How to Start an Online Clothing Store Without Inventory

By Rebekah Carter|Posted on 23 May 2023
How to Start an Online Clothing Store Without Inventory

In the past, learning how to start an online clothing business without inventory might have seemed like an impossible feat. Traditional designers and entrepreneurs needed a lot of resources to launch their own company, from access to warehouses for storing items, to production tools, partnerships with shipping companies, and of course, plenty of talented employees.

Inventory was often a must-have in this landscape. Companies either need to produce their own garments from scratch, using state-of-the-art tools, or buy from wholesalers with strict minimum order quantity requirements. Fortunately, all that is starting to change.

The evolution of the digital world has introduced new partner-focused business models to the fashion world, which allow creatives, influencers, and would-be entrepreneurs alike to bypass the need for inventory. Here’s how you can start selling clothing on your own ecommerce store, without any inventory whatsoever.

Why Now Is a Good Time to Start an Ecommerce Clothing Store

Before we dive into our step-by-step guide to selling clothing without inventory, it’s worth exploring why now is such a good time for ambitious creators to get started. While ecommerce has been around for a while, the popularity of online retail has only recently begun to explode.

According to studies, revenue in the ecommerce market is expected to reach a massive value of $6.35 trillion by 2027. What’s more, some industries are benefiting more from the digital transformation of the shopping space than others.

For instance, the online fashion market is now growing at a rate of around 8.6% CAGR, thanks to a growing demand for more clothing options, personalized garments, and convenient service.

To help creators capitalize on this growing market, new tools and solutions have begun to emerge at a break-neck speed. There are now countless ecommerce website building tools to choose from, such as Shopify, Wix, and WooCommerce. Plus, POD suppliers and dropshipping vendors like NovaTomato ensure creators don’t have to jump through countless hoops to get designs made.

The Ultimate Way to Start a Store With No Inventory: POD

Starting an online fashion business without inventory is much easier than you’d think. There are numerous options to explore, from reselling products from other designers using dropshipping methods, to selling designs on platforms and marketplace sites.

However, the best option overall has to be the print-on-demand method.

Print on Demand is a type of “dropshipping” business model. This means instead of producing products yourself, storing your own inventory, and shipping items to customers, you work with a third-party vendor who handles all that for you.

Unlike standard dropshipping, which simply involves reselling pre-made products, print-on-demand solutions allow you to customize your items however you choose. You work with vendors using innovative printing technologies to add custom designs to everything from shirts and dresses, to hoodies, ensuring you can stand out in the competitive fashion space.

POD selling has grown increasingly popular in the age of the creator economy, as it allows artists, influencers, and even streamers to create and sell their own merch without worrying about wasted resources or fulfillment costs.

What’s more, print on demand gives you more freedom over what you sell than dropshipping, allowing you to choose everything from printing styles, to designs and materials. You can even build an entirely sustainable fashion company by working with an eco-friendly partner.

How to Start an Online Store Without Inventory: The Steps

Now we’ve defined the best way to start an online clothing store without inventory, it’s time to break down the steps involved in bringing your ecommerce website, and company to life.

Step 1: Conduct Market Research

First, before you start designing products or finding vendors to work with, you need to understand your chosen marketplace. Decide what kind of fashion items you want to create, and examine the trends, competitors, and patterns in your space.

Ask yourself what kind of designs or patterns are trending right now, what materials your customers like to use, and what kind of profit margins are available in your area. The more information you can gather from competitor research and market reports, the easier it will be to develop a business plan, outlining the products you’re going to create and sell.

Step 2: Define Your Target Audience

While you’re researching your market, it’s worth learning as much as you can about the specific customers you want to connect with. Create buyer personas highlighting their age, gender, location, and purchasing behaviors. Think about the styles your customers like, the prices they’re willing to pay, and the pain points they want fashion brands to address.

For instance, around 73% of millennials now say they would pay a premium if it meant they could buy clothing from an eco-friendly brand. If you know your customers are invested in sustainable garments, choosing eco-friendly materials and printing methods can make your business more profitable.

Step 3: Select Your POD Business Partner

Once you understand your market and target audience, the next step is figuring out who you’re going to work with to create your fashion garments. There are plenty of great dropshipping and POD companies out there, so it’s worth making a list of the factors that matter most to you when finding the right team to work with. Think about:

  • Product quality: How durable are the garments, how well are they made, and how comfortable, and stylish do they appear to be? Consider asking for product samples from any vendor you want to work with before you commit.
  • Shipping and packaging: How will your vendor package and ship your orders? Do they allow you to customize the packaging? How quickly can they deliver items to customers around the world, and are they committed to keeping parcels safe?
  • Customization options: The best POD vendor will allow you to customize your products however you choose. Vendors like NovaTomato offer access to everything from eco-friendly materials for sustainability, to all-over printing methods and even seamless knitting. Look for a vendor that delivers innovative ways to make your product stand out.

Step 4: Prepare Your Designs

Once you’ve found your ideal POD vendor, it’s time to start working on your designs. Use the research you’ve gathered about your target audience and market to produce designs unique to your company, and compelling to your customers.

If you’re struggling to come up with amazing ideas yourself, you could consider using your POD vendor’s online design tool to help. NovaTomato’s AI-infused tool makes it easy to experiment with colors, styles, and printing options in seconds.

You could also think about hiring a freelance designer to work with you. There are plenty of great professionals across channels like Fiverr and Upwork who can help with design ideas.

Step 5: Order Samples

While you don’t necessarily need to hold any inventory to run an ecommerce fashion store today, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t actually interact with your products before shipping them to customers. Ordering samples will give you an opportunity to ensure every item you create lives up to your expectations, so you can build a more reputable name for your brand.

