How to start a clothing import business

Written by michelle rasey
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How to start a clothing import business
(Kevin P)

Importing clothing or textiles into the United States can be a challenge if you've never done it before. The import process itself is relatively simple, but textiles are subject to some extra regulations, including quotas, that can be confusing to new importers. Depending on the harmonisation code, textile quotas can affect both the actual amount of textiles permitted into the United States and/or the duty rate. However, with a great freight forwarder at your side and the willingness to learn, you'll be surprised at how quickly you can become an import pro.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Freight forwarder with in-house customs broker
  • Supplier
  • Marketing analysis
  • Import paperwork
  • Harmonisation codes for goods to be imported

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    How to Start a Clothing Import Business

  1. 1

    Conduct a market analysis to determine the demand and price point for the imported clothing. The Small Business Administration offers excellent marketing support to fledgling companies (see Resources).

  2. 2

    Select suppliers and review their products and pricing.

  3. 3

    Request a proforma invoice from suppliers, which should list the textiles ordered, their price, piece count, weight and harmonisation code. The harmonisation code is pivotal, as an import will not move forward without it.

  4. 4

    Partner with a freight forwarder who has an in-house customs broker. There are several good companies to choose from: Expeditors, Schenker, Kintetsu, BDP, Panalpina and CH Robinson. These companies usually have offices in every major U.S. city.

  5. 5

    Give the freight forwarder a copy of the proforma invoice and request a freight quote, tariff rates and quota information.

  6. 6

    Review all product, transportation and import costs and determine the markup of the imported clothing as well as whether or not the retail price is competitive.

  7. 7

    Confirm the order with the supplier and make payment arrangements as necessary to trigger the shipment of goods.

  8. 8

    Understand the incoterms of the import shipment. Incoterms are international legal terms for shipping that delineate who is liable for loss and transport charges at various points in the supply chain. Proper understanding of incoterms prevents arguments and miscommunications during the shipment phase.

  9. 9

    Follow up with the supplier to track the progress of the order. Be sure they supply copies of all their export paperwork, as it will be needed for the import.

  10. 10

    Give all paperwork to the freight forwarder and follow up with them to track the progress of the import.

  11. 11

    Receive freight and inspect it for quality and adherence to the purchase order. Notify the supplier and freight forwarder of any damaged or missing items immediately. Liability of either party will depend on the incoterms of the goods.

Tips and warnings

  • The two primary textile exporters to the United States are India and China, so those may be good places to start a supplier search.
  • Textile quotas depend on the harmonisation code, country of origin and trade agreements. Due to these variable factors, the best source for guidance will be your freight forwarder who will be aware of current import conditions for textiles.
  • Freight forwarders can also help select a harmonisation code if the supplier is unable to provide one.
  • For additional assistance, contact your local World Trade Center (see Resources).
  • If you plan to re-export any clothing items, research textile import requirements of the destination countries. Mexico, for example, has punitive import tariffs for textiles manufactured in China to the point where it can easily cost several hundred dollars in duties to import a £3 T-shirt.

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