How to Start an Online Boutique: The Progressive Guide

Take a look at our step-by-step guide on how to start an online boutique with a few marketing tips.

How to start an online boutique store is one of those questions that will never get old. Fashion constantly changes over time, and clothing allows you to choose from a large collection of different items, for both women and men. By the end of this guide, you'll know how to start an online boutique using Shopify, along with the Oberlo app- the ins and outs of the business, ways to find good dropshipping suppliers, while also exploring the supplier vetting process.

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OK, here's a fact:

Clothing typically has steep markups, allowing you to make some mistakes along the way without destroying your profit margins.

For instance, jeans often have a 100-350% markup, leaving a significant cushion in there for you to discount products and compete with the big dogs of fashion retail.

Likewise, clothing is similar to jewelry. You can make a lot of money since much of the pricing is subjective based on the look, and you get to choose from thousands of niches within the market.

Let's not forget- you'll want to know the best tools and techniques to build online fashion boutiques from scratch.

Finally, I'll share some tips for creatively promoting your boutique brand.

Btw, I've done a video version of the tutorial for you in case you want to hear my voice 🙂

YouTube video

So, without further ado, here's our guide on how to start an online boutique.

The Legal Essentials for Online Fashion Boutiques

Since it's clothing, there is no necessity to obtain a special license to launch your online boutique. Therefore, you'll just need to look into the small business laws of your state and figure out the type of licensing that's required in the area. This comes in handy for tax purposes and for avoiding any problems that may arise in the future.

In general, you want to officially form a business in your state.

The only other thing to worry about is whether you're going to be storing your own merchandise or not. I'll discuss the benefits and downsides of doing so in the section below, but most businesses that hold onto large amounts of inventory will have to double check the local lease or zoning codes.

For example, they probably won't care if you have only a few hundred pairs of clothing crammed into your basement. But, it gets messy when that number turns into thousands and you're trying to make it work in a small apartment.

You never know when things take a turn for the worse. So, make sure that you don't overlook these two important points.

And now, let's get down to business.

Step 1: Locating the Right Clothing Suppliers

Since clothing comes from all sorts of suppliers, it can be difficult to figure out exactly where you're going to locate the best items.

The first order of business is to decide on a niche.

It may sound like a good idea to take an approach similar to that of large fashion companies by selling everything from men's clothing to jewelry, pants, shirts, and socks. But, the most successful brands start with something much smaller.

By smaller, I mean to say- concentrated niches.

For instance, you may cater to women who are interested in a high fashion look from the 1970s. These items are going to be much harder for the average consumer to find, and there's no telling what price tags you could slap on these products.

After all, there's no benchmark for people to compare.

Let me tell you a secret- if you've found a supplier that sells special products like the one mentioned above, you're already ahead of the curve.

Invest some quality time for research and trust me, it'll bear fruit.

Going the Wholesale (Or Storing Your Own Items) Route

This is the more traditional route to take- where you contact one or two suppliers, agree to buy a certain amount of inventory, then store that inventory in your basement, garage, storage facility, or warehouse.

Wholesale suppliers are more common than dropshippers (covered in later sections), so you should be able to easily spot them by completing a quick Google search.

Here's an example of a search query that's easy to remember: “insert niche here” wholesaler. Use variations of this and you'll have a list in no time.

You can also browse renowned websites like Alibaba and contact some of the more reputable suppliers who would be willing to send you batches of goods at cheaper rates.

Don't Forget About the Flexibility of This Industry

Fashion customers are looking for the element of awesomeness. It doesn't necessarily have to be new. Numerous online clothing stores have been launched by those who sell used items through eBay, after scouring through pre-used clothing stores to find some precious gems.

The reason I've grouped this in with the wholesale category is that it requires you to store the products in your home or warehouse. The only difference is that you can typically find the items much cheaper, but you also have to put in much more legwork.

One final thing to consider when shopping for a wholesale supplier is the sales pitch.

Most wholesalers are completely open to speaking with new businesses. In addition to that, some solid relationships are built this way. Therefore, focus on both local and international wholesalers to understand the differences in pricing and shipping costs.

Before we go to step 2, take a look at the pros and cons of working with wholesale distributors.

Benefits of Wholesale

  • Clothing is often easy to store and can be packaged in a way that it doesn't take up too much space.
  • You have the opportunity to control shipping and the packaging that the clothing goes into. This is crucial for branding purposes.
  • You have more control over the quality of your products since you can look at the items before sending them out.

