Selling on Etsy can be an amazing way for new entrepreneurs to get their brand and items found and seen by thousands of customers. The built in traffic, low barrier to entry, low start-up costs, and helpful community are all good reasons you should be using Etsy as an Entrepreneur.
I started selling vintage clothes on Etsy about 4 years ago. It’s been a solid source of income since day one. I have a lot of tips to share with you about effectively, profitably selling vintage clothing using the Etsy marketplace.
Because Etsy is a crowded marketplace with millions of shops, and a growing percentage of those shops selling vintage, it can be hard to figure out how stand out. I’ve successfully navigated the Etsy marketplace and carved out my own little corner, and I want to share with you how I did it.
Selling vintage clothes for a living sounds like a girls dream come true - shopping for work, playing dress up, and of course styling cool outfits. It is really creative and fun - but it is also a whole lot of hard work. If you think you want to start selling vintage clothing on Etsy keep reading for tips on how to get it right the first time.
1. Pick a niche and stick to it.
I don’t have to tell you how important it is to have a niche in ANY business - but it is especially important when selling vintage clothes online. Just selling “vintage” clothing is not enough - you need to narrow it down. There are a few ways to find your niche in vintage clothing.
You can do this by curating an instantly recognizable style. Maybe you love pastels and ruffles, or rock and roll inspired looks, or do retro pin-up rockabilly really well. Pick your style and curate pieces that people will come back for again and again. You could also choose an era and use that as your niche - maybe you are really knowledgeable about 1960s dress makers, or the brands and styles of the 1980s.
I like it when I can rely on a shop to offer something similar every time - so I know what to expect. Consistency is a major factor in building any successful online business. I’ve seen some really successful shops offer only items in one color - black - and rule the goth space.
If something speaks to you, embrace that and make it your shop’s signature style. Picking a niche makes you stand out and will help you know what to buy.
2. Use Models.
It’s really important to use live models when you’re selling vintage clothing online, because it’s hard enough for a buyer to decide to purchase something they can’t try on or see in real life first.
Models help to show the true fit of the clothes on a body. Shoppers can compare their own measurements to that of the model and assess the fit of the clothes that way.
Using models also makes your shop look more professional than having flat clothes laying on the floor, hung up on a white wall, or even on a mannequin. Models sell the clothes. The way they are styled, their make-up and hair, it has just as much of an effect on the buyer’s decision to purchase as does the actual item itself.
Make sure to use live models if at all possible.
3. Photos are EVERYTHING.
Your buyer’s can only make a decision based on how good your photos are, so they better be amazing!
Make sure to pay attention to the SILHOUETTE of the outfit or article of clothing you are photographing - and highlight a flattering silhouette in the photos you choose to use in the listing.
Include photographs of the vintage tag inside the garment - everyone loves to see those.
You also need to highlight the not-so-nice stuff. Make sure to include close-ups of any imperfections like scratches, small holes, a stain, etc. For my business, I just choose not to sell items unless they are in great condition so that the customer is never disappointed or confused. But if you are selling things “as is”, you need to include the good and the bad.
Invest in a white background/backdrop. It looks really unprofessional and distracting when shops have patterned sheets as backdrops behind the models - and don’t even get me started on wrinkled sheets. Garage doors, your backyard - they do not look good in a product listing! Unless you are doing an editorial photo shoot on location for a look book, you need to invest the $30 in a professional white paper roll backdrop for photo shoots. Your whole shop will look so much better!
4. Product Descriptions need to be detailed.
Don’t skimp on product descriptions, or you’ll pay for it later. If you don’t include the measurements for an item, you will get many messages from people asking you for them, which gets annoying and wastes your precious time. Be detailed in your descriptions and include ALL measurements and pertinent information.
Each product description should include:
- Measurements of the item
- Year it was made
- Country of origin
- Colors and patterns
- Any special features or unique details
- Condition (come up with a system like “Poor - Excellent” or “1 - 5” scale).
- Any sizing irregularities
- Note any imperfections
- Who it’s for or what occasion it’s suited to
- What else it might look good with (platforms and a leather jacket, mary-janes and a sweater, etc).
Writing descriptions is hard and takes a lot of time, but it will give your buyer more confidence in your shop and the item, and will increase your sales. The less friction there is between them and the sale the better - so don’t make them have to contact you about the measurements, the closure (is it button or zipper), or the year it was made. And if you decide you need a bit of help with your product descriptions, come over and say hi.
5. Price Your Items With Confidence
When I price my vintage items, I have to think about how much work goes into describing, photographing, editing, and listing (and finally shipping) each item.
When you sell vintage clothing online, you have no depth of inventory. Meaning, each item is unique and one of a kind, so you can only sell one item for all of the photographing and describing you do. In contrast to selling new items or multiple items, where you just photograph and list it once, but can sell the same item many times from that same listing.
It’s important to charge what your item is worth, and value your time as well. How long does it take you to photograph, describe, measure, and list each item? What is a reasonable hourly wage for you? how much do you have to charge per item to cover all of your costs plus your own wage, plus profits to put back in the business?
In my shop I realized that I had to charge $50 minimum for each item in order for it to be worth my time and effort. This also establishes my branding as a more middle to high end shop. I'm not the cheapest place, but I stock really high quality inventory.
Think about it this way: it takes the exact same amount of time to photograph, list, and ship an item of vintage clothing whether it costs $10 or $100. Would you rather sell 5 items at $100 each to reach your revenue goals, or list, pack, and ship 50 items that cost $10 each? For me it was a no brainer, I’d rather sell less quantity and more quality (your time is valuable!). You have to decide whether you are the shop that sells a high quantity of less expensive items, or the shop that sells more carefully priced items but to a smaller market.
I see far too many people price their handmade and vintage items way too low. It might make you a quick sale, but it also seems unsustainable in the long run. You don’t want to give your customers sticker shock by using the flawed logic of: "I’ll start with my low prices just to get the ball rolling, then I’ll raise them." Nope! You should just start off with the prices you want to sell your items for from the get go. You’ll attract your ideal customer and make what you’re worth in the process.
Embrace your style and craft a recognizable brand around that. Pick a niche for your vintage shop and be consistent!
Use models to show the silhouette, fit, and true size of your items. This is essential when your customer can’t try on the clothes before purchasing.
Your photos sell the clothes. Make sure they look professional and are taken against a white backdrop so the clothes really stand out.
Be extra detailed in your product descriptions, so that your customer feels confident in their purchase. Include measurements and imperfections too!
Don’t undervalue the amount of work that goes into buying, styling, and selling vintage clothing online. Price your clothes fairly so that this can become a sustainable, thriving business for you!