How to Start a Vintage Clothing Business in 14 Steps (In-Depth Guide)

Updated: April 11, 2024 is reader-supported. When you buy through links on my site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

The vintage apparel and second hand clothing industry reached an evaluation of $152.5 billion in 2023. The market continues to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.20% from 2023 to 2030.


Starting a vintage clothing business is an exciting opportunity to turn your passion for fashion and history into a thriving venture. By carefully sourcing and selecting high-quality vintage pieces, you’ll be able to offer a diverse range of styles and sizes that cater to various tastes and preferences.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through how to start a vintage clothing business. From researching your target market and sourcing inventory to marketing your brand and building a loyal customer base, and beyond. Here’s everything to know about getting started in vintage clothes and vintage shops.

1. Conduct Vintage Clothing Market Research

Conducting thorough market research is crucial when starting a vintage clothing business. Market research provides valuable insight into your target market, trends in vintage shop products, and how to sell vintage clothing online.


Some details you’ll learn through market research for selling vintage clothing online include:

  • The online secondhand clothing market is growing 11 times faster than traditional retail, suggesting that online sales channels should be a key focus for vintage clothing businesses.
  • Vintage clothing appeals to a wide range of consumers, from fashion-conscious millennials and Gen Z to sustainability-minded individuals.
  • To succeed in the vintage clothing market, it’s crucial to differentiate your business from competitors.
  • By specializing in a particular area, you can establish yourself as an expert and attract a loyal customer base.
  • Some notable players in the vintage clothing market include Beyond Retro, Vintage Rare USA, and What Goes Around Comes Around, each with their distinct offerings and target audiences.

The vintage clothing market presents a promising opportunity for entrepreneurs, with strong growth projections and increasing consumer demand for sustainable and unique fashion options. By conducting thorough market research, you can position yourself for success in this thriving industry.

2. Analyze the Competition

Analyzing your competition is a critical step when starting a vintage clothing business. By understanding your competitors’ strengths, weaknesses, and market positioning, you can identify opportunities to differentiate your business and attract your target audience.

To analyze your brick-and-mortar competitors, start by visiting their vintage clothing boutiques and observing their product offerings, pricing, store layout, and customer service. Take note of the brands and styles they carry, as well as any unique selling points or special services they offer.

Visit your competitors’ websites and social media profiles to assess their product offerings, pricing, shipping policies, and customer engagement. Tools like SimilarWeb and Alexa can provide insights into your competitors’ website traffic, audience demographics, and marketing strategies.

To gain a deeper understanding of your competitors’ online performance, use tools like SEMrush or Ahrefs to analyze their search engine rankings, backlink profiles, and targeted keywords. Monitor your competitors’ customer reviews on platforms like Yelp, Google My Business, and Facebook to gauge customer satisfaction.

Consider conducting a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) for each of your main competitors. This will help you identify areas where you can differentiate your business and capitalize on your competitors’ weaknesses.

By thoroughly analyzing your competition, you can develop a strong business strategy that sets you apart in the vintage clothing market and attracts your target customers.

3. Costs to Start a Vintage Clothing Business

When starting a vintage clothing business, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of the start-up and ongoing costs involved. This will help you plan your finances effectively and ensure the long-term success of your venture. Let’s begin by exploring the start-up costs associated with launching a vintage clothing business.

Start-up Costs

  • Business Registration and Licenses: Depending on your location and business structure, you may need to register your business and obtain the necessary licenses and permits. These costs can range from $100 to $1,000.
  • Inventory: One of the most significant start-up costs for a vintage clothing business is the initial inventory. On average, expect to spend between $5,000 and $20,000 on your initial inventory (shirts, pants, leggings, etc.).
  • Equipment: You’ll need to invest in equipment such as clothing racks, hangers, steamer, tagging gun, and a cash register or point-of-sale (POS) system. Budget around $1,000 to $3,000 for these items.
  • Website and E-commerce Platform: Costs for website development and e-commerce integration can range from $1,500 to $10,000, depending on the complexity of your site and the features you require.
  • Marketing and Branding: Investing in marketing and branding is crucial for attracting customers and establishing your business. Allocate between $500 and $5,000 for logo design, business cards, flyers, and initial online marketing campaigns.
  • Rent and Security Deposit: If you plan to open a brick-and-mortar store, you’ll need to factor in rent and a security deposit. Depending on your location and the size of your store, monthly rent can range from $1,000 to $5,000, with a security deposit typically equal to one to three months’ rent.
  • Utilities and Insurance: Budget around $500 to $1,000 per month for utilities such as electricity, water, and internet. Additionally, consider obtaining business insurance, which can cost between $500 and $2,000 annually, depending on your coverage needs.

