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Blog / Beginner's handbook / How to Start a Dropshipping Clothing Business: A Step-By-Step Guide

Beginner's handbook

How to Start a Dropshipping Clothing Business: A Step-By-Step Guide

How to Start a Dropshipping Clothing Business: A Step-By-Step Guide
Gabriela Martinez

By Gabriela Martinez

16 min read

Starting an online business has never been easier thanks to dropshipping. This profitable business model allows entrepreneurs to sell diverse products without inventory, and has been attracting new and experienced self-starters around the globe.

Recent dropshipping statistics highlight fashion as one of the most promising segments in this market. This is great news for anyone who’s always wanted a clothing brand to express their creativity and style. Are you one of them?

If so, you’ll be happy to read that it’s totally possible to open a dropshipping store even without previous know-how. All you need is a vision and the will to learn. 

Let’s explore how to start a dropshipping clothing business in this simple, easy-to-follow guide.

How to start a dropshipping clothing business in 7 steps

Stepping into the clothing industry is almost effortless when you choose to work with the dropshipping business model. Why? For one, you can count on the expertise of a third party to take care of fulfillment, packing, and shipping.

This gives you more time to think about your strategy, and that’s what will differentiate a successful dropshipping business from just a great idea. Want to make your chances of thriving even higher? Start by following these steps based on our knowledge from almost 10 years in the field.

1. Select your niche

A common mistake when opening an online store is to start by deciding what you’re going to sell instead of who you’re going to sell to. Knowing your target audience can save you time and money, especially if you pick a smaller group of people with specific needs and behavior. That’s what we call a niche.

Why? Mostly because it’s easier to sell what your customers already want to buy than looking for clients to buy whatever you want to sell. Also, you can attract customers with relevant content and create a strong community that relates with your brand. This will generate loyalty and help you be more assertive with your marketing strategy. As a result, you’ll be able to spend less on paid ads. 

Here are some tips to choosing the best niche for your online clothing store:

  • Make a list of your interests, causes that inspire you, and groups you’re part of (e.g. single moms that like yoga, stylish gamers that dig hip-hop, funny foodies, etc.—the more specific the better)

  • Analyze market trends. Take a look at bestsellers on popular online marketplaces, or use free tools like ChatGPT (for suggestions) or Google Trends (for info on top searches). If you use Google, check the search intent for the topics on your list and consider your target market over the past 5 years. If the trend is consistent or growing, it’s a good sign.

  • Observe the people around you and what they’re talking about. Visit forums, social media communities, and check hashtags for more inspo. You may end up finding a hidden opportunity that you hadn’t even considered before.

  • Watch your competitors and other clothing brands you admire and try to learn from what they’re doing right (...and wrong).

  • Read successful case stories about other clothing businesses, like Millian Couture, a luxury streetwear brand that conquered the fashion industry and walked the runway at New York Fashion Week with print-on-demand products.

Millian Couture: a clothing dropshipping business success story.

Millian Couture: a clothing dropshipping business success story

Read more about different niches in the article Profitable Dropshipping Niches in 2023: How to Find Them + Top Picks.


Once you have a clear vision of your clothing store’s audience, it’s time to think of who will help you deliver the quality they deserve. That’s why you have to pay special attention to this step.

Take time to research the best clothing suppliers that already work with other dropshipping stores in your market. Think about:

  • Their time in the business

  • What people say about them

  • Their catalog and the brands they work with (their suppliers and clients)

  • Their prices (products, services, and shipping fees)

  • Where their fulfillment centers are located

  • Their customer service quality

  • Extra solutions they may offer that can help you stand out from the competition (like branded dropshipping)

If you’re thinking of offering an exclusive clothing line with unique designs, finding a dropshipping supplier that works with print-on-demand (a.k.a. POD) could be the perfect solution for your fashion business.

Printful, for example, is a print-on-demand supplier that offers a large range of apparel options (as well as accessories and home & living items) that you can customize with your own art to create a rich and valuable catalog. 

Printful white label products

Source: Printful

Learn more about both fulfillment methods in the article Print-on-demand vs. Dropshipping: Differences and Similarities Explained

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3. Choose products

Based on your audience and your supplier’s offering, you’ll need to start thinking about the products that will represent your online clothing business. What do you have in mind? Are you playing it safe with creative t-shirts or trying out an entire collection of athleisure apparel with hoodies, sweatpants, and leggings? Would you like to include some accessories to raise your store’s numbers?

There’s a whole universe to explore. In this section, you’ll find some ideas to fill up your online store’s “window” and captivate potential customers with some classic and unexpected options.

