Published: September 15, 2022 Updated: February 21, 2023 12 min read
Having trouble selling your clothes online? Did you maybe dump a bunch of money into clothing ads and not get as many email alerts for new sales as you hoped for? You’re not alone. The good news is there are things you can do to boost your online sales - for free!
Unfoturnitly, a lot of the time, startup clothing companies spend most of their time on the product – supply chain, research, development, and production. But what sets successful startup clothing companies apart is spending just as much time on marketing strategy. I become the literal facepalm emoji IRL when new founders tell me their brand sales plan is, “Don’t worry about it. I have a friend who runs Facebook clothing ads. I’ll just do that!” I think, well, this is going to end in disaster.
While us older millennials feel like we are living our best lives once again with the return of early 2000’s fashion, we need to remember it isn’t actually 2008. Back in the day, you could throw money into the Facebook machine and be almost guaranteed success. For every $1 you spent on Facebook ads, you could make $20.
Need a little more guidance on how to get your conscious fashion brand started? Well then, this FREE week-long crash course is just what your inbox needs.
Unfortunately, it’s not like that anymore. Now, one clothing ads expert I was recently chatting with told me to expect 1.5x in returns to start and 3x on average once we got going. This means that for every $1 you put into Facebook, your profit could be 50 cents to $3. (Go, shorty, It's your birthday. We gon' party like it's your birthday – am I showing my age again? This is because Facebook ads are becoming less and less targeted and more and more expensive. Some clothing brands are even finding that old-school brick-and-mortar clothing stores are actually a better investment.
If you just invested your savings and maybe even a bit of your kids' college fund into your small startup, I can’t have you losing money. I am sure you have heard the unicorn stories from back in 2008 when people made millions running ads for clothing on the internet. But, I need you to accept the new narrative is more like brands losing tens of thousands of dollars on clothing ads that don’t perform.
I am not saying clothing ads don’t work. They do. I’m just saying that often new brands dive in head first before they are ready, when they don’t have the infrastructure to support the investment.
The good news? This problem is totally preventable. So, here is my 3-prong approach to digital marketing and selling your clothes online - what I think you should do instead, plus a bonus starter lesson on clothing ads once you’re done with these steps.
Remember, I have a consultancy agency that works with brands of all different sizes. And, I have worked in the fashion industry for over 13 years now. I’ve seen brands start, and grow like crazy, but, I’ve also seen brands with the most well-meaning hard-working business owners crash and burn.
And they all had something in common.
The brands that grow and succeed are ready to do the work, and they have a solid plan and strategy based in reality. The brands that fail think that a content marketing, pr, or ads agency will be the magic wand for their floundering business needs.
So, instead of searching for a too-good-to-be-true solution for growing your business, take the time to learn the strategy that I’ve seen work many, many times before.
Everyone is talking about a recession. I want to remind you that while a recession can be scary, it can also be one of the best times to start your business. Don’t believe me? Airbnb, Warby Parker, MailChimp, and WhatsApp all started back in 2008 (the last recession we had). And they are mega multimillion and even billion-dollar corporations now. Yeah, people are spending less money overall. But here is the secret → You just need to know how to make strategic business decisions during this time to be profitable.
This 3-point sales plan will help you recession-proof your clothing sales strategy!
This is a peak inside my own Google Search Console. With this free tool you can see if your SEO efforts are paying off by tracking things like overall search traffic and the keywords you are ranking for.
I am a big fan of SEO. Thanks to years of diligent blogging and working on search engine optimization, I now get over 35k visitors to the virtue + vice website every single month.
To be clear, I basically have 35k readers guaranteed without doing anything.
Here is what happens when you have SEO optimized: people Google something related to your business. Maybe it’s something like “the best dress for travel” or “toxin-free children’s shirt.” And, boom, you pop up.
