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Beginner's handbook

The Basics of Starting an Online Clothing Store

By Reading Time: 6 minutes

Interested in starting your own online clothing store? Well, you’re in luck, because now’s the perfect time to do it:

  • According to the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide, shoppers in the U.S. spent $342 billion on online retail purchases last year, that’s almost up 15% from 2014.  
  • The U.S. apparel market is the largest in the world. In 2015, it was valued at $343 billion.
  • Owing to the rising popularity of ecommerce, there’s a host of easy-to-use tools to help businesses go online – from dropshipping services like Printful and ecommerce platforms to online marketing tools.

So if you’ve got the inspiration and the passion, we say, go for it. Read on to find out the basic steps of launching your first clothing line.

1. Find your niche

You’re going to be dedicating a lot of time working on your store, so make sure it’s something you really want to pursue. You have to know why you’re doing this:

  • Is designing clothes or setting up a business something you’ve always wanted to try?
  • Do you feel like there’s a product you’d like to see on the market but haven’t found yet?
  • Are you aching to put your talent to the test?
  • Do you wish to start a change with what you’re doing?
  • Are you looking to make a little extra money on the side?

Another reason for starting an online clothing store could be in response to a booming trend or a viral news story (remember the Nasty Woman t-shirt?). Just bear in mind that trends tend to have a very short lifespan, so you have to figure out whether or not it works to your business’s advantage.

Bottom line is, everything you do, from your products to your motivation to design them, has to be you – authentic and organic. If you won’t be able to explain your reason for starting your line, who will?

A few words on authenticity —

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, that’ll raise some legal trouble (for more on copyright law, click here). What that means is, be smart about getting inspired. If you imitate wisely enough, you can end up with something far better than the original.

2. Be ready to commit

You’re motivated, your creative juices are flowing, and you can already see yourself sketching away into the wee hours of the morning, playing with patterns and combining colors. Beautiful.

Just remember – a clothing line’s not just a creative outlet, it entails a great deal of work and plenty of risks and rewards. There’ll always be something to do. Like:

  • Deciding what products to sell
  • Creating new designs
  • Advertising your products on social media
  • Responding to customers’ emails
  • Working on your business strategy
  • Hiring a helping hand
  • Dealing with technical issues

You’re getting involved in an ongoing process, but worry not. With the right attitude, the only way to go is up.

Already you can see that although they go hand in hand, there are going to be two sides to your clothing line – the creative side and the business side. To be on top of your game, you’re going to have to do some market research, find out who your competition is, and define how you’re going to make profit while limiting your expenses. Check out this list by for a closer look at what to expect when stepping into the world of business.

So you could be cut out to play both parts, the magic and the money, or you could be better off sticking to just one, in which case you need to find someone trustworthy to fill in the blanks. The only way is to test the waters and see what works.

3. Set up shop

But why go online? To answer this question, let’s look at a few figures.

Although the battle between online and offline shopping is still on, online shopping is becoming increasingly popular – 4 in 5 Americans make an online purchase every month, and it is reported that 51% of Americans prefer online to in-store shopping.

So, internet shopping remains a powerful force and it’s now moving to mobile devices. Mobile commerce – mcommerce – now makes up 34% of all global ecommerce transactions and is expected to grow 31% in 2017. That’s why the next step for ecommerce retailers is to make sure online shopping is easy on any device.

Weighing up the pros and cons of an offline vs. online setup, having an online store has one particular advantage that makes it less of a risk and financial burden. No rent, no utility bills, and no staff, which makes it perfect for your debut. And if you choose to go online, you can still make sales in person at physical, but non-permanent locations like trade shows or pop-up stores.

An online store is not entirely without cost, though – whether it’s buying a domain name and developing your own website, or buying a subscription to an ecommerce platform, you’re facing some expenses. To get an idea of what to expect, take a look at our ecommerce platform comparison chart and this blog post on hosted vs. self-hosted ecommerce platforms.

Nevertheless, building your online store via an ecommerce platform will save you a lot of time. For more on how to launch your online store and keep it in tip-top shape, take a look at these articles from our archives. To make your life even easier, use a fulfillment service like Printful for your store. That way you don’t have to worry about stock or shipments. All you do is set up your online store and focus on creating and marketing your products.

4. Design, sell, promote

Let’s take a closer look at the things that go into designing a product.

Say you’ve created your online store, you’ve chosen Printful as your fulfillment service, and you’ve decided to design a product. All you fashion-lovers know what it takes to find something nice to wear, so imagine what it’s like to design it. Lots of things to take into account:

  • The creator of the designs. Having a good idea is one thing, but if you don’t know how to execute it to make it shine, seek the advice of a gifted friend, hire an artist, or, in the case of Printful, turn to our in-house Design Services team.
  • Your target audience. Think about you, but also think about your audience – they have to get your product and your design. Don’t be afraid to try out different colors/patterns/images, you might concoct a winning combination that’ll wow your customers. To give you an example, here is a lovely sublimation creation by Finnigan Note
Dress by Finnigan Note

Dress by Finnigan Note

Experimentation particularly pays off for Printful clients – since you don’t have to buy and stock inventory in advance, you can test a new product without losing money if it doesn’t sell.

  • The cut and material of the garment. The stretch of the fabric and its effect on the design, the feel of the fabric against the skin.
  • The final result. You have to be confident about everything from A to Z – the fit, the color, the design. You have to want to buy it, otherwise, well, it’s not worth selling. Be sure to order a sample before making it available to others. With Printful, samples come with a 20% discount and free shipping – a good deal and a way to guarantee quality.
  • Marketing the product. Opening a store won’t guarantee sales and no-one’s going to know about you unless you tell them. To attract customers, you’re going to be building brand awareness on social media and creating quality content about your products. While thinking about ways to promote your brand, also think about the skill-set of those around you – any aspiring makeup artists or photographers building their portfolios? By the way, if there’s no one to take photos of your swag, Printful’s Photography Services has got your back.

And you’re not alone in this, you can always seek advice from the online community. Even if you don’t need any help, it’s good to do some research on what your peers (and competitors) find particularly challenging or rewarding. For example, Printful users ask their questions and communicate their ideas via the Printful Insiders Facebook page. For more general, business-related discussions, you can also check out the Subreddit /r/entrepreneur, among others.

5. Final thoughts – take what you can

We hope the thought you’re left with after this article is that right now is a great time to follow your dream of launching your clothing line. Retailers don’t need to face the limitations of setting up a brick-and-mortar location, you can now easily put your design and sales skills to the test online, and there’s a wide range of tools to help you along the way.

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, 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.


A language lover constantly on the hunt for all things brilliant in life, from polished writing and sparkling conversation to bright ideas and shiny things.

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  1. DTG Printers

    I would say first off, either secure a company who have high quality printing systems in place so you can secure high quality clothing goods. Either that, or do it yourself. Purchase top quality clothing printers or T-Shirt Printing machines and go from there. You can put a price on quality and in the long run you will benefit from the quality foundations you have.

  2. Denise guerini

    Please have a look at denisegueriniclothing Facebook page I did print in India and Indonesia before just send my copywriters images and they will do the full prints of the products they have last was very expansive specially the delivery, I am paying website domain and still nobody to work on it if you can help please contact me. Wish to star it and let it run I got 100+ copywriter images in USA I am from Italy working around the world in tourism and diving not much time to be at a computer and no skills in photoshop a friend of mine told me about you wish you could be the right solution to let this run without too much headache thanks best regards Denise Guerini

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