T-shirts and shirts

There’s no better way of starting this list than with the number one staple item for any wardrobe—t-shirts. They’re winners for any clothing store and, with the right design, can match any style.

Since you don’t need to worry about buying inventory, you can experiment with different colors, materials, sizes, and, if your clothing manufacturer allows, printing methods (DTG, embroidery, all-over print)—not to mention inside and outside labels.

Wildflower t-shirt design

Source: Etsy

Wanna go the extra mile? Your fashion brand can also offer polo shirts, 3/4 sleeve shirts, long sleeve shirts, tank tops, and crop tops.

Looking for inspiration for your custom t-shirts? Read next: 50 T-Shirt Design Ideas for Every Occasion.

Hoodies and sweatshirts

We’re sure that 20 years from now everyone will be talking about how athleisure like hoodies and sweatshirts were a hit in the 2020s.

These cozy, practical, stylish items have been a staple since lockdown and are a mark of younger generations. Proudly worn by everyone from big tech entrepreneurs to young TikTokers, they’re everywhere—and would be the perfect addition to your storefront!
  Creative hoodie inspo for clothing stores

Source: Jinquedai

Just like t-shirts, hoodies and sweatshirts can carry custom designs in the front, in the back, or on the sleeves to rep your brand’s message wherever they go.

Check out more examples of custom hoodies in the article 32 Hoodie Design Ideas to Get You Inspired

Jackets

With their rock’n’roll, college, or sporty vibe, jackets and vests never go out of style. Find the type that best suits your audience—denim, bomber, leather, windbreaker—and give them an even cooler twist with custom embroidery, if you work with POD.

Another idea is adding patches to your online store so that your customers can personalize their jackets themselves.

Personalized jacket with embroidery and patches. Source: Denim and Bone

Personalized jacket with embroidery and patches. Source: Denim and Bone

Pants

Let’s not forget the bottoms, essential items for a complete collection. In this category, we’re not only talking about basic denim, but also sweatpants and joggers, or even leggings!

custom clothing

Source: Instagram @kailyecaswell

 If your niche calls for bold design choices, don’t be afraid to include colorful all-over print models in your catalog.

Shorts

As the sun comes out the cold temperatures are a thing of the past, the days get longer and our pants get...shorter! That means the perfect opportunity to launch a seasonal collection— another advantage of the dropshipping business model. You won’t need to worry about getting rid of leftover stock when the spring/summer season is over.

Choose colors and patterns that relate to your brand identity from the options available in your supplier’s inventory, or create your own shorts using print-on-demand.
custom shorts

Custom shorts. Source: Printful

Swimwear

Speaking of the warmer days, swimwear is another option you can consider for your clothing store. Pro tip: don’t forget to take into account different sizes and body types. This can have a direct impact on whether or not your products sell, and your clothing company’s overall profit.
printful bikini

Source: Printful

Skirts

Skirts can bring a whimsical, delicate touch to any casual or elegant outfit. Long or short, loose or fitted, they can be exactly what your clothing brand needs to stand out in the clothing industry.

printful custom skirt

Source: Printful

Dresses

Dresses can also be the stars of your dropshipping clothing store, and you don’t have to be an experienced fashion designer to make that happen. Just find a clothing manufacturer that works with dropshipping and has these items in their catalog.
All-Over Print Skater Dress

Custom Skater dress for dropshipping. Source: Printful 

Underwear

Yes, you can also include an underwear collection in your clothing store or focus 100% on it if you like. Just look at brands like Calvin Klein and Intimissimi and how they turned these clothing items into a valuable business.
All-Over Print Boxers for dropshipping

Source: Printful

Kids’ and youth clothing

So far, we’ve been focusing on the grown-up crowd, but the little ones can represent an important market share, especially if they’re related to your chosen niche.

Indeed, selling kids’ and youth clothing can be a fun challenge, but it can also become a profitable business. Want proof? Just take a look at big brands like Gucci who are branching out into this niche, offering luxury clothing items for babies and toddlers. The popularity of unique clothing for kids can definitely translate to the realm of dropshipping as well.

gucci baby clothing

Source: Gucci 

Pro tip: if you decide to sell baby clothes in your clothing store, be extra careful with the material used by your supplier. These special clients have sensitive skin and parents are always looking for safe, quality choices.