Ongoing Costs

  • Inventory Replenishment: Expect to spend between $1,000 and $5,000 per month on new inventory, depending on your sales volume and the quality of the pieces you source.
  • Rent and Utilities: If you have a physical store, you’ll need to pay monthly rent and utilities, which can range from $1,500 to $6,000, depending on your location and usage.
  • Employee Salaries: If you plan to hire employees, factor in their salaries and benefits. A full-time sales associate may earn between $25,000 and $35,000 per year, while a part-time employee may earn between $12 and $20 per hour.
  • Marketing and Advertising: Budget between $500 and $2,000 per month for social media marketing, email campaigns, and other promotional activities.
  • Website Maintenance and E-commerce Fees: Expect to pay between $100 and $500 per month for website hosting, domain renewal, and e-commerce platform fees.
  • Shipping and Packaging: These expenses can vary based on the volume of orders and the shipping methods you choose, but budget around $500 to $1,500 per month.
  • Miscellaneous Expenses: Don’t forget to allocate funds for miscellaneous expenses such as office supplies, cleaning supplies, and equipment maintenance. Set aside $200 to $500 per month for these costs.

The start-up costs for a vintage clothing business can range from $10,000 to $50,000, while ongoing monthly expenses can fall between $5,000 and $20,000.

4. Form a Legal Business Entity

When starting a vintage clothing business, choosing the right legal entity is crucial for protecting your assets, minimizing liability, and facilitating future growth. Let’s explore each option and discuss the advantages and disadvantages specifically for a vintage clothing business.

Sole Proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is the simplest and most common business structure. As a vintage clothing business owner, you would be personally responsible for all aspects of the business, including debts and legal obligations. The main advantage of a sole proprietorship is that it’s easy and inexpensive to set up.


A partnership involves two or more individuals who share ownership of the vintage clothing business. Partnerships can be either general partnerships, where all partners share equal responsibility and liability, or limited partnerships, where some partners have limited liability and involvement in the business.

Limited Liability Corporation (LLC)

An LLC is a popular choice for small businesses, including vintage clothing businesses, as it offers personal asset protection and flexibility in management and taxation. As an LLC owner, you are not personally liable for the debts and legal obligations of the business, providing a layer of protection for your assets.


A corporation is a separate legal entity from its owners, providing the highest level of personal asset protection. Corporations can be either C-corporations or S-corporations, each with different tax implications.

5. Register Your Business For Taxes

When starting a vintage clothing business, one of the essential steps is registering your business for taxes. This process involves obtaining an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

An EIN is a unique nine-digit number assigned to your business, which serves as a federal tax ID and is required for various business purposes, such as opening a bank account, hiring employees, and filing tax returns.

Applying for an EIN is a straightforward process that can be completed online through the IRS website. The application is free, and you can obtain your EIN immediately upon completion. To apply:

  1. Visit the IRS EIN application page and click on the “Apply Online Now” button.
  2. Select the type of EIN you are applying for (e.g., sole proprietorship, LLC, corporation).
  3. Click “Continue.”
  4. Provide your business information, including the legal name, address, and responsible party (owner or principal officer).
  5. Answer questions about your vintage clothing business, such as the number of employees and the reason for applying for an EIN.
  6. Review your application for accuracy and submit it.

In addition to obtaining an EIN, it’s crucial to register your vintage clothing business with your state’s tax department for sales tax purposes. As a retailer, you’ll be required to collect and remit sales tax on the items you sell. Each state has its own sales tax registration process and requirements.

6. Setup Your Accounting

Setting up proper accounting practices is crucial for the success and longevity of your vintage clothing business. Accurate financial records not only help you make informed business decisions but also ensure compliance with tax laws and regulations.