Additionally, if you order samples of your clothing, you can use them to create professional photos for your ecommerce website’s product pages, your social media walls, and other marketing campaigns. You might even choose to send samples to influencers for free, in exchange for their help promoting and selling your new collection.

Step 6: Build Your Store

Finally, it’s time to create the platform you’ll use to sell your fashion products. There are plenty of great tools to help you do this if you don’t have a lot of coding or web development knowledge. Remember, no matter which website builder you choose, your site should always be:

  • Specific to your brand: Showcase your unique brand identity by adding custom photos, logos, and color palettes to your store. Make sure you highlight your unique personality, and draw attention to your tone of voice in your marketing materials.
  • Easy to use: A great store should always be easy to navigate. Take user experience into account when designing your store, and make sure it’s simple for customers to add products to their basket, choose customizations, and even contact your team.
  • Accessible: Remember, today’s customers don’t just shop online, they’re browsing stores on their smartphones and tablets too. The right store should be simple to use on all platforms, and it should load well on every browser.

Considerations Before Starting a POD Clothing Store

While the steps above should provide you with the guidance you need to start building your business without inventory, there are a few considerations worth keeping in mind before you dive in. Here are the most important things for any store owner to consider:

1. Profit Margins

Above all else, it’s crucial to ensure the products you create are going to make a profit. Researching your market, and understanding your target audience should help with this. The good news is that print-on-demand selling can deliver higher profit margins than dropshipping alone, as it gives you an opportunity to sell more customized clothing, unique to your brand.

2. Market Trends

Remember, the fashion industry can evolve quickly. If you want to ensure you continue to connect with your customers, you’ll need to stay up-to-date with the latest market trends. Pay attention to the preferences of your audience when it comes to things like designs, pattern options, materials, and even shopping and payment experiences.

3. Promotion

Building a fantastic online fashion store is great, but you still need to make sure you’re constantly drawing new visitors to it. Develop an ecommerce marketing calendar based on what you know about your customers. Make sure you’re experimenting with a range of marketing strategies, from social media advertising, to influencer campaigns, email marketing, and even content creation and SEO.

4. Customer Service

You don’t just want customers to buy from your store and then disappear forever. The best fashion stores make consistent revenue by earning loyal customers. This means you need to commit to delivering amazing customer service and experience. Make sure you know how your POD company handles returns and refunds, and provide your customers with step-by-step guidance on how to access help if they have any trouble with your products.

5. Tore Design and Management

As mentioned above, there are numerous ways to build an online store in today’s world. The right option for your needs will depend on a number of factors, from your software budget, to your coding and technical knowledge. Some common solutions include:

  • Shopify: Feature-rich and versatile, Shopify is a fantastic website builder for fashion brands. It makes it easy for beginners to get started, with fashion-focused themes and templates, and even integrates with a range of dropshipping and POD apps. Shopify
  • Wix: One of the easiest website builders to use in the market today, Wix is a straightforward and scalable tool, which gives users access to the power of AI. You’ll have no problem creating smooth shopping experiences for customers on Wix.Wix
  • WooCommerce: Ideal for building a more customizable online store, WooCommerce is an ecommerce tool built into the WordPress platform. With this tool, you can create a highly unique customer experience, with tons of themes, plugins, and add-ons.WooCommerce
  • Squarespace: Featuring some of the most attractive templates and designs for fashion companies around, the Squarespace ecommerce store builder is a fantastic choice for new business owners. It’s affordable, easy to use, and even has marketing tools built in.Squarespace

Start Your Fashion-On-Demand Store With NovaTomato

By this point, you should be just about ready to start developing your own inventory-free fashion brand. However, you might still need help choosing the right POD company to work with. Here at NovaTomato, we pride ourselves on being the most innovative, supportive, and eco-friendly print on demand partner around. Here’s why any fashion vendor should consider working with us:

  • Sustainability: We believe in the importance of eco-friendly fashion at NovaTomato, that’s why we invest in everything from sustainable materials and inks to environmentally conscious packaging, to ensure we have the best impact on the planet.
  • Quality: Working with the world’s best manufacturers, and using state-of-the-art materials is how we ensure our custom clothing outshine the competition. We focus on providing exceptional quality, without compromise, no matter what.
  • Support: We offer exceptional customer support, as well as fantastic tools to help businesses make the most out of their fashion-on-demand strategy. Our AI-enhanced design tool, for instance, is great for experimenting with patterns.

What’s more, we’re always innovating, and creating new products, from seamless clothing to shirts with all-over print patterns. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you can’t go wrong with NovaTomato. Contact us today to find out more.


Still have questions about starting a fashion company without inventory?

Let’s see if we can clarify a few things:

What Are the Benefits of Selling Online Without Inventory?

Simply put, less inventory means less risk. You can experiment with designs without having to worry about your garments not selling. Plus, you don’t have to worry about wasting resources and materials, or having a negative impact on the environment.

Can I Use My Own Shipping Carrier?

It all depends on your POD provider. Some print on demand platforms will suggest standard shipping options with selected carriers they’ve already negotiated a strong partnership with. If you want to use your own shipping carrier, you might need to consider a different route.

What Are the Return and Refund Policies for Orders Placed Through Selling Online Without Inventory?

Once again, this depends on your POD partner. The print on demand model generally promotes conscious shopping, and if a return is issued for anything other than a quality problem, they may not issue a refund. This is something you should clarify with your partner in advance, so you can share the right information with your customers.