Curious to find out how to start a clothing store? Well, you’re in luck, because thanks to the rising popularity of ecommerce, easy-to-use tools make starting an online clothing business simpler than ever.
Ecommerce platforms, online marketing tools, and dropshipping services like Printful can help you set up a clothing store with minimal resources, but you’ll also need the dedication to make your store a success.
You’ll also need to decide on your business model.
Not all entrepreneurs follow the same route to enter the fashion industry. Some sell clothing they make themselves, others buy clothing wholesale.
There are pros and cons to each approach, but in this blog I’ll walk you through the process of starting a clothing brand with the print-on-demand dropshipping model. It’s a business model where you sell products on your storefront without keeping inventory. Instead, your products are fulfilled and shipped by a print-on-demand company to customers on your behalf.
To help you turn your passion into a booming business, I’ve broken down this process step by step.
A niche is a segment of a market that’s defined by its own unique needs, identity, and preferences like gardening enthusiasts or Lord of the Rings fans. It may seem counterintuitive to focus on a small group of people. After all, won’t that result in fewer sales?
In reality, everyone has their own outlook, taste, and interests. It’s almost impossible to create a universally-loved product. As the saying goes, “when you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.”
So, make sure to do your homework and pick a niche. If you know your niche, you’ll know your customers, too. The better you know your customers and what they like, the better your chances of creating products they want.
Equally important, you have to know why you’re doing this:
Bottom line is, everything you do, from your products to your motivation, has to be you. If you won’t be able to explain your reason for starting a clothing store, who will?
Let’s take a brief philosophical pause and talk about what “authentic” means. In the words of movie director Jim Jarmusch, “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.”
That doesn’t mean you can go ahead and put a Warhol on a t-shirt because that could raise some trouble with copyright law. What Jarmusch means is, be smart about getting inspired. After all, everything new is inspired by everything old. If you imitate wisely enough, you can end up with something far better than the original.
Choosing the right products is important for two reasons.
Firstly, the quality of your final designs depends on the product and its characteristics. Secondly, you want to pick products that will be profitable. Here’s what to consider when deciding what products to add to your store.
The apparel market seems almost infinite and it might be tempting to sell everything. But I’d advise you to start off small and slow. Adding too many products that don’t sell well, in the end, could result in extra work like writing product descriptions, organizing photo shoots, etc.
The fabric of your garments will determine what the final design will look like.
The three most common types of fabrics used in retail are cotton, polyester, and fabric blends. Each one has different properties, so it’s important to find out the durability, care, and printing suitability, as well as the feel and wear of the fabric.
For example, with direct-to-garment (DTG) printing, the more cotton a garment has, the better. DTG printing uses water-based inks that stick to cotton better than compared to other materials. Make sure to also pay attention to the thickness of the fabric—if the garment is made from thick cotton (e.g., sweatshirts or hoodies), the fabric can absorb the ink and result in a more faded look.
The clothing game is constantly shifting. There are two ways you can approach the changes in fashion trends as an ecommerce store owner.
On the one hand, you can pick products that will always be needed, like t-shirts or hoodies. But keep in mind that the competition with staples like these is also incredibly fierce. There are many entrepreneurs selling t-shirts or hoodies, so you’ll need to think how to stand out from the crowd.
On the other hand, you can plan for the changing styles by creating a store with a diverse range of products that constantly changes. Whenever a new trend comes along, you can easily create a new design.
In this case, using a print-on-demand dropshipping model like Printful would work out well. Since you won’t have to invest money in inventory, you’ll be able to add as many products as you like. If a product doesn’t sell, just remove it from the store. And when you get a new idea for a design, you can quickly add the design to your product line-up and see how it performs.
Let’s get to the creative part—creating cool designs. There are different approaches, but I’ll cover the three main ways to go about creating designs.
You can experiment with different online mockup generators for making designs. For example, when you have a store with Printful you can use our free Design Maker, which is an incredibly versatile tool. The Design Maker has sample graphics, texts, fonts, emojis, illustrations, clipart, and 80+ million visuals from Getty Images that you can use to create your own designs.
Or, you can use the Design Maker to spice up your own artwork files. There are other design tools out there you can use—Photoshop is the most popular, but it’s also quite an investment. Luckily, there are budget-friendly design tools like Canva, Krita, and Photopea.
To be confident that your design will look great on a product, always follow the guidelines created by our in-house experts. You can find the Printful guidelines and print file templates in the File guidelines tab under each product in the catalog.
Always read the Terms and Conditions of these websites to see if there are any additional requirements. For instance, ready-made images and fonts often have to be modified before they can be printed on clothing for commercial use.
You’ve decided on your target audience, you’ve created beautiful designs—the next step is branding.
Branding is the image of your store you present to your customers. It’s the impression that pops into their minds when they hear the name of your business.
For the scope of this blog, I’ll cover the four main steps of branding your business. To find out more, read our blog post on creating a successful brand story.
Your store name is the very first thing your potential customers get to see and interact with, even before they see you or your products.
Firstly, keep your business name short, simple, and easy to pronounce. I’d recommend leaving out words like “a” or “the” to make your name catchier.
Secondly, come up with a name that customers will associate with your store. Try to avoid overused or generic business names. For example, “Marta’s Vintage Clothing Store” would be too broad—even though I’d definitely check out a store like that myself! Instead, pick a name that customers would associate with retro clothes, like Beyond Retro or Rusty Zipper. This way, it’ll be easier for your shoppers to remember your store.
Thirdly, do a thorough online research to see if your store name is available. Google is a good start—and don’t forget to look beyond page 2 of search results.