Quick Note: Notice that these search terms are very specific and closely related to your brand. The more specific, the more competitive your SEO will be. Big online stores like Reformation or Teen Vogue will win the SEO fight for more generalized terms such as “sustainable fashion” or “ethical clothing.” I always suggest making sure your startup has a specific purpose outside of sustainable fashion, as it will make marketing a whole lot easier.
Traffic from SEO is warm and totally free.
Think about it. Someone took the time to type into Google something that led them to your website. And that person is more likely to convert into a genuine customer than a random cold lead from Instagram ads that you had to pay for. If you are interested in this for your own brand, you can check out this quick and easy guide to fashion SEO here.
This is a screenshot from one of my email newsletters that I sent through Klaviyo (you can get more details about this platform in the resource section at the bottom of the page). Klaviyo is a super powerful tool that lets you know who is opening, clicking and loving your emails. It also lets you know what type of content isn't resinating with your customer by showing unsubscribes.
Now, here is the thing. Most people don’t buy from a company the first time they find out about them. It takes some time and something called “the know, like, and trust factor.” This means that before someone is willing to open their wallet, they need to know you, like you, and trust you. You need to build your relationship with these strangers (but hopefully soon-to-be friends) that just so happened to find you on Google. And the best (and free) way to do that is with email marketing.
Email, just like SEO, can cost you nothing. And, unlike with social media, no algorithm can stop you from communicating with your email list. Or tell you that you need to pay for “boosts” to talk to them through your newsletter. But how do you get their email addresses to start that communication? Simple. A lead magnet.
Most brands' lead magnet is a discount. For example,“Sign up to get 10% off your first order.” I bet you have exchanged your email in the past for a discount code – I don’t blame you; they can be tempting, and who doesn’t want some extra savings?
But if the customer is not ready to buy, they might not be so excited to get your discount. Because who needs money off something they didn't plan to buy in the first place? Instead of a discount, I recommend offering something that your potential target customer will find useful and that they can consume right now.Like,a digital product. Which are free to distribute, unlike physical products.
Are you catching the drift here? It’s something your customer can’t say no to. Especially when it’s free. For my brand Terracotta City, if you join the email list, I give away a bracelet that has a $45 value with your first order.
After the magnet does its work, and you get that person that randomly found you on your list, this is when the real work begins. The next step is to really get to know your customer, what makes them tick, and what they want. This is where you could possibly turn someone from an acquaintance to your bff.
After that, they get my weekly emails which are full of fun, educational, and sometimes random stuff. I try to never sell in my weekly emails. I want my emails to be something fun that my subscribers look forward to. Do you remember that website called StumbleUpon? Again, I might be dating myself here. But basically, you would click the StumbleUpon button, and a random website from the internet would show up. It was so cool, and it exposed you to so many interesting things. That is what I want my newsletter to feel like. Except, for all things fashion.
What you talk about in your newsletter and how your emails feel is all up to you. But remember: the goal is to develop a relationship with your readers and, hopefully, soon-to-be customers. No one wants to be sold to all the time. Make sure the stuff you are putting out is something your audience wants to read. It’s all about value and becoming friends.
From here, you can ask your subscribers to connect with you via social media.
This is my social media feed - @alookbehindtheseams. A lot of times new brands make the mistake of using their social media as a sales page. But, I like to think of social media as a way for me to connect and engage in an authentic way.
Social media changes the dynamic from a one-way correspondence with the brand by talking to the potential customer, to having a conversation. Social media is a place for a fan to like, comment, and, most importantly, be heard. So, it’s important to use it properly. Now, you can use FB, Insta, Tiktok, Twitter, or wherever else you think your target audience is hanging out. But the goal is always the same. To connect.
Ask your audience questions, chat with them in the DM’s, and really get to know them. Customers want to buy from people, not large corporations. And when you show up in an informal or casual way, they appreciate it.
I like to use social media to make my already-existing relationships stronger rather than find customers via social media. Forget the perfectly curated grid, the hashtags, and pleasing the algorithm. Your first step is just thinking about how you can connect in a deeper way to the people who already know about you and have shown interest in your brand.