Accounting Software

Investing in accounting software can streamline your financial management process and save you time and effort. QuickBooks is a popular choice among small business owners, offering features such as invoice creation, expense tracking, and financial reporting.

Hire an Accountant

Working with a professional accountant can provide additional expertise and support. An accountant can offer services such as bookkeeping, financial statement preparation, and tax planning, tailored to your vintage clothing business’s specific needs. They can also help you with year-end tax preparation.

Open a Business Bank Account

Separating your personal and business finances is another critical aspect of managing your vintage clothing business’s accounting. By opening a separate bank account for your business, you can easily track your income and expenses, simplify your bookkeeping, and avoid complications with the IRS.

Apply for a Business Credit Card

Consider applying for a business credit card. A business credit card can help you establish a credit history for your vintage clothing business, which can be useful when seeking loans or lines of credit in the future. Credit limits on business cards are often higher than personal cards, as they are based on your business’s revenue.

7. Obtain Licenses and Permits

Before officially opening your vintage clothing business, it’s crucial to obtain the necessary licenses. Find federal license information through the U.S. Small Business Administration. The SBA also offers a local search tool for state and city requirements.

The specific licenses and permits required for your vintage clothing business may vary depending on your location and the nature of your operations. However, some common licenses and permits include:

  • Business License: A general business license is required in most cities and counties. To obtain a business license, you’ll typically need to provide your business name, address, and contact information, and pay a fee.
  • Seller’s Permit: If you plan to sell tangible goods, such as vintage clothing, you’ll need to obtain a seller’s permit from your state’s tax agency. This permit allows you to collect sales tax from customers and remit it to the state.
  • Resale Certificate: A resale certificate, also known as a reseller’s permit or wholesale license, allows you to purchase inventory for your vintage clothing business without paying sales tax. This is because you’ll be collecting sales tax from your customers when you resell the items.
  • Occupational License: Depending on your state or local government, you may need to obtain an occupational license specific to the retail or clothing industry. This license ensures that you meet certain standards and requirements for operating your vintage clothing business.
  • Sign Permit: If you plan to display a sign for your vintage clothing business, you may need to obtain a sign permit from your local government. This permit ensures that your sign complies with local zoning and safety regulations.
  • Health Permit: If you plan to sell vintage clothing items that are considered “intimate apparel,” such as swimsuits or undergarments, you may need to obtain a health permit from your local health department. This permit ensures that you follow proper cleaning and sanitation procedures to protect public health.

By obtaining the necessary licenses and permits for your vintage clothing business, you’ll demonstrate your commitment to operating legally and ethically. This not only helps you avoid potential legal issues but also builds trust with your customers and the community.

8. Get Business Insurance

Business insurance is a critical component of protecting your vintage clothing business from potential risks and liabilities. While it may seem like an additional expense, investing in the right insurance coverage can provide peace of mind and financial security in the event of unexpected incidents or legal claims.


Consider these three scenarios where not having business insurance could have severe consequences for your vintage clothing business:

  • Personal Injury Lawsuit: A customer visits your vintage clothing store and trips over a loose floorboard, sustaining serious injuries. Without liability insurance, you could be personally responsible for paying the customer’s medical expenses and any legal fees.
  • Inventory Loss: A fire breaks out in your vintage clothing store, destroying a significant portion of your inventory. Without property insurance, you would have to cover the cost of replacing your damaged inventory out of pocket.
  • Cybersecurity Breach: Your vintage clothing business’s website is hacked, exposing sensitive customer information such as credit card numbers and addresses. Without cyber liability insurance, you could be held liable for the costs associated with notifying affected customers, providing credit monitoring services, and defending against potential legal claims.

To protect your vintage clothing business from these and other risks, it’s essential to obtain appropriate business insurance coverage. The process of getting business insurance typically involves the following steps:

  1. Assess your risks: Identify the specific risks your vintage clothing business faces, such as property damage, liability claims, and cybersecurity threats.
  2. Determine your coverage needs: Based on your risk assessment, determine the types and amounts of insurance coverage you need. Common types of business insurance include general liability, property, workers’ compensation, and cyber liability insurance.
  3. Shop for insurance: Research and compare insurance providers that offer your needed coverage. You can start by checking with industry associations.
  4. Gather necessary information: When applying for insurance, you’ll need to provide information about your vintage clothing business, including your business structure, revenue, number of employees, and inventory value.
  5. Get quotes and compare policies: Request quotes from multiple insurance providers and compare the coverage, deductibles, and premiums of each policy. Make sure to read the fine print and understand any exclusions or limitations.
  6. Purchase your policy: Once you’ve selected the insurance policy that best meets your vintage clothing business’s needs, complete the application process and pay your premium.
  7. Keep a copy of your policy documents in a safe place and review your coverage annually to ensure it still meets your business’s needs.

