How I built & launched an e-commerce clothing store. For free.

Well, it started with frustration. And no, I’m not talking about building the store. I’m talking about how frustrated I was with the shit quality of clothing out there. I’d buy some shirts for cheap and they’d be ruined after 5 washes. I also couldn’t find shirts that I liked looking at. I always ended up buying packs of blank shirts. It got boring. Not only for me, but probably also for the people looking at me.

I had always wanted my own clothing line but just had no idea what it would be or what the idea behind it would be. It was earlier this year when my clothing line idea was sparked. But that’s another story (and if you’re interested, you can read here or watch here).

Finding a supplier

O.K. so I wanted to build my own e-commerce clothing store. First thing I did was test out some shirts. I looked up a t-shirt guy in the area and hit him up. My number one priority at this point was to test the quality and sizing. Was the shirt going to fit how I wanted it to? Did it feel nice? Was the shirt going to shrink awkwardly? Was the shirt going to deteriorate after a couple washes? I checked out a bunch of cheaper shirts and tried them on. NOPE! The t-shirt guy then told me about another, more expensive brand but he didn’t have any in stock. In addition, one of my biggest mistakes — I ordered 4 test shirts with vinyl print. What. A. F***ing. Mistake. (Down below I share how to get sample shirts for CHEAP). The fit was terrible and the vinyl print melted in the dryer. Just look at that pic.

Kinda looks like my dog ate it

That cost me 200 f***ing dollars. You know what’s great about mistakes though? You learn from them (well, most of us do).

After this t-shirt guy lost all credibility, I found another local shop nearby. I went in and tried on as many shirts as I could. I also inquired about their more expensive shirts but quickly turned them down when they mentioned the cost per shirt ($20+). I bought a couple blank shirts (more expensive) and wore them, washed them, dried them, and ultimately, tested them. Dissatisfied. I put that process on hold to see if I could figure something out with a drop shipper online.

random sad guy who looks like he made a mistake— Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Development Background / Hosting

Before I continue, a quick background on my development experience. I took a full-time Front End Web Development bootcamp in Toronto (at HackerYou). I learned HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Wordpress and a ton more. But what I really learned was HTML, CSS & Wordpress and not so much of the JavaScript part (seemed to have a hard time making sense of it). After graduation, I never worked full-time as a Web Developer. However, I did do some freelance work with Wordpress. Since I am a developer, I already have a hosting account with InMotion (they’re awesome) and I can host as many sites as I like. **Disclaimer — I DID pay about $15 for my domain name with Hover (they’re awesome as well).

E-Commerce Platform

It was time to find an e-commerce platform. I know people think Shopify is everybody’s Lord and saviour but if you’re cheap (or smart with money like me ;)) then you’ll find a more cost effective way. And that’s what I did. I found out that if I built a Wordpress site, I could integrate WooCommerce and one of their themes to make it look and act like a store. I could then integrate with Paypal and/or Stripe using a simple plugin to handle payments. I opted for Stripe mainly because the customer doesn’t need an account to make a purchase (FYI — both of their transaction fees are 2.9% + $0.30).

While doing a considerable amount of research, I found out that Printful (which is a popular drop shipper) integrated with WooCommerce. Again, I just downloaded it as a plugin and then linked my Prinftul account to my WooCommerce store. I have nothing but great feedback for Printful,

  1. If you get stuck, they have numerous videos on YouTube that help you troubleshoot, sync products or integrate Printful with WooCommerce.
  2. They have on-demand customer service via instant messaging on their site.
  3. You can order samples from them for 20% off.
  4. They have more than just t-shirts. They also have mugs, socks, pillows, towels & more…


always watching. — Photo by Siarhei Horbach on Unsplash

I really didn’t want anyone to have to worry about the security of their personal information and therefore managed to obtain a free SSL certificate using the Cloudflare plugin. Basically what an SSL Certificate does is convert ‘http’ to ‘https’ and typically costs around $99/year.

My Takeaways (and hopefully yours)

1. Do not partner with a local shop (it’s expensive and you’ll most likely need to order in bulk)

2. DO partner with a drop shipper (it’s cheaper and they have the ability to print and ship one product at a time)

3. If you have a friend who’s a developer, see if they’ll host the site for you. Take them out for dinner or somethin!

4. Go to a t-shirt store (or whatever products you want to sell) and try them on. This is the cheapest way to test. And if you’re still unsure, get a sample order from Printful testing different brands.

I remember thinking a couple years back how cool it would be to have my own e-commerce clothing store…aaaannnnddd now I do. Overall, it was pretty simple and it cost me nothing but time. Now I just have to learn how to market it for free :)

Hope you enjoyed and hope it helps you build your own e-commerce store. Feel free to ask any questions!

me wearing one of my shirts. i’m happier than i look.