Downsides of Wholesale

  • You have to put in more effort for shipping and packaging.
  • Although you save money by buying in bulk, it appears to be costly in the short term since you have to purchase many items.
  • Wholesale has lots of overhead because of storage, shipping, and packaging.

Step 2: Consider Dropshipping for Your Fashion Boutique

Dropshipping is slightly more difficult to setup for your online boutique.

This is mainly because of the fact that not all clothing suppliers dropship. However, AliExpress (retail platform owned by Alibaba) is a great place to start since you can search based on the type of clothing and for suppliers with good ratings.

If you're not fond of Chinese suppliers, you can look for local suppliers online and call them to see if they provide dropshipping services. This isn't a strange question, so don't feel bad asking it right off the bat.

Likewise, here are a few things you should know about dropshipping.

Benefits of Dropshipping

  • There's no need to pay for or worry about storage.
  • Things like shipping and packaging are all taken care of.
  • You often end up spending far less money when starting out.

Downsides of Dropshipping

  • You might have problems with customer service since the packages aren't being sent back to you and you have less control over the entire process.
  • Products cannot be individually inspected before sending out.
  • It may take a very long time for your customers to receive their products.

Step 3: Vetting Your Suppliers

Can we agree on the fact that it doesn't matter whether you choose wholesale or drop shipping? Because both of these methods have their fair share of ups and downs.

More importantly, you'll want to vet suppliers to see if it's going to be a worthwhile partnership before committing to them.

Check out AliExpress or Alibaba and you can typically locate contact information on the supplier's main page. Sometimes it's not there, but you always have the opportunity to communicate through the site itself.

Ideally, you want to get someone on the phone so you can ask questions, learn more about the supplier and make notes in the process.

The same goes for when you're chatting with a local supplier. I recommend going through some of the following concerns to make sure your online boutique has found its perfect supplier:

  • Is the quality of the clothing up to your boutique's standards? If so, will the suppliers send some samples for you to test out?
  • Are you going to have a point person to speak with every week or month? This is essential for managing a long-lasting relationship. Otherwise, you'll have trouble finding someone to speak with when something goes wrong with shipping or the products.
  • Does the supplier have a history of success? Is it compliant, financially healthy, and reputable in the industry?

Some of these questions can be answered by completing some online research, but most of the time you can go through the steps while on the phone with your point person.

Step 4: Designing the Best Online Boutique Store

WooCommerce, BigCommerce, Shopify, Volusion, and many other e-commerce platforms make templates just for online boutiques.

Since it's a popular industry, all you have to do is go to the clothing or fashion category and choose the template that suits your brand.

Yep, it's as simple as that.

If you're just getting started, we recommend using Shopify, along with the Oberlo app.

This way, you can use a Shopify boutique template, then automatically pull product information from AliExpress using Oberlo. This includes product images, descriptions, pricing, and more.

It's configured for dropshipping, but it makes the most sense for saving money and getting your site running fast.

Step 5: How to Start An Online Boutique and Begin Mass Marketing

Marketing your online boutique is a little easier than doing so in other industries since social media users generally love seeing fashion products on the most popular platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

Therefore, here are some tips that I'd like to share for success in your marketing endeavors:

  • Create Instagram and Facebook accounts and share pictures of models (or regular people) wearing your merchandise.
  • Temporarily pause ads when your social media posts perform well.
  • Capture visually attractive photos of your clothing, both on and off models.
  • Think about channels like eBay, Amazon, and Etsy.
  • Launch an email list to send out coupons and rewards.
  • Try reaching out to influencers like bloggers and famous people who might be willing to wear your clothing.

Consider using a tool like HubSpot CRM (read our HubSpot CRM review) to grow your contact list and engage with your current and potential customers. The information stored in your CRM will allow you to create highly targeted email campaigns that will delight your customers.

Are You Ready To Kickstart Your Online Business?

Learning how to start an online boutique efficiently relies on your research of suppliers and the aforementioned factors. The primary goal is to maintain optimal costs as you're getting started so that you can comfortably set foot in the industry.

All you have to do is work hard and strive for greatness and you'll be the next Jack Ma.

If you have any questions on how to start a boutique, let us know in the comments below.

Featured Image by Lea Poisson

Joe Warnimont

Joe Warnimont is a freelance writer who creates tools and resources to help other writers get more productive and market their work.