When it comes to designs & trends, I find most new boutique owners quite good at. But, when it comes to sourcing of inventory, most of them have little or no clue. Therefore, I decided to write this post on how to get inventory for online boutique.
Globally, the boutique or clothing is a huge industry. In the US alone, the total revenue from the clothing industry in 2018 was $21 billion. In other words, it’s an exciting industry to be in.
But why online boutique?. That’s because you can test your ideas or business model with minimum risk or cost using an online store. Once the online store drives traction & profitability, you can always look forward to starting a physical store.
Also, at the start, you should only be focussing on selling other brands’ products. As you start to gain industry experience & have a strong customer base, shift your focus to launching your own fashion collection.
Therefore, in this post, I have only covered those sources of inventory that you can tap easily & start your sales as soon as possible.
Please note that you need a tax ID(as per your country’s tax regulations) to resale products. No worries, if you haven’t got one. It fairly simple & quick process with Incorporate. Alternatively, you can contact your local lawyer.
HOW TO GET INVENTORY FOR ONLINE BOUTIQUE
1. Online Wholesalers
When it comes to buying wholesale clothing, online wholesalers are the most preferred medium for most boutique owners.
- Quick turnaround time
- Access to a wide range of products
- Best prices
- Risky (from product quality & delivery point of view)
To buy from online wholesalers, follow these steps:
Step #1: Go to AliExpress
AliExpress is one of the world’s top online wholesaling platforms. Based in China, it has got a wide range of clothing brands & products to choose from.
Buying from AliExpress is just like buying from a retail online store (Eg: Amazon). So, all you need to do is add products to the cart & checkout.
Yes, they do support multiple payment options like Visa, Mastercard, Wire transfer etc.
Please note that AliExpress is just a marketplace that connects verified sellers (or brands) with customers. Therefore it becomes crucial to do a due diligence of the sellers or products before buying.
Step #2: Browse Across Top Stores & Best Sellers
Select a category (Example: Women clothing) & then browse for top stores & best sellers.
‘Top Stores’ are stores created by some of the world’s top brands, especially for AliExpress customers.
Click to open the store of your interest & check it’s ratings before proceeding.
Ideally, you should only be dealing with stores with the following criteria:
- At least 2 years in existence
- Voted as a ‘top brand’
- At least 90%+ positive feedback
- At least a million followers
The aforesaid checks are a few positive indicators. Based on those, you can accept or reject a store or vendor.
Pro tip: Ideally, you should be dealing only with manufacturers. Why?. Because the manufacturers in long-term can help you to launch your own private-label products or brand.
Step #3: Browse & Shortlist Products
Once a store(s) has been shortlisted, you need to start shortlisting products (inside the store).
Make sure that products you shortlist:
- Have good ratings (preferably more than 4.5)
- Have sufficient stock
- Can be shipped via ePacket (for faster delivery)
The products that you shortlist should be added to the cart by clicking on “Add to cart” button.
Please note that AliExpress supports tiered pricing (lesser price if the quantity is more). So, play around a bit before deciding on the quantity.
Also, kindly note that you can chat or talk to suppliers directly from the AliExpress platform. Use that feature to connect with your supplier & further negotiate with pricing.
Step#4: Checkout & Complete The Order
Just like in case of an ordinary shopping, you need to check out & complete the order in AliExpress.
During the checkout process, ensure the following:
- Correct & complete address
- Preferred logistics partner
- Special message for the seller (in any)
After completing the order, you would be getting an order or tracking ID.
While AliExpress may be the most popular one, it’s not the only online wholesaler. There are a few more like:
- Bloom Wholesale
- Mio Wholesale
- The LookBook Wholesale
- Judson & Company
To succeed in the online boutique business, you need to regularly stock new trending fashion items. That’s possible only if you move swiftly with your purchases. Sourcing from online wholesalers exactly helps in that. It’s quick, easy & provides a range of new arrivals frequently.
Pro tip: To get a hands-on with the latest trending fashion, schedule weekly purchases with online wholesalers. Stocking & replenishing latest fashion can give your store a massive edge over your competitors.
Therefore, I would highly recommend this option for beginners.
2. Trade Catalogues / Directories
Many fashion industry bodies regularly publish trade catalogs or directories. These catalogs list down verified manufacturers & brand owners in the clothing industry.
All you need to do is get these catalogs & contact the vendors listed there.
Following are a few such organization that publish fashion catalogs or directories in the USA:
- Worldwide Brands
- The Independent Retailer
- American Apparel and Footwear Association
- Association of Textiles, Apparel and Materials Professionals
- The Fashion Group International
- Council of Fashion Designers of America
There are also numerous manufacturers who provide their own product catalog. Alternatively, a few of them may have their product catalog listed on their websites.
Visit this link for a robust directory of top fashion houses in the USA: https://www.world-fashion.info/countries/United-States-fashion-directory
- A good number of manufacturers or brand owners
- Direct contact or visit
- Good for building a long-term relationship with manufacturers
- Time-consuming process
- Cumbersome for beginners
- Limited range of products
This purchase option is recommended only for experienced boutique owners. Finding, shortlisting & negotiating with manufacturers or suppliers requires serious skills.