When designing a logo, use simple colors—no more than three and make the text part of your logo clear and readable. Logos with lots of different colors or gradient colors won’t look the same in different situations. Your logo might appear on stickers or product packaging, just to name a few. That’s why you should stick with a design that will look the same across a variety of applications.
You can create the design entirely from scratch, or you can use Printful’s Logo Maker to create a memorable logo.
Imagine meeting someone for the first time at a dinner party. After they introduce themselves and explain what they do for a living, they keep going on about the industry they work in. Then imagine someone who also explains why they do what they do and why they enjoy their work.
If the second person sounds more interesting, there’s a reason why.
People are drawn to those who are passionate about what they do. An About us page is an opportunity to connect with customers by selling your story, your vision, your mission, and what makes you, you. After all, people make purchase decisions based on emotions—so use the opportunity to create those positive emotions.
There are different ways to create a persuasive About us page. For instance, you can include:
To find out more, read our blog article on writing a persuasive About us page.
Choosing where to sell your products is one of the foundation stones in your seller journey. Let’s take a look at two options—ecommerce platforms and marketplaces.
An ecommerce platform is a single-seller website where the store owner sells only their products. A marketplace is a website where products from multiple vendors are compiled into one well-organized catalog. Think Etsy or Amazon where you can pick products from a variety of different vendors.
Consider these factors when choosing the tool for building your store:
Now that you’ve picked your products and decided where you’ll sell them, you need to take care of the technical side. Here’s what you should focus on.
A domain name is like a digital address where people can find you online. Having a domain name will give your store a more professional look and customers will trust you more.
As a rule of thumb, pick a domain name that’s the same as your store name. You want potential shoppers to connect your business to your website and easily find you online.
Similarly with store names, the shorter your domain name, the better. But what if you have already thought of an amazing but also very long store name? Say your store name is The Great Garden Gnome Gang. In that case, remove all the unnecessary words like ‘’the’’, so you’ll end up with a domain like this: www.gardengang.com.
A payment processor or gateway is a software that handles the payment between the customer, customer’s bank, the consumer’s card and their bank. Think of them as the online equivalent of the hardware that consumers swipe their cards through at brick-and-mortar stores.
When you create your store, you need a payment processor to accept payments from your customers. Some examples of recognized payment gateways are BrainTree, PayU, Stripe, PayPal, or Skrill. All of them have pros and cons, but in general, there are two aspects to pay attention to when choosing a payment processor.
Firstly, look for a payment processor that prioritizes information protection and security. Reliable payment processors will have automated tools that help combat credit card fraud, as well as identify and stop suspicious transactions.
Secondly, choose a payment processor that accepts different credit cards, debit cards, and currencies, based on different countries. The more ways people are able to pay you, the better.
Shipping and return policies create a sense of security in shoppers because they see that if something goes wrong, the store owner has already covered it. Well-designed shipping and return policies will improve your overall reputation and increase sales in the long-term.
Shoppers will want to know shipping costs, delivery times, and shipping methods. To make sure you’ve covered everything, give your customers answers to the following questions:
Your return policy will depend on the kind of products you sell, but here are some basics you should think about either way :
For inspiration on what to include in your shipping policy, have a look at our blog article on how to write return and shipping policies.
To prepare for a successful clothing store launch, run a test order before your website goes live. A test order allows you to go through the checkout process as your customer would, so you know what’s working and what’s not. It’s particularly important when using the print-on-demand business model—you need to test the product quality yourself before you send it to a customer.
By doing a test order, you can fix hiccups ahead of time and prevent your customers from encountering any issues with the ordering process that would discourage customers from buying from you again. You can even test different addresses, different products, and shipping options to be extra sure that everything works the way it should.
It’s time for some marketing magic. To get that first sale and keep them coming in, here’s what you need to focus on.
A strong social media presence will drive traffic to your store and increase sales. Each platform has its nuances and strengths. However, there are some best practices that apply to the main platforms and should be taken into account across the board.
Consistency. When you sign up with a social media platform, keep your posts and tone consistent. Customers will get used to your voice and schedule, so keep it predictable for them.
Engagement times. Figure out which times of day get the most likes and comments. You want to post at an optimal time that gets the most attention.
Insight tools. Some platforms have tools that help you understand how your profile and posts are performing. Use them to help optimize your content and timing.
Your profile page. Make sure your “about me” description is accurate and consistent across all platforms. Where possible, include a link to your store.
Studies have shown that 93% of online shoppers check what other customers had to say about a product before making their purchase. Product reviews from other shoppers is a proof to ensure customers that your website is a thriving store that they can trust.
There are different ways how you can ask for product reviews. In general, you want to make this process simple, leaving links to product reviews on every relevant page. Displaying photos from other customers using your product is always helpful. Have a look at how Modcloth does it:
Last but not least—never stop learning! The world of online marketing is constantly changing and it’s a good idea to always be one step ahead. Read articles and books on marketing strategies or explore online resources. I recommend starting with Printful Lessons—video courses from industry experts who’ll teach you all about digital marketing strategies, creating designs, and so much more.
I hope that reading this article gave you that extra push to follow your dream and launch a clothing business.
You’re about to dive into a very interesting, creative period, so look around and take in as much as you can. Listen to advice from other people, but take it with a grain of salt. The final decision will be made by you, though—you have to be happy with the outcome.
Read next: How to Start an Online Store with Printful
This article was originally published in July 2016; it has since been updated.
Marta is a Content Marketing Specialist at Printful with a background in Social Anthropology. She's passionate about marketing, UX research, and the Oxford comma.