By following these steps and securing appropriate business insurance coverage, you can protect your vintage clothing business from potential risks and liabilities, ensuring its long-term success and viability.

9. Create an Office Space

Having a dedicated office space for your vintage clothing business can provide numerous benefits, such as increased productivity, professional image, and separation between work and personal life. An office space can be particularly useful when you need to store and organize your inventory, and process orders.

Home Office

For many vintage clothing businesses, especially those just starting, a home office can be a cost-effective and convenient option. If you have a spare room or dedicated space in your home, you can set up a functional office area for your business. This option is particularly suitable if you primarily sell online.

Coworking Office

If you prefer a more professional atmosphere or need a space to meet with clients, a coworking office can be a great choice. Coworking spaces like WeWork offer flexible lease terms, modern amenities, and opportunities to network with other professionals.

Retail Office

If your vintage clothing business includes a brick-and-mortar store, a retail office can be an essential component of your operations. A retail office can serve as a space to process orders, manage inventory, and handle administrative tasks, while also providing a separate area for employees to take breaks.

10. Source Your Equipment

Sourcing the right materials and equipment is essential for new thrift stores. The key equipment and materials you’ll need include clothing racks, hangers, mannequins, a steamer, a tagging gun, and a reliable computer.

Buying New

Purchasing new equipment and materials can be a good choice if you want items that are in pristine condition and come with a warranty. Retailers like Amazon, Uline, and Ikea offer a wide selection of clothing racks, hangers, and storage solutions at various price points.

Buying Used

Purchasing used equipment and materials can be a cost-effective option, especially when you’re just starting. Online marketplaces like Facebook Marketplace, eBay, Craigslist, and Letgo are excellent resources. Don’t forget to seek out other thrift shops and estate sales as a means of obtaining vintage items.


If you need equipment for a short-term project or event, renting can be a practical and cost-effective solution. Companies like Aarons offer clothing rack and mannequin rentals for short-term use. This option is particularly useful if you’re participating in a pop-up shop or trade show.


For larger equipment purchases, such as high-end steamers or industrial sewing machines, leasing can be a smart choice. Leasing allows you to spread the cost of the equipment over a longer period, making it more manageable for your business’s cash flow.

11. Establish Your Brand Assets

Establishing a strong brand is crucial if you plan on selling vintage clothes online or in-store. A well-defined brand helps create a unique identity, builds trust with customers, and makes your business more memorable.

Getting a Business Phone Number

Having a dedicated business phone number is essential for projecting a professional image and ensuring that customers can easily reach you. A service like Ring Central offers virtual phone numbers that can be used on multiple devices, making it easy to manage your business calls from anywhere.

Creating a Logo and Brand Assets

A logo is the visual cornerstone of your brand, and it should be designed to reflect your vintage clothing business’s unique style and personality. A tool like Looka can help you create a professional logo that aligns with your brand’s values and aesthetic.

Creating Business Cards and Signage

Business cards are a tangible way to share your contact information and make a lasting impression on potential customers and partners. Vistaprint offers a wide range of customizable business card templates that can be tailored to your vintage clothing brand’s style.

Purchasing a Domain Name

Consider purchasing variations of your domain name or common misspellings to prevent competitors from using them. Namecheap is a reliable and affordable option for registering your domain name.

Building a Website

Creating a Website Yourself: Building your website using a platform like Wix can be a cost-effective option for vintage clothing businesses just starting. If you prefer a more custom website or lack the time to build one yourself, hiring a professional through a platform like Fiverr can be a great solution.

12. Join Associations and Groups

Joining associations and groups can be a game-changer for anyone starting a vintage clothing business. These communities provide invaluable opportunities to network with others in the industry, learn trade secrets, and stay up-to-date on the latest trends and best practices.