Accessories

No outfit is complete without matching accessories. And your clothing brand sure can benefit from that. Add accessories like hats, beanies, socks, shoes, and bags to your listings, suggest them to buyers as add-ons during the purchase process, and watch your company’s numbers grow.
Accessories for dropshipping clothing stores

Source: Printful

Once you get to this step, you already know what you’re going to sell, how, and to whom. The question is where will you build your dropshipping clothing store?

The short answer is: wherever your target audience is. You probably have that information from your initial market research, but if you don’t, there’s nothing wrong in investigating a little more.

Learn more: Etsy Dropshipping: What’s Allowed in 2024?

Building your own ecommerce website from scratch can be expensive and hard to do by yourself. Luckily, there are many easy-to-do options for anyone who wants to start a clothing company online. Below we discuss the most common ones.

Ecommerce platforms

Setting up your own online store on an ecommerce platform has many benefits. The main one is that they usually have templates you can use to create an original website, with your brand identity as the focus, and without needing much background knowledge on programming or design. Don’t forget to buy an official domain (e.g. myclothingstore.com) to give your business a more professional look.

Free Template for clothing business

Example of a clothing store template for ecommerce platforms. Source: Colorlib

Another advantage is the fact that you have the whole space for your clothing brand. This gives you the opportunity to shape a unique experience with potential customers, guiding them through the buying process in a personalized way. You can also use plug-ins for payment, cart recovery, contact forms, or discount coupons, for example.

Building all that may be a little time-consuming so be ready to spend some hours or days on it to get to the results you want. Also, it’ll be up to you to attract visitors to your store through SEO and ads. Don’t worry, we’ll talk about it soon.

Online marketplaces
Online marketplaces work like shopping malls in an online environment. It’s a space where the user can find many different stores, some of them selling the same products or services, and others offering original items, all in one place.

They’re usually easier to set up than ecommerce platforms, mostly because there isn’t much room for personalization. The basic layout is pretty much the same for every store, but sometimes there’s space to add your logo, your business name, a presentation and your product listing with photos and descriptions.

Marketplaces are a good option for small businesses that are just starting to build their brand because it has all the features you need to sell your products. Plus, it gives you the chance of being discovered with minimal effort since the platform does the marketing to attract people to its space.

On the other hand, it might be difficult to stand out in a sea of brands fighting for customer attention and competing on price.

Amazon Prime interface

Source: Business Insider

Social media platforms

Social media has played a big part in the economy for years, so it’s no surprise that the companies that run these platforms found a way to keep the money in house. Thanks to social commerce, users can buy and sell products without leaving their favorite accounts, making it possible to buy that dress from that post you just saw in a few clicks.

Even if you have your own website or an account on an online marketplace, using social commerce in your marketing strategy is a must these days. Remember what we said about being where your audience is? This is what we’re talking about. Use it well and you’ll be able to convert followers into buyers.

Here are the most popular social commerce platforms you should keep in mind:

  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • TikTok
  • Pinterest
  • Spotify

Pinterest shoppable collages test

Source: Pinterest

Read more about selling on social platforms in the article Why Social Commerce is a Must-Have Marketing Strategy

How to choose the best option

First of all, you don’t need to stick with just one option. You can sell on different platforms if you want, having various stores under the same brand. For example, there are stores that have their own website or an account on a marketplace, but also do social selling on Instagram. This can be great for boosting sales. 

But having your own website plus an account on a marketplace can also be time-consuming, not to mention risky in terms of splitting your audience’s attention. 

How can you choose then? Assess what’s most popular to your target market, where your potential customers prefer to shop, and check which platforms your dropshipping supplier connects with.

Printful has integrations with the most popular platforms and marketplaces out there, so you’re free to choose what best fits your needs. You can even take a test to find out what would fit your business best.

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Create and sell custom products online
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Whatever channels you choose for your customers to find and buy your products, one thing is for sure: people typically don’t just magically show up ready to give you their money. That’s not usually how things work.

You need to help them discover you and fall in love with your brand. That means you got to market your fashion business to your target audience. A good start is by creating content that attracts their attention. This means photos, videos, articles, social media posts—everything your customers might like, even if it’s not directly related to your dropshipping business.

If that’s not your piece of cake, it’s ok. Try to pair up with content creators and influencers within your niche. If they relate to your purpose, you can build a strong partnership that will benefit both sides.

Another effective way of talking straight to your potential customer is through paid media, like online ads. Nowadays, Google, Meta, and other social media sites have their own tools, so take advantage.

Later on, when you have a list of contacts, you can also work on email campaigns to market your business and generate new sales.

