Pros and cons of starting an online vintage fashion store in the UK?
February 7, 2010 3:01 PM   Subscribe

Pros and cons of starting an online vintage fashion store in the UK?

I'm between jobs in the UK. I have toyed with the idea of starting a modest-scale online vintage store, just a few items at a time, and would like to ask about the pros and cons, pitfalls, legalities, etc.

Specifically, what would be the minimum quality camera I should use? I'm guessing that the iPhone camera won't quite do the job ;-)

Should I stick to vintage only or would interesting, more contemporary (as in <30 years old) be good enough? What are the best resources for verifying the age of a garment? For valuing it?

I'm thinking eBay's fees are too high, would I be right about this?

What about declaring any income for tax or benefits purposes?

Is it realistic to think I could do this while I look for work (I think I could spend 8-10 hours a week for example) or is it going to be more time-consuming than that?

I have web programming experience but haven't thus far tried to publish anything beyond the basics. However I notice that previous questions about setting up online stores have been well answered, so I'm not looking for more info about that.
posted by tel3path to Work & Money (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The biggest issue that I've seen with vintage clothing is that the sizing can be really wonky. You'll have to measure the bust/waist/length/etc. of everything, and even then you'll have a tough time because a lot of people don't necessarily know their actual measurements. (Case in point: because my cotton bras had stretched, I had no idea that I had grown 4" from the last time I'd been measured in a theater thing.) You also might have an issue determining the fabric content if tags are faded.

If you're familiar with vintage clothing, this will be no surprise to you. But since you'll be dealing with people who aren't able to try the items on in person, I imagine you'll need a pretty generous return policy. That might put a bit of a damper on things.
posted by Madamina at 3:59 PM on February 7, 2010

If you're familiar with vintage clothing, this will be no surprise to you. But since you'll be dealing with people who aren't able to try the items on in person...

Or a pretty good walk-through primer or personalized shopper type service, to help people get experience and get into fashions they would otherwise dismiss as being unable to pull off.
posted by whatzit at 4:30 PM on February 7, 2010

Best answer: 8-10 hours a week is not enough if you are wanting to make more than a few bucks. Expect to put in more like +40-60 or more hours.
-You are going to need to put in a ton of time looking for merchandise. There are lots of people who collect and sell vintage right now. It is very competitive. Ideally you can be going to auctions, flea markets and charity shops almost every day.
-You will need to spend time cleaning, repairing and prepping garments for sale. Most vintage garments found second hand need some kind of TLC, whether it is tacking up a hem, sewing buttons or cleaning. Since you won't want to post pictures of wrinkly clothes for sale, you will want to iron and/or steam them. Steaming is better, as it is less likely to damage some fabrics (ie. the dreaded 'iron shine.')
-You are going to need a good model, dress form or mannequin to take pictures of your clothes on.
-You can learn how to date vintage clothing by going to the library and checking out as many fashion history and vintage fashion magazines as you can find. There are a lot of good online message boards focusing on vintage clothing that are worth reading.
-As far as valuing clothing, it's all about the desirability, size, but mostly condition. Spend a bunch of time on ebay checking to see what completed items like yours sell for. As an added bit of advice, some seasoned sellers get kind of surly when you ask them to estimate the selling value of an item, so tread cautiously when asking other people for advice.
-ebay fees are very expensive, but it can take a long time to build a vintage website and then actually get traffic and buyers to find you. I've had pretty good luck with etsy. The fees are cheaper than ebay. You could always build up an etsy storefront, gradually fill it up with merchandise, then get your own website going and link to it from your etsy page.
-You will want a decent digital camera, but it doesn't have to be a fancy DSL. Lighting for taking pictures of clothes indoors can be tricky (especially for dark colors), so you might want to invest in a few studio lights and a backdrop or take all your photos outdoors in daylight.
-Figure out how you are going to do shipping. Get a supply of shipping materials ready (boxes, tyvek mailers, labels, packing tape, tissue paper). You might want to get a small postal scale. Do what you can to make your post office experience as quick and painless for yourself and the postal employees. If your business does well, you will be seeing a lot of them.
-I don't know what to say on the tax issue, because I'm in the USA. When I have sold vintage online as my FT gig, I did declare my income for tax purposes. I was able to use things like packing supplies, dry cleaning bills, clothing steamer, dress form, etc. as deductions.
-Definitely keep track of how much money you spend on items you buy for resell. Keep good records and check them regularly to make sure you are making a decent profit.
-Make sure this is what you love to do. Ask yourself why you want to specifically sell vintage clothes. It's kind of a tough market right now. There are a lot of sellers on ebay, etc. with professional models, access to photo studios and established customers. Even if you do decide that vintage clothing is what you want to specialize in, don't be afraid to branch out into other areas (ie. housewares, newer designer clothes, books).

Good luck!
posted by pluckysparrow at 5:55 PM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I agree with pluckysparrow that Etsy would be the way to go. eBay is becoming increasingly less seller friendly and they have a rate hike planned in the next few months. If you decide to have your own website, you'll be in competition with hundreds of others, and unless you have spectacular merchandise and mad SEO skills, you are not going to attract the buyers. With Etsy, you have a built in audience.

As for a camera, I'd have to agree that an iPhone won't do the trick. You don't need a super pricey camera, but make sure you have one with a macro setting so you can take close up shots of any flaws or details. I've found that the lighting setup is actually more important than the camera. Etsy sellers seem to favor natural lighting with a white background.

I'm in the U.S. and I too declare my income and take deductions for business expenses.

What you sell is probably going to be based on what you can find. And 90's clothing is now considered vintage by some.

And to find information about the clothing, I would recommend catalogs, online research, and books on vintage fashion (e.g. Dover's "Everyday Fashions" series).

As pluckysparrow said, it is a LOT more work than most people realize. I've been making my living by selling online (and locally) for 10 years and it takes commitment!

If you have any specific questions, please feel free to memail me!
posted by suki at 6:23 AM on February 8, 2010

Best answer: Good pictures and LOTS of pictures are key. Also, you'll want to study up on the Distance Selling Directive to understand the consumer's rights and your obligations when buying/selling things online.

Good luck!
posted by triggerfinger at 12:48 PM on February 8, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! That has helped me to make up my mind.

suki, I wasn't hoping to make more than pocket money from this. However you have helped me realize that there would be quite a lot of work involved in selling even on a very small scale.

Because my schedule and cashflow are unstable right now, I don't think I can plan ahead enough to commit the time, nor do I think I can be investing any money in stock and equipment (especially camera equipment) that I can't afford to lose.

I'll leave this until I'm more settled. Muchas gracias!
posted by tel3path at 9:32 AM on February 9, 2010

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