Also, manufacturers will require a commitment of a certain volume which isn’t possible for new entrants.
3. Fashion Shows / Garment Events & Conferences
Fashion shows & related events help you to actually see & feel high-quality products from top fashion brands under one roof.
It’s a place where clothing manufacturers & buyers meet for the trade. There are various booths (one for each manufacturer or brand) you can visit & explore. If interested, you can buy on the spot itself.
These events are also great for nurturing a relationship with manufacturers & other boutique owners.
Similarly, you can attend fashion conferences where you gain immense knowledge & trade tricks from various industry experts.
- Helps to test the look & feel of products
- Very effective in developing trade relationship
- Flexible in terms of pricing & other terms
- Unique clothing
- Cumbersome for beginners
Following are a few popular fashion events across the world:
- Magic Las Vegas (USA)
- Texworld Paris (France)
- International Apparel & Textile Fair (UAE)
- MICAM Milano (Italy)
- Texworld (USA)
As you gain experience, don’t shy away from trying this sourcing method. It’s very effective from the brand-building point of view.
4. Sourcing Agents
Sourcing agents (specialized in fashion) have deep industry knowledge & can help you in picking the right supplier.
Also, you can leverage their experience to negotiate hard with the suppliers & get the best price. Of course, they do charge a cut for their professional services.
- Professional sourcing
- Better purchase price
- Professional fees
Following a few reputed sourcing agents in the USA:
- Apparel Sourcing Inc (New York)
- The Apparel Agency (Chicago)
- Apparel Sourcing USA (Atlanta)
If you a beginner & still aren’t comfortable with purchasing stock online then try seeking help from sourcing agents.
LinkedIn is actually a platform to connect employers with job seekers. But, it is also used to develop a professional network or relationship.
All you need to do there is find relevant people in the fashion industry & connect with them. Once a discussion starts, you can ask for various stuff like contact number, catalog, factory address etc. Visit or talk to them over the phone & close the deal. Simple!
Example: If I search for “fashion sourcing” in LinkedIn, I get the following people as results.
All I need to do is contact those people & request more information about their products.
- Helps develop a professional network
- Cumbersome for beginners
LinkedIn is all about connecting with the people & developing the professional relationship for mutual benefit.
6. Wholesale Clothing Vendors (Offline)
This is perhaps the most straightforward method of buying wholesale clothing.
All you need to do here is visit local wholesale clothing vendors (for boutiques) & buy from them.
Each country has a specified market that is popular for a certain category of wholesale products. In line with that thought, you need to find out the wholesale market for fashion products in your country.
- Direct contact with the seller & product
- Fairly simple process
- Fewer chances of error or fraud
- Lack of latest fashion
- Not enough range of products
Now, how do you shortlist the best wholesaler out of all?. Follow these tips:
- Take reference from industry contacts or other boutique owners
- Check the background of the store (Year of inception, reputation, tax ID etc.)
- The genuineness of the products & brands
- Ability to serve very bulk orders (in case you taste early success)
Following are a few wholesale apparel market in the USA:
- Atlanta Apparel Mart
- Dallas Market Center
- Denver Mart
- Los Angeles Fashion Market
Even if you decide on some other sourcing method, its advisable to visit nearby clothing wholesale market. Why?. Because you get to know more about the market, industry & the eco-system.
7. Facebook Groups
This is a unique method of sourcing inventory for an online boutique.
You probably already know about Facebook groups. And, chances are high that you are a member of a Facebook group of your interest.
What you don’t know is that you can use Facebook to connect with boutique supplier & strike a deal. Yes, literally!
All you need to do is search for boutique related Facebook groups & join them. After joining, post on those groups detailing your stock requirements. As & when a supplier sees those posts, he or she may contact you.
- An easy way to connect with interested suppliers
- Chances of scam or fraud (A scammer may pose as a supplier & contact you)
There are a few Facebook groups dedicated to the boutique industry like Boutique Brands, Designers & Vendors. Try searching for a few more & join them.
Do not rely on just one source of inventory. Try to mix up things & see what works the best.
Ideally, for a beginner, I would highly recommend the online wholesaler method. With a few months of purchase experience, you can explore the wholesale markets. And, after having a few years of experience, you can go big by tying up with big fashion brands.
A few bonus tips to deal with clothing vendors:
- For very bulk quantity, enter into a legal contract
- Price negotiation is an art, master it with practice
- Increase volume & then negotiate other trade terms like credit, delivery time etc.
- Sell your vision to the supplier. That will help further with negotiation.
- Logistics is a huge operational pain. Let the vendor handle the same for a fee.
I have given my best tips on sourcing apparels in this post. Still, if you need help then reach out to me.
What do you think of the aforesaid ways to get inventory for online boutique?. Please comment below.
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