
- Defining what type of staff you'll need and how often they'll need to work.
- Obtaining necessary operating permits and certificates.
Although opening up a brick-and-mortar shop may be more complicated than setting up an online store, you may find that this model works better for your business or lifestyle.
4. Create a Business Plan
You know what product you're selling and to whom, and now you have your business model selected.
It's time to develop your business plan.
Your plan will be the all-encompassing document covering every detail about your business, from financial information to long-term goals. Your business plan will serve as a guide to help you stick to your goals, make informed decisions, and keep your budget aligned.
All business plans will look different, and depending on whether you're planning to seek financial assistance from an investor or bank, your plan may need to include more detail.
Typically, most business plans include the following:
This portion of the plan discusses different aspects of the business like what your products are, who you're marketing and selling to, and why you've set out on this venture.
Are your products sourced from recyclable materials? Do you donate a portion of your profits to a foodbank? Include detail about why you've set out to launch this business and what the driving force behind your products is. In other words, the essence of your business should be captured in this section.
This portion will probably shift as the business grows, which is a natural part of entrepreneurship.
Writing out specific company goals can help you stay the course and make sure that every decision you make is going to bring you one step closer to reaching those goals.
Perhaps you're committed to sourcing materials from local vendors exclusively. Or maybe you want to sell a certain number of items in your first year of business.
It can be easy to lose sight of these goals, especially when things get rocky. But having them in writing as a part of your plan means they are real and you're working towards them.
As the owner of a clothing business, you're keeping tabs on several numbers, whether they be of monetary value or SKU numbers.
Make sure you account for these items in your budget:
- Inventory worth
- Startup and launch costs
- Employee pay
- Marketing and advertising costs
- Amount of money you need to make to breakeven
- Miscellaneous costs
Connect with a financial advisor or hire an accountant to help you figure out what a feasible and sensical budget is for your company. Break down your budget by quarter or month so you can track how you're trending and make sure you're not over-spending.
Unique Selling Proposition
Your unique selling proposition (USP) is a statement that details what sets you apart from other clothing companies—especially those similar to yours.
This statement should be primarily focused on what your customers value as it relates to your products. For example, if you source ethically made clothing or sell high-quality clothing at a reasonable price point, make sure that is communicated clearly in your USP.
This is the component of your business that is often the deciding factor for customers on whether they are going to purchase from you or another retailer. This part is critical to selling your product, so don't skip it! By keeping your customers at the center of this statement, you can ensure that everything you do is with them at the forefront.
So what isn't a good USP?
Your USP shouldn't include any offers, like a discount on the first purchase, or details regarding returns, shipping, or the like. Thing bigger picture and longer term—what will give your businesses the competitive edge for years to come?
There are several other components one can include in a business plan, and except for a few staple sections, there is no "right" way to create one.
Your business plan isn't set in stone. As things take off, you're bound to want to make adjustments based on consumer demand or if your goals change.
5. Market Your Company and Build Your Reputation
All of your ducks are in a row. Now it's time to get the word out about your business and start selling those SKUs.
Reach your audience by marketing with intention
In addition to an integrated website and eCommerce shop, social media is an excellent way for people to learn about your business, shop your products, and stay up-to-date with new releases.
Instagram, in particular, has tons of excellent eCommerce features like shoppable posts that make it easier for you to sell more and reach your target audience.
Having a cohesive social media presence (along with excellent product photography) that aligns with your overall brand not only will help you present your products, but it will help with your customer journey and customer brand association.
Using market research, figure out where your customers are hanging out online so you can better reach them. Take that research and develop an advertising strategy.
Consider the advertising channels below to spread the word and reach your audience:
1. Social media advertising: Whether you opt for Facebook or Instagram ads, you can reach your exact customer demographic thanks to audience targeting capabilities.
2. Search engine marketing: Surely you've seen advertisements on different websites for products you either recently viewed or may be interested in based on your search behavior. This is search engine marketing at work, likely run through Google AdWords. Instead of audience targeting, you can reach your customers through keyword intent targeting.
3. Podcast advertising: Advertising on a podcast is a great way to reach an audience you may not be able to target with social media advertising or search engine marketing. Research podcasts your core customers subscribe to and try to advertise on those.
4. Native advertising: Native ads are a great way to market your business without being overly salesy. For example, you could write a blog post featuring one of your new products for an online publication, but the post would be positioned to fit seamlessly with the rest of the content on the site.
5. Video advertising: Videos ads help you literally get in front of your target customers. Create a captivating video ad that will grab your target audience's attention from the start.
When it comes to advertising, the more experimenting you do the more well-rounded your results will be so you can make informed decisions for future campaigns.
Create the best customer service experience possible every time
In tandem with your advertising efforts, there are other ways to market your business that arguably have a higher impact.
Customer service and word-of-mouth marketing are incredibly crucial in the eCommerce world. If you don't provide excellent customer service word will spread pretty quickly, which can be damaging to your brand. It'll be challenging to maintain customers if you ignore this crucial part of the customer experience.
You could have the best product among your competitors, but if your customer service is terrible, it'll be challenging to grow unless you make a change.
Make it easy for your shoppers to perform shopping functions like requesting returns, checking out, browsing items, asking questions, and finding answers. Consider adding features like chatbots to make managing requests easier, or setting up a form on your shop's website that filters requests or questions by subject matter.
These small tweaks can make a huge impact. If your customers have a positive shopping experience with your company, they'll likely tell their friends and family.
Customers are going to talk about their experience with your company, so it's best to give them something positive to talk about.
As you grow your business, you'll be able to refine your marketing efforts and dedicate time to what is helping you grow your business. The name of the game is trial and error when it comes to marketing and relationship building.
Investing time, energy, and money into both will set your business up for success and profit.
It's easy to read a blog post, but building a business is challenging.
We've tried to give you the best possible roadmap with this post, but obviously, there's a lot left to cover and learn.
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