Wednesday, June 3, 2015

So you want to start an online vintage clothing business

Vintage clothing is a wonderful thing, and if you want to work to provide it for others I applaud you. Of course I feel that way because that is what I do—and I love what I do.

I started my online vintage clothing business in 1999, inspired by the 1970s and 80s brick and mortar vintage shops that I had frequented. I was new to the internet in the late 90s and as I became somewhat known in the world of vintage on this platform, I had requests for tips on selling and on running a vintage fashion business. The people asking were usually not casual here-and-there sellers, but people striving to earn at least a partial living at it. There weren’t so many of us then.

I used to have a fairly short—though not simple—list of suggestions. It went something like this:

1. Know everything you can about the items you are selling. Do not bluff if you don’t know something, but research labels, fabrics, fashion history and whatever else you need to be able to write with some confidence and accuracy about items.

2. Provide detailed garment measurements.

3. Photograph and describe each and every more-than-miniscule flaw.

4. If you’re just starting, price accordingly. Carefully research the higher and lower ends and don’t expect to be a high-end seller if you are new to the field. Save your exceptional items for a time when you are more established.

5. Always be polite, clear and prompt in dealing with any questions from customers and potential customers.

6. Ship as quickly as possible—within 48 hours is expected.

7. The customer is always right, even if they might not be. Always give them the benefit of the doubt and treat them with respect and kindness.

8. Don’t buy vintage items for resale because they are inexpensive, buy them because they are really good.

Then I started adding in:

9. Don't be lazy in the least. If there is something that you can do to help a garment you are selling, do it.

10. Become an expert at mending and washing/cleaning; find the best dry cleaner in your area, and also a great seamstress if you are not one yourself.

11. Generate enthusiasm for your items by writing helpful, interesting and knowledgeable descriptions.

12. Find the best, most efficient selling methods and use those.

13. Strive to connect to buyers through social media, online and offline contacts.

14. Offer an explicit return policy, and detail all your shop policies clearly and politely.

15. Do not expect quick results. Be patient and build your brand.

Now there are millions of vintage clothing sellers all over the world, many of them doing a very good job. What you need to do to stand out will by necessity be more involved. I would have to add the following to the above:

16. Use professional quality branding (the quality of which is not always based on a price paid).

17. Develop a social media strategy and keep it up consistently.

18. Make sure your photos are detailed, beautiful and accurate. If using a live model, be sure they are pro or very talented at portraying your brand. There are various ways to do lighting, but whatever your choice, it needs to be excellent.

19. Join and participate in appropriate forums.

20. Find strategic and memorable ways to differentiate your business in a crowded field.

21. Be extremely competitive in sourcing vintage items to offer for sale.

22. Do detailed market research and study analytics.

23. Find a good selling venue and be ready to jump to others if needed.

24. Do not assume a website will be found on search engines without very specific protocols being addressed.

25. Always keep your ears and eyes open for what people want from you, and how their preferences intersect with what you can provide.

26. Your business is not you, it is your business. Think and act for your business not according to your own feelings, but rather your brand’s identity.

You may not be able to go it alone, in fact, hardly anyone can now. The people you may have to hire once, part- or full-time are a model, a photographer, a website builder, a tech person, a marketing person, an accountant, and a designer. You will probably have to make substantial investments, such as in inventory, photo set up, storage, software, cleaning and mending, marketing and packaging materials. You will need to study and stay up-to-date on not only vintage fashion topics but business and marketing topics.

Do I follow my own advice? Sometimes! Some things are easier for me than others, but these are the things I honestly see from the business end of the vintage clothing field. A colleague recently said “the hippie days of the internet are over” and I have been repeating that phrase to vigorous nods from online sellers ever since. No longer can you just slap up a bad photo of a dress you can only vaguely identify for a highish price and then quibble when the buyer is not satisfied...not even close. You can sell vintage or you can become a vintage seller. The former is a casual affair, the latter is quite an investment, quite an effort...and eventually can be quite a wonderful achievement.

Please also read my follow-up to this post.


crush vintage said...

Totally agree with everything. So many come to me with questions on how they can get into selling vintage and I think I have scared them off too! It's harder than many think! Will save this post and share with others. Thanks for writing it Maggie!

denisebrain said...

I'm so glad you agree! ...and I'm sure you could add to the list with things I've missed!