Email campaign example for clothing store

Source: Pinterest

Learn more ways to market your business from the article How to Market a Clothing Brand Online: 14 Easy Ways

Everything’s ready, customers are shopping, carts are filled, items have been purchased. What’s next? Processing the orders and, if something doesn’t go as planned, being prepared to deal with it the best way.

First things first. Let’s review what happens in a dropshipping business when you make a sale. 

When you set up your store during step 4, you probably connected it to your dropshipping supplier’s system through specific plug-ins. In that case, when a customer places an order, your provider will receive a notice to start the fulfillment process, packing and shipping it straight to your end customer on your behalf. If your store isn’t connected to your supplier, you’ll have to place the order with your supplier manually through your account on their website.

All you have to do from there is make sure that everything went well and your customer is happy with the product received. But sometimes things don’t go as expected, right? It can happen. That’s when you need to have good customer service ready for action.

Although some providers do offer customer service, remember: your customer is buying from you, not from your supplier. So it’s up to you to check in with your supplier and give your customer the best solution, turning a bad experience into an opportunity to show them they can trust you.

The good news is that there is customer service software that can help you with that. Zendesk, Salesforce Service Cloud, and Intercom are some great options. With or without them, always put yourself in your customer’s shoes and communicate with patience and transparency.

Zendesk Customer Service Tool

Source: Zendesk

Now let’s visualize the future together: a few months or years have passed and this business model worked great for you. Things are going well, people like what you’re doing and there’s room to grow. You’re thinking of diversifying your products or selling internationally. Awesome!

We won’t be surprised if that happens. Afterall, some major brands have been using dropshipping to scale for a while now, which proves that it’s not just for beginners. Stores like Blinds.com, Wayfair, and Gilt prove that it’s possible to build million dollar businesses with just dropshipped products.

Are you part of the “start small think big” team? If so, here’s what you should know about optimizing and scaling your business.

  • Automate as much as possible: it makes the processes faster and cheaper.

  • Strengthen your brand identity: the stronger your brand, the more it’ll be valued by the market and your customers, impacting your prices positively.

  • Make sure your suppliers can keep up with you: it’s possible you’ll need to find a new supplier with a larger range of products or more fulfillment centers in your new target markets.

  • Enhance your website: this includes reviewing your content to make it more efficient or adequate to the new markets or niches you may want to target, add new languages, currencies, or payment gateways, make it faster, etc.

  • Build a team: it’s very likely that you won’t be able to do things by yourself anymore. Think of hiring people or using freelancers for some tasks.

  • Optimize your campaign budgets: invest in your marketing strategy in a smart way, harnessing SEO strategies and artificial intelligence.

  • Negotiate bulk discounts: becoming a bigger fish can give you more power of negotiation—use it.

Is dropshipping clothing profitable?

Yes, it is. And the answer isn’t only based on success stories of businesses in the clothing niche like Match Kicks or Dogecore. It’s also founded in recent stats that show that fashion is one of the categories with the highest percentage of market share in the global dropshipping market.

global dropshipping market

Source: Grand View Research

Of course you have to take into consideration the costs involved in using this business model while preparing your dropshipping business plan. For each product sold, you’ll have to pay your supplier for the product itself, plus the fulfillment service. That means a lower profit margin than if you were doing everything yourself.

However, that gives you time to work on your brand and strategies to charge more for your items and increase your sales. Print-on-demand could come in handy if you wish to dropship clothes with exclusive designs, generating more valuable items and giving your brand a more competitive twist.

Read more: Is Dropshipping Worth It in 2023?

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man with jacket
Printful logo
Create and sell custom products online
Let’s go

Start your own clothing line with dropshipping today

Starting a clothing brand doesn’t seem so scary now, does it? With some inspiration, a good dose of market research, and the time to dedicate to it, you can have your own dropshipping business up and running in a few steps.

Take your time to follow them thoroughly and your chances of having a successful business in the fashion industry will be higher. That doesn’t mean you’re free from missteps, but if you’re open to learning from them, you’re on the right path.

And if you like the idea of having an exclusive fashion line with unique designs, consider giving print-on-demand a shot. 

Read next: 160+ Best Dropshipping Products and Where To Find Them
 

author

By Gabriela Martinez on Jun 16, 2023

Gabriela Martinez

Guest author

Gabriela is a creative copywriter, professional blogger, and passionate content marketer with experience in publicity agencies and international companies. She loves sharing her ideas and new trends to bring inspiration to everyone around her.

Gabriela is a creative copywriter, professional blogger, and passionate content marketer with experience in publicity agencies and international companies. She loves sharing her ideas and new trends to bring inspiration to everyone around her.