Here is a peak at what the inside of of my Facebook Business Manager looks like, and one of the ads I am currently running. It can be super confusing. But, there are tons of free videos to help you learn your way around the platform
If your audience stays subscribed for a few weeks, that means they are probably starting to know, like, and trust you. And if that is happening, you can kind of fast forward that relationship with some social media paid advertising. Notice I didn’t say run clothing ads to cold traffic that has no idea who you are? You should be running clothing ads to people who have already visited your website or signed up for your email list to re-engage them and help move them towards a purchase faster.
Usually, new brands have really leaky funnels. They start with running all of this cold traffic to their website from paid ads, but the funnel doesn’t necessarily move the leads from cold to sold. Instead, it often loses them. And the money spent on ads is lost without a sale.
If you take one thing away from this post, please, please, I beg you, let it be this: you could spend tens of thousands of dollars on clothing ads and get traffic to your website and still not get any sales if you have a bad offer or a bad funnel. Don’t believe the hype.
One last tip - video ads tend to perform better. If your video skills aren’t stellar, don’t worry. Even very beginners can easily make an image slideshow in an app like Canva.
Retargeting is reaching out to people who are already in your world to help move the relationship along faster. You can think of a retargeting ad like how when you hear a certain song on the radio; it makes you think of a certain something or someone. It just kind of invades your brain. That’s what retargeting clothing advertising is all about - your customer is doing their thing by scrolling through social media. And then, boom, you pop into their world again.
“My friend’s cousin is Justin Beiber, and he will wear my clothes!” What about influencers? There are a few influencers that I work with that are absolutely amazing. But I do not, for the most part, invest too much time, money, or free product into working with them. I try to avoid the ego at all costs.
But if you do choose to work with influencers, here are two pieces of advice.
Don’t just look at their vanity numbers (following, likes, and comments). Ask them for case studies of brands they have worked with before. Ask to see the results of their sales.
If an influencer gets 1 million likes but can’t generate a sale (and surprisingly, that is the case with a lot of them), well, they’re pretty much a waste of money. I could write a whole post on fashion influencers and how to work with them, and what to look out for when working with them so as not to get burned. Maybe, I will (wink, wink – keep an eye out for that one).
Choose an influencer that is part of your target market. Kim K might get have millions, of followers, but I don’t think she really vibes with the sustainable, ethical, and conscious community. So, while she is great at selling contour kits and spanks, she might not be the best at getting sales for organic plant-dyed caftans.
Mindset shift to help you succeed.
Instead of thinking of influencers as a way to get more sales. Think of them as a cheap way of getting more user generated content.
User generated content - images and videos created by people who have used your product tend to help potential customers trust you more and lead to a boost in sales.
So, don’t just have influencers post your stuff; also re-post what they are creating as social proof that makes your customer feel more relaxed about buying from you.
Here are the key takeaways…
Remember, fashion ads will not be the secret to drive sales. But they can help you grow and scale quicker - only when you are ready and have the fundamentals in place.
So, what do you think? Let me know in the comments.
One of the reasons I love all of the tips I just gave you so much is because they are automated. Meaning once you set them up they require only a little bit of time each week for maintenance. Here I am enjoying a day in Venice, while my marketing strategy does it's thing without me having to sit at a computer all day.
Semrush - online marketing analytics for you and your competitors
moz - SEO software for better marketing
ahrefs - SEO tools and resources to grow your search traffic
MailerLite - perfect of beginners
Klaviyo - the most powerful email marketing platform money can buy (imo)
MailChimp - and OG in the email marketing world
Later - social media management made easy
Hootsuite - grow your reach and get more business with social media
Ad Espresso - Start driving results across Facebook, Instagram and now Google
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I have spent over a decade living and working in fashion factories, seeing firsthand how clothing is made.
And now, I want to share with you everything I know. To help you navigate supply chains, and launch your own conscious clothing brand.
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