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Bring New Fashion to the World by Selling Apparel Online
With thousands of styles and possible designs, apparel is one of the most popular types of products around the world. Clothes are one of the most common ways to express yourself, and shoppers will look far and wide to find the items they feel represent them best. Formal and elegant, or casual and comfortable, everyone needs a variety of clothing for the different roles they play in their lives. That's why there's so much competition when selling apparel online — but also so much opportunity.
That opportunity is even bigger today since technology has advanced far enough that not only is it easy to build an online store, it's also easy to put your own designs onto shirts and other apparel. Whether you make everything yourself, have a contract with a manufacturer, or use a print-on-demand service, you can successfully create a business selling apparel online. Here are some tips to help you get started!
How to Start an Online Apparel Business
Starting a business is not a process you should take lightly, but don't be discouraged. Take it one step at a time, and most importantly, make sure your business plan is thorough and realistic. This means you'll need to do a lot of research, make a lot of decisions, and create a strategy. The type and price point of apparel you want to sell has an effect on the amount of preparation time and starting capital you'll need before you can get your products to market.
The better your plan at the beginning, the more likely you are to be ready to face the challenges that come up as you launch and grow your business. Here are some of the details you need to consider before you start.
Decide Whether You Want to Sell Handmade Goods or Established Brands
Are you more interested in the actual design and construction of the apparel, or the business side? The process is different depending on what you decide.
If you want to manufacture your apparel yourself, you'll need a steady supply of high-quality materials, plus the time and workspace to turn those raw materials into finished apparel products. If you plan to distribute established brands, you'll want to build a relationship with wholesalers and distributors to buy at low prices and sell for a profit. Whether for raw materials or existing apparel, finding the right partners is the first step in learning how to sell apparel online.
Choose the Brands You Want to Sell
You'll need to make some brand decisions whether you're selling premade apparel or making your own. For premade apparel, decide which brands you want to make available in your store. Different brands sell apparel and accessories with different target audiences and price points. Is it your dream to open a high-end fashion boutique, or a more casual store focused on inexpensive products? Start from there, and then choose brands that fit this image.
If you're making your own apparel, you'll need to decide what brands of materials you use, since these can vary in quality and price just as much as finished pieces do. This is true whether you're planning to cut and sew fabric yourself, or to print designs on blank t-shirts. (We'll cover t-shirts in a bit more detail later.)
Become a Licensed Reseller for Name Brands
If you do want to sell name-brand clothing, you'll need to contact the brands in question to become a licensed reseller. Big apparel brands like to protect their name, especially high-end brands for which counterfeiting is often a problem. Securing a license as a reseller means you'll be able to sell the brand's products without running into trouble like a cease-and-desist order.
Additionally, you'll also earn the right to state on your website that you're a licensed retailer for the brand. This means increased trust from customers who want to make sure they get an authentic product and not a counterfeit or knockoff.
Research the Competition — Especially the Big Ones
Some online apparel stores get it right, and that's why they're on top of the industry. Checking out the design and layout of stores like Nordstrom.com or DavidsBridal.com is a great way to get ideas on how to set up your own store. They get a lot of traffic and tons of sales for a reason, and borrowing successful elements is a great way to get started on the right track as you learn how to sell apparel online.
Some things you're sure to notice are that successful apparel stores use multiple large images to help customers pick out the products they feel look the best, and that deep category structures are also needed to help shoppers find everything they're looking for. Your ability to include these features will depend on your eCommerce software and design template, which we'll discuss shortly.
Create a Brand Identity that Stands Out
Your brand identity consists of the image and voice that you project to customers. The type of brand you create should depend on the products you want to sell and your target audience. For example, if you're selling formal clothing for adult professionals, you'd need a very different presentation than if you were selling skate gear aimed at the teenage and early 20s crowd.
The identity you form should not only be appropriate, but also present your business as special and unique within this competitive industry. Can you offer something nobody else can? Even if it's not a special product itself, but just your customer service policies or even your sense of humor, this Unique Value Proposition (UVP) will help you make your mark.
Choose the Right Shopping Cart for Your Business
If you want to avoid per-sale and other fees, you'll want to set up your own eCommerce website to get the job done. That means choosing shopping cart software that has everything you need for selling apparel online. Find an eCommerce platform that lets you set up unlimited product categories, use detailed product photos with zoom, and has powerful inventory management features. You also want to make sure they have good apparel website templates to help speed up the design process.
On the marketing side, look for the ability to feature daily and group deals and to create numerous types of promotions and coupons. Powerful SEO is also a must, and integration with social media like Facebook and Instagram is essential these days.
Get on Social Media and Comparison Sites
Speaking of social media, apparel is a very visual industry, so shoppers will often look for inspiration on visual-focused platforms like Instagram. If you sell on Instagram, you're likely to reach many more customers who view brands on the platform specifically to discover new products they'll like. In order to make your products available on Instagram, you need to set up a Facebook Shop too, which also means you'll be ready to sell on Facebook.
You can also list your products on comparison shopping sites like Bizrate. Google Shopping is also a common tool for people looking to compare prices on apparel, so you should learn how to sell on Google. If you're selling well-known brands at a lower price, this is how you get noticed.
Understanding the Apparel Industry
Main Product Categories
The idea of apparel is simple at its core — it's something to wear. But apparel can include a huge range of products depending on how broad your focus is. Consider that, when you add up different genders and age groups for apparel, this list of categories can double or even quadruple. For example, many of the below categories could be expanded into men's, women's, teens', and children's clothing. Add other concepts like unisex clothing and babies' apparel, and now that's six times the categories. (However, some categories are really only going to be available for particular age groups — heavyweight work pants aren't something babies usually wear, for example.)