Local Associations

Local associations are an excellent resource for vintage clothing business owners looking to expand their network and knowledge. These organizations provide valuable learning opportunities. The Vintage Fashion Guild, for example, connects members and provides educational writeups for fashion newcomers.

Local Meetups

Attending local meetups and trade shows regularly is crucial for staying connected with others in the vintage clothing industry. Meetup is an excellent resource for finding local events related to vintage clothing and fashion. Simply search for relevant keywords, such as “vintage clothing”.

Facebook Groups

Facebook groups are another valuable resource for vintage clothing business owners looking to expand their network and knowledge. These online communities bring together vintage clothing enthusiasts from around the world. Check out groups like Vintage Clothing Collectors And Sellers to start.

13. How to Market a Vintage Clothing Business

Marketing is essential for the success of any vintage clothing business, as it helps attract customers, build brand awareness, and ultimately drive sales. Without a solid marketing strategy, even the most well-curated vintage clothing collection may struggle to gain traction in a competitive market.

Personal Networking

When starting your vintage clothing business, your network can be one of your most valuable assets. Reach out to friends, family, and acquaintances who may be interested in your offerings or know others who would be. Word-of-mouth referrals from satisfied customers are also crucial for building trust and attracting new business.

Digital Marketing

  • Leverage social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest to showcase your vintage clothing collection and engage with potential customers. Use high-quality photos, relevant hashtags, and compelling captions to attract followers and build a strong online presence.
  • Collaborate with influencers in the fashion and vintage niches to reach a wider audience. Identify influencers whose style aligns with your brand and propose a collaboration, such as a sponsored post, giveaway, or styled shoot featuring your vintage clothing pieces.
  • Implement email marketing to keep customers informed about new arrivals, promotions, and special events. Build an email list by offering an incentive for signing up, such as a discount code or exclusive access to new inventory.
  • Create a blog on your website to share styling tips, the history behind your vintage pieces, and other engaging content that showcases your expertise and passion for vintage fashion. This can help drive traffic to your website and establish your brand as a go-to resource for vintage clothing enthusiasts.
  • Utilize Google Shopping ads to promote your vintage clothing products directly on Google search results pages. This can help drive qualified traffic to your website and increase your visibility among potential customers actively searching for vintage clothing items.

Traditional Marketing

  • Participate in local vintage clothing markets, fairs, and pop-up events to showcase your collection and connect with potential customers in person. While these events may require an upfront investment, they can be an effective way to build brand awareness and generate sales.
  • Partner with local businesses that share a similar target audience, such as coffee shops, art galleries, or boutiques, to cross-promote your vintage clothing business. You could offer to display some of your pieces in their store in exchange for promoting their business to your customers.
  • Consider printing and distributing flyers or postcards in areas where your target audience is likely to frequent, such as vintage-themed events, art districts, or college campuses. While this approach may have a lower ROI compared to digital marketing tactics, it can still be effective for building local brand awareness.
  • Depending on your budget and target audience, radio advertising could be a viable option for promoting your vintage clothing business. Look for local stations that align with your brand’s aesthetic and target demographic.
  • While billboards can be expensive, they may be worth considering if your vintage clothing business has a physical location in a high-traffic area. A well-designed billboard can help build brand recognition and attract customers to your store.

By combining digital and traditional marketing tactics, you can create a well-rounded strategy that helps your vintage clothing business reach its target audience and drive growth. Remember to track your results.

14. Focus on the Customer

In the vintage clothing business, exceptional customer service is paramount to success. As a business that relies heavily on customer loyalty and word-of-mouth referrals, providing a positive and memorable experience for each customer can significantly impact your business’s growth.


One way to provide excellent customer service is by offering personalized styling advice. When a customer visits your store, take the time to understand their unique style preferences and help them find pieces that suit their taste and body type.

Another aspect of excellent customer service is being responsive and attentive to customer inquiries and concerns. Whether a customer reaches out via email, social media, or phone, make sure to address their questions or issues promptly and professionally.

Furthermore, going above and beyond to resolve any issues or complaints can turn a potentially negative experience into a positive one. If a customer receives a vintage item that doesn’t meet their expectations, offer a hassle-free return or exchange process and consider including a small gift or discount on their next purchase.

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