Launching an online clothing store can be lucrative, even if you start with little to no money. However, you’ll have steep competition since anyone can enter the market. To stay afloat, you must meet user expectations and differentiate your brand while keeping costs low.
Starting in online retail fashion is accessible, yet business models, website effectiveness and marketing strategies separate the successful from the unsuccessful. You’re in the right place to learn the fundamentals that will make or break your venture.
This step-by-step guide will explain how to start an online clothing store, capture a profitable target market and affordably grow your sales. You’ll learn to leverage unique selling points, compelling brand storytelling and reliable promotion techniques.
A crash course in online retail fashion
Online clothing stores are eCommerce businesses that retail chic, trendy and in-vogue fashion items. Think of online shops like PrettyLittleThing, Shopbop and Revolve along with massive brand names like ASOS, Shein and Zara.
By 2027, researchers expect the global fashion eCommerce market to reach $1.222 trillion, adding $315 billion in sales in only three years.
Competing with established brands will seem intimidating to a newbie wondering how to start an online clothing store. However, fashion eCommerce is expanding and accommodating newcomers.
Top fashion eCommerce players only control a fraction of the market. For example, take Shein, the second-biggest earner in online fashion. Shein’s revenue from January to September 2023 stood at $24 billion — only 2.9% of the $821 billion earned worldwide that year.
Although this market welcomes newcomers, you need to understand the competitive landscape and how to choose a profitable niche. While you can find under-tapped communities, they are scarce among the saturated sub-markets.
Fast fashion, for instance, is dominated by billion-dollar clothing brands and rife with cutthroat pricing, making it nearly impossible for new business owners to enter successfully. Zara, H&M and Shein own 13%, 16% and 50% of the fast fashion market in the U.S., respectively.
Stay where the competition is less fierce — target niche markets where online shoppers will spend more on unique shopping experiences and clothing items.
- Decide on a profitable niche market.
- Research your audience, market and competitors.
- Choose a business model.
- Decide the type of clothes you’ll sell.
- Find suppliers.
- Get a domain name and hosting.
- Choose an eCommerce platform.
- Design your eCommerce website.
- Add tax management tools and online payment methods.
- Launch and promote your eCommerce store.
Let’s consider each element individually and explore how to start an online clothing store that attracts buyers.
By focusing on a specific niche, you can form a target market and differentiate your brand from the crowd. This strategic decision lays the foundation for a profitable and sustainable online boutique.
Analyze market trends, consumer preferences and your passions to identify a niche with high demand and approachable competition.
To get your imagination going, browse this list of fashion niches:
- Sustainable and eco-friendly: Capitalize on the growing demand for environmentally conscious fashion with affordable options. Example brand: Pact.
- Athleisure: Target the fitness and casual wear market with budget-friendly athletic apparel that’s comfortable for workouts and everyday wear. Example brand: HYLETE.
- Vintage and thrifting: Curate a selection of affordable vintage or secondhand clothing, appealing to those seeking unique styles on a budget. Example brand: thredUp.
- Essential basics: Offer budget-friendly and versatile t-shirts, jeans, sweaters and other pieces that form the foundation of any wardrobe. Example brand: UNIQLO.
- Gender-neutral: Cater to a diverse audience by providing clothing that looks good on anyone and breaks traditional fashion norms. Example brand: WILDFANG.
- DIY and customizable: Empower customers to express their creativity by offering customizable clothing items, facilitating personalization without breaking the bank. Example brand: Custom Ink.
- Pet fashion: Tap into the animal lovers market via affordable and stylish pet clothing made with care. Example brand: Good Thomas.
- Cultural and regional: Highlight specific cultural or regional fashion, providing affordable alternatives to those seeking traditional clothing without the high price tags. Example brand: Orange Culture.
- Work-from-home: Cater to the remote work shift by offering comfortable clothing suitable for home office setups and impromptu video calls. Example brand: Eileen Fisher.
- Plus size: Address the underserved market of plus-size individuals by offering a range of stylish clothing options that promote inclusivity and body positivity. Example brand: ELOQUII.
- Subscription boxes: Curate bundles that ship out periodically, offering customers a cost-effective way to update their closets with new styles. Example brand: Wantable.
- Clothing rentals: Loan out stylish outfits that consumers can flaunt without ownership commitment. Example brand: Rent the Runway.
Ideally, you’ll blend niches and personal interests for a more unique experience. For example, Le Tote blends subscription boxes with rental clothing.
The next goal is to conduct in-depth market research to pinpoint gaps that your store can fill.
Collect insights about your potential customers and the niche landscape. Build a buyer persona by compiling common traits among people interested in the niche, like age group, style preferences and cultural influences.