Both style and function cross over into these as well, leading to even more categories (e.g. winter clothing for all those age groups). If you're trying to sell multiple types of apparel with different purposes and targeted at a variety of ages, you could easily end up with thousands of potential products and dozens of categories in a deeply nested structure with a lot of crossover. With that in mind, here are some examples of categories on a basic level:
Since there are so many possible categories, it will benefit you to narrow down your selection, at least at the beginning. Focusing your niche will help your brand identity (as we touched on earlier), since it will be easier to create the right tone and image. As a brand-new business, you might also struggle to open a "superstore" because of the sheer expense of stocking up with so many different products. In general, it's always better to start with a tighter focus because you'll be able to establish yourself more easily as a voice worth listening to.
Accessories and Related Products
Accessories include products like handbags and jewelry that are often considered the finishing touch on an outfit. We're not going to get into detail on these types of products (you can visit our guides on how to sell handbags online and how to sell jewelry online), but we do want to mention that they're a great opportunity for increasing your order sizes, especially if you display them as "Related Products" on another product's page. For example, if a particular handbag is the perfect accessory for a certain dress, include the handbag as a related item on the dress's product page. You can also use Related Products to alert customers to other apparel items that go well together to make a complete outfit, whether or not you include accessories in your store.
A Closer Look at Themed Apparel
Themed apparel refers to apparel that focuses on a certain topic. Usually these are t-shirts with printed graphics. Themed apparel can follow types of media like bands or movies, genres like science fiction, fantasy, or horror, interests like science, math, and hobbies, and much more. Even just funny slogans or jokes that portray a certain attitude could become a theme. You may already have an idea in mind for a theme for your apparel store, like shirts with classic movie posters on them. Themes like these are great for narrowing down your niche into something you're truly passionate about, but make sure you have the right to use any intellectual property that appears on your clothing. You may need to resell existing official apparel in this case (as a licensed reseller like we discussed earlier) rather than creating your own designs.
Selling Print-on-Demand Apparel
Print-on-demand is a fulfillment model in which apparel and other items are printed with a design one by one when a customer makes an order, and shipped out directly from the printer to the customer. This is a type of dropshipping, and has the same types of advantages — you don't have to invest in inventory ahead of time, nor come up with a way to store it. One print-on-demand solution is Printful, which can produce numerous types of apparel and other products using your designs. Print-on-demand is one of the most popular methods for selling t-shirts online, since it provides an easy way to get your own designs out there and create your own clothing line. If you decide to use print-on-demand, make sure you place test orders to ensure your products are being made with the highest quality. If your samples don't look good, you may need to fine-tune your design or have them printed on a different brand of t-shirt blanks.
Successful Stores Selling Apparel Online
Online Apparel Stores Thriving on Shift4Shop
Online Store Themes for Selling Apparel
Dress Your Website for Success with These Fashionable Templates
Logan is a free apparel website template with a sophisticated look that makes it perfect for high-end brands — although it also works great for any apparel brand regardless of price point! This stylish theme can show off any brand to its best effect, with plenty of image and banner space on the front page to draw attention to new arrivals, favorite collections, and more.
Hat Gang is a free online hat store template built to attract interest from customers, whether you only sell hats or a full range of apparel. A heavy focus on images and banners on the front page allows you to show off as many products, categories, and styles as possible. The layout guides the customer's eye through the images, building interest in all your products.
How to Get Your Online Apparel Business Started
Once you've fully planned out your business, found your suppliers, and acquired any necessary licenses, you're almost ready to launch. Next, it's time to build your eCommerce website! Shift4Shop is the right shopping cart software solution to give you everything you need to create a full-featured online store ready to start selling right away. Built-in tools include unlimited product and category management, upsell and cross-sell tools for related products, Printful integration, and much, much more. Automated marketing and built-in, top-tier SEO help get the word out about your store, and a complete integration with Facebook, Instagram, Google Shopping, and other marketplaces give you extra visibility. Best yet, you can access all our features completely free, without paying a monthly fee for our software — and we're the only eCommerce platform that offers a completely unlimited, free plan.
Yes, Printful has a couple of methods for doing an all-over print in which a design covers an entire garment. These are sublimation printing and cut-and-sew printing. Sublimation printing applies the design to a completed garment, while in cut-and-sew printing, the design is printed first before the garment is sewn together. Both can produce great results, but sublimation printing can occasionally show streaks of white near the seams. Cut-and-sew apparel costs more to make, but does not have these white streaks. You can learn more on Printful's website.
If I make my own apparel, are local craft stores a good source for raw materials?
Your local craft store can be a great place to buy raw materials such as fabric, buttons, zippers, and more. However, retail stores often phase out products, whether to sell new products instead or because the product itself has been discontinued. If you get your raw materials from a craft store, keep in mind that you may not be able to buy the same materials forever, which could mean you can no longer offer the same products. (Employees at the store, including upper management, usually won't have access to information on whether a product is going to remain in stock for the future, especially at large chains.)
For example, if a fabric goes on clearance and stops being available at your local craft store, and you were relying on a supply of that fabric to continue a product line, you may be out of luck unless you can find a suitable substitute or another source of the same fabric. For this reason, it's often better to get your materials directly from a manufacturer or wholesaler when possible. They'll often cost less, too, but you may need to buy more at once.
Can I sell online and from a boutique/other brick-and-mortar location at the same time?
Yes! Shift4Shop integrates with POS (point of sale) technology that allows you to accept payments in person for offline sales, whether at a dedicated cash register or on your mobile device at a craft show. Your inventory can be synchronized across online and offline sales so you don't have to keep track manually. Both online and offline sales can be set to deduct from the same inventory to prevent you from selling more than you have in stock.