How to start an online clothing store
From checking business viability, to funding your stock, how do you start an online apparel business?
If you grew up loving fashion, shopping and styling, there’s a high chance that you’ve dreamt about starting your own clothing business. After all, what could be better than selling beautiful clothes (and, of course, keeping some yourself!).
Starting a clothing store is a dream for many of us, but how can you make it a reality? How do you get the funds to buy stock? And how on earth do your source your clothing?
We spoke to Rachel Pines, Founder of Moonbird, an organic sleepwear retailer, to find out how she did it.
Funding the start of a business is challenging in every circumstance, but particularly so if you have to outlay a significant amount for stock. Many of us would have no other choice but to take out a loan, however this wasn’t something that Rachel wanted to do. She says that:
‘I decided early on that I didn’t want to borrow any money because it would have been too much pressure on the business to make money. I didn’t want an institution controlling whether I had to fold the business or not.’
Instead of taking out a loan, Rachel decided to think creatively about how to fund her business. She had been considering a career change for a while, so decided she’d used the funds that would have been used for her midwifery course to start her business instead.
She encourages other mums to think the same way:
‘If you weren’t going to start this business, what would you do? If the answer is study, then try and see starting the business as an investment in your long-term career. If you were studying, it costs a lot but you don’t see it as money down the drain. Starting a business is no different.’
With most clothing made overseas nowadays, figuring out where to source your supplies from, and traversing cultural and language differences, can seem like an almost insurmountable task. Rachel spent a considerable amount of time and effort in this part of the process to make sure she got it just right.
For Rachel, it all started with research:
‘There was so much research … in fact, I was researching for a whole year before I made my first production order.’
So what happened between when she started researching and when she made her first production order?
‘I was looking for a Fair Trade company, so I used a website in the UK called the “Ethical Fashion Forum” which has a directory of ethical factories in various countries.
I found one which appealed to me, so I went to visit them - all the way over in India - to have samples made, and to see whether they were what they claimed.’
For all mums wanting to start a clothing business, Rachel cannot recommend an in-person visit enough, even if you don’t feel that it’s strictly necessary:
‘Going to India allowed me to really connect with my suppliers … nothing beats meeting people in person, and being able to build a relationship.’
Checking long-term viability
With clothing retailers such as H&M and Zara taking Australia by storm, if you want to start a clothing business, you have to check that it’s viable. Can your store even be competitive, and if so, what advantage do you have over others?
According to Rachel, there’s one question that you need to ask yourself to figure this out:
‘If you want your business to have longevity, think about whether your product will benefit the planet. The biggest trend (and necessity) going forward is sustainability, so in order to bypass making a bad choice, do your research.
This is particularly important in fashion, so I can’t recommend enough taking your time and finding out, in person, whether your supply chain is ethical and sustainable.’
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