Here are three research areas that should determine how you start an online clothing store:
Competitor research: Identify your key competitors. A quick search on Google will help. To illustrate, a search for “list of pet fashion online clothing stores” is useful to determine the most relevant brands. Open a spreadsheet and jot down your competitors alongside their websites.
Audience research: Who buys clothes in this niche? Answer this question using Semrush’s audience analytics. Use the tool to fetch demographics, psychographics and socioeconomic data on your competitors’ audiences.
Keyword research: How does your target market describe their needs and aspirations when using search engines? Find and analyze your competitors’ keywords using Semrush, Ahrefs or Serpstat. You’ll use those keywords later in your product descriptions, titles, bullet points and metadata.
Next, use your understanding of your market, audience and competitors to choose a business model. Consider the well-tested approaches below:
- Bespoke fashion: This labor-intensive model involves creating custom clothing for each buyer. You can charge more for the expert service. On the other hand, production will be slower and more expensive.
- Dropshipping: This order fulfillment model means partnering with a wholesale supplier to sell their products instead of producing your own.
- Print on demand: Offer customers a base product they can add a design to upon ordering. You can buy a printer to handle production. Alternatively, outsource to a printing service.
- White label: Manufacturing companies mass produce generic products to which you can easily add your branding after establishing a partnership.
- Preowned: Curate a selection of secondhand apparel. Then, offer it for sale on resale marketplaces and your website.
- Rental: Offer high-end fashion items for rent at a fraction of the cost of owning the item.
- Subscription: Let buyers automatically receive a set of clothing items periodically.
Remember, you can merge elements of different models to create a unique experience.
Determine the specific fashion items you want to sell and estimate the cost implications. Check out the best sellers on your competitors’ websites and on marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy. You’ll usually get a good sense of the most lucrative types of items.
Review your competitors’ best-performing ads as well. The longer they’ve run ads for the product, the more likely it’s a genuine top performer.
For starters, Facebook Ads Library lets you see competitors’ ads on all Facebook’s ad networks — Messenger, Instagram and Facebook.
Alternatively, go to a competitor’s Facebook page, visit the About section, click the Page transparency tab and look towards the bottom to see if they are running ads.
5. Find suppliers
Find suppliers using a database like SaleHoo or marketplaces like Alibaba. You can also buy used clothes from Alibaba or poke your head into your local thrift store or garage sale. Do you plan to sell custom clothes? Subscribe to an on-demand service or make clothes yourself by purchasing the equipment and wholesale fabric.
Read your supplier’s reviews and policies to ensure they:
- Offer high-quality products.
- Provide responsive customer service.
- Shield you from payment, damage and shipping risks.
When you have narrowed down your options, find out how much each supplier charges to produce the clothes you’re interested in.
Choose and buy a domain name that reflects your brand and makes sense to your audience. Keep the name short, memorable and representative. Do a trademark search to ensure your domain name isn’t a near-clone of another brand’s business name.
If you’re wondering how to start an online clothing store with the smallest investment possible, budget-friendly online store hosting from Bluehost will best support your aspirations.
Typically, a new website doesn’t have the built-in features to support an online shop. That’s why entrepreneurs install an eCommerce platform on their website’s backend, which enables crucial features like payment gateways and inventory management.
As you browse eCommerce platforms, evaluate each integration’s capabilities with third-party tools, shipping solutions and analytics.
Use customer reviews and trial versions to collect valuable insights before deciding. Go with a brand that prioritizes customization, security, customer support and scalability.
Lastly, when you’ve landed on a platform, check its pricing policies and estimate the costs you’ll incur with it — including shipping and customs.
- Choose a store theme and add your logo.
- Create your About, Contact, Policy and Product pages.
- Write product titles and descriptions, upload product images and add prices.
- Set up your shipping and checkout process.
Your choice of payment provider impacts your customers’ data security, cart abandonment rates, tax compliance and currency conversions, among other things.
The best bet is to get acquainted with WooCommerce Payments, which enables you to handle payments and tax compliance in one place. Notably, it accepts debit, credit cards and PayPal — giving your customers freedom of choice.
It’s time to bring your online clothing company to life. Here’s a quick checklist to use:
- Get a custom email for customer service and supplier relations.
- Set up accounts on social media platforms and configure Google Analytics.
- Get any launch partners and influencers on board with your launch materials, date and plans.
- Test all links to ensure they work flawlessly.
Once you’re done celebrating, it’s important you promote your store everywhere. In fact, marketing will be your primary duty until your sales take off.
Marketing can seem like a shot in the dark while figuring out how to start a clothing store online. To get off on the right foot, pick a well-established marketing template.
Think deeply about the following digital marketing strategies from top fashion industry players. Before long, you’ll generate an exciting and actionable idea.
Strategy: Implement augmented reality (AR) or virtual try-on experiences that enable customers to “wear” clothing items before buying. This marketing strategy reduces buyer hesitation, infuses the customer experience with novelty and lowers product return rates.
Case study: Warby Parker introduced a virtual try-on feature where customers use their smartphone cameras to preview how different eyeglass frames look on their faces. Customers then buy with confidence and visceral anticipation for the product.
Virtual try-on has significant conversion potential; NARS Cosmetics experienced a 300% sales boost post-implementation.
3DLOOK is also a good plugin for virtual try-ons. You can take body measurements remotely, which complements selling bespoke fashion items online.
Trial versions are available, but these apps typically start from $99 monthly.
Strategy: Run a joint giveaway with a like-minded brand, encouraging participants to follow both accounts, tag friends and share the post. Offer a prize package that includes products from both brands.
Case study: H&M collaborated with Coachella, a widely known music festival. To win a giveaway, participants had to follow both brands, tag friends and post with a specific hashtag. Prizes included festival-ready clothing from H&M, plus VIP passes to Coachella.
Your budget won’t be Coachella collaboration level just yet, but find relevant opportunities for your brand. Consider local, grassroots events in your city or country. Reach out to brands and entrepreneurs that will mutually benefit.
Strategy: Organize a joint event or pop-up shop with a brand that complements your clothing line. Share the space, promote the event collectively and offer exclusive discounts for attendees.
Case study: Target’s designer collaborations, such as with Rowing Blazers, Agua Bendita, Fe Noel and RHODE, involve exclusive, limited-time collections available in-store and online. This strategy brings high-end fashion to a mass-market audience, driving excitement and traffic.
Collaborations often attract coveted media attention from fashion news outlets and personalities. Clearly, this strategy works for Target because it’s been running pop-up shops for about 20 years.
Consider seeking out and striking up similar collaborations. Find local stores in high-traffic spots and propose a pop-up shop arrangement for your brand.
Alternatively, partner with Peerspace to rent brick-and-mortar stores by the hour. Imagine displaying your products in high-visibility city center spots that would ordinarily be out-of-budget real estate.
Strategy: Collaborate with a synergistic brand for a limited edition lookbook featuring both of your products. Create a cohesive visual story that resonates with both audiences.
Case study: Off-White partnered with Nike for a co-branded collection combining sportswear with high fashion. The project generated immense buzz, leveraging the strengths of both brands to create exclusive and highly sought-after products.
Form marketing partnerships with brands that serve your audience already. Identify and pitch to established small businesses with products that complement yours. Show them how their brand will benefit by offering your items as add-ons.
Strategy: Partner with influencers, industry blogs and media outlets for promotion pre-launch, launch and post-launch. Execute on a budget by engaging local and small outlets, providing incentives like free products or profit sharing.
Case study: Nike collaborates with renowned athletes like LeBron James and partners with fitness influencers such as Kayla Itsines to orchestrate high-profile launch events.
Nike generates pre-launch buzz by combining influencer content and media features, especially press releases in sports magazines such as ESPN and fitness blogs like Runner’s World.
With practically infinite options for promotion partners, any brand can establish a strong connection with its target audience and maintain post-launch momentum.
At this point, you understand how to start a clothing store online using this step-by-step guide.
Knowing the importance of selecting niche products and differentiating your brand, you can navigate the shifting landscape of online retail fashion, attract a dedicated audience and establish a flourishing online clothing business.
This promising outcome rests on the eCommerce platform and hosting environment you choose.
Your hosting plan should enable rapid store creation featuring highly customizable themes, product search and filtering, wish lists, secure online payments and unlimited products. Access these solutions and more on Bluehost’s budget-friendly online store hosting.
FAQs: How to start an online clothing store
Certainly. Search for dropshipping and private label suppliers on Alibaba or among local suppliers. Next, curate trending or niche items from them. Lastly, create a unique brand identity through selection, presentation and marketing. No need for in-house designers, manufacturing or shipping.
Use third-party logistics for returns and display a transparent return policy on your website. To minimize returns in the first place, provide detailed sizing information, encourage customer reviews and offer virtual styling.
Authenticity and personal connection can set your store apart without relying on costly advertising. Focus on a strong brand narrative. Share your story, inspire user-generated content and build a community on social media.
The minimum upfront cost is up to you but can be less than $50. Opt for cost-effective strategies like dropshipping, which eliminates the need to carry inventory. Use an affordable eCommerce solution like Bluehost and only allocate funds for essentials like suppliers and shipping.
Even with little to no money to spare, you can start an online clothing store using a third-party supplier that can print on demand or dropship. Use free marketing channels to eliminate upfront marketing costs and encourage online shoppers to leave reviews.