T-shirts, everybody wears them. If you’re selling them, they can be very profitable. And they are a great vehicle for your creativity. That’s why many entrepreneurs have looked to start a t-shirt business.
Ready to get started? Let’s dive in.
Start a T-shirt Business in 8 Steps
1. Make a plan
2. Find your market fit
3. Determine your design plan
4. Create a printing process
5. Evaluate costs and pricing
6. Choose a selling platform
7. Market your business
8. Celebrate your success!
If you’re ready to jump head-first into the T-shirt biz (or arms first, depending on your technique of putting on a t-shirt) this guide is essential reading. We’ll cover everything you need to know about how to get started, and more importantly, be successful selling t-shirts online.
1. Make a Plan
You’ve already got a plan. You don’t need this advice, we get that. But before you skip straight to selling, it’s worth five minutes to step through the points in this article because (believe me) we see a lot of people starting t-shirt businesses who don’t do the basics and then wonder why it isn’t working for them.
So break out the notebook, Evernote, bar napkin, and answer these questions while you begin your plan to become the Emperor of T-ville.
2. Find Your Market Fit
That’s the phrase the pros use: product market fit.
T-shirts are a big and competitive market. So competition can be fierce. People give them away (you should see my nerdy software T-shirt collection). It’s so easy to go to the store and buy a 5-pack of plain white tees (the shirts, not the band) for under $20.
Then there are lots of other clever, witty, original, brilliant, successful people selling funny, insightful and enlightening t-shirts too. So it’s super-important to understand how your t-shirts are differentiated.
What is the ‘tone of voice’ of your t-shirts? Are they in-your-face, laugh-out-loud? Subtle and inspirational? Cause based? Location-based? About industry? Or sports? You need to clearly define your niche.
Understand that people wear t-shirts that they want to represent them. T-shirts are statements, sometimes loud and sometimes purposefully subtle. What are your t-shirts saying about the wearer and how their audience (ie. the will the person relate to them?)
That’s the product part.
Then you need to figure out who wants that product and how you’re going to reach them.
That’s the market fit.
Getting the product market fit means success. So whether you’re making parody t-shirts, band t-shirts, or original designs, recognize who your target audience is going to be, and make sure that your designs are going to resonate with them specifically.
Want to learn more about starting an online clothing store? Check out this video:
3. Determine Your Design Plan
Are you a talented t-shirt designer or do you just have a really good idea for a shirt?
If you’re a designer, fantastic. You’ve got a one-man show and you can develop your own designs onto shirts. Of course, make sure that your designs will translate to this other medium. You may be great at photoshop, but cotton is a completely different material. Intricate details may get lost. Too small a font won’t be seen.
When you’re done with your design, take three big steps back from your computer screen. Does the design still look cool from 10 feet away or does it lose impact?
So what if you’re not a designer? It’s time to hire one. This is going to take a little research on your part. It’s not hard to find a designer, but it may be hard to find one you like.
We recommend looking through designs on dribbble.com or behance.com and messaging the designer to see if they’re available to take on your project. You can also hire someone directly through upwork.com, fiverr.com or freelancer.com.
Once you’ve created your design, you can test it out to make sure it really will look good on a t-shirt. You can use shirtmockup.com to upload your image and choose a T-shirt color. How’s it look? Would you wear it? If you’re happy with the design, move onto the next step.
4. Create a Printing Process
Once you have your beautiful, original t-shirt design, it’s time to print it. This is the second hardest decision you’re going to have to make. Here are some more questions to consider:
- Are you going to make the t-shirts yourself?
- Are you going to have them sent out for print?
- Do you have a company you want to use?
- What type of quality t-shirt are you looking for?
- What’s my price point?
If you’re making the t-shirts yourself, more power to ya. That’s awesome. Just make sure you have the right supplies, right t-shirts, and a variety of sizes available.
If you need to send out your design to a printer, that’s where the decision making comes. There are hundreds of suppliers to choose from, so you’ll need to choose based on quality, cost and printing time.
You can choose to shop local and choose a printing shop in your neighborhood. This can be beneficial because you can talk to someone in person, get advice on your design, and even get a prototype before you mass print. This is a great option but tends to be a little more expensive in the long run.
You can also choose a variety of online printers. You can easily google and price out some of your own options, but we really like Printful. Some printers let you choose the brand of t-shirt, too so you can be sure about the quality you’re getting. (Next Level is my new fav, with American Apparel always holding a special place in my closet.)
5. Evaluate Costs and Pricing
The previous question rolls right into this next big question. You need to figure out your costs when you’re pricing out these tees, and figure out what your profit margin is going to be. While we would all love to buy high-quality, 20 color prints on the softest cotton available, chances are it’s going to cost upwards of $20, and chances are your customers won’t pay your margin cost on top of that.
Figure out how much profit you want to make off each tee, figure out how much it’s going to cost you, then you have your price.
Remember, when you’re pricing out your t-shirts, you need to stay competitive. Unless you’re Yeezy himself, your shirts aren’t going to sell for hundreds of dollars, let alone 20s. See what your niche market is selling shirts for. Most cost no more than $20, plus shipping and handling, so we recommend staying within that range.
Also, keep in mind that buying in bulk can be a cheaper alternative, but make sure your shirts sell first. You don’t want to be stuck with 500 poorly designed t-shirts in your garage. Do a test run, sell a few, and if you have more demand, print more. It’s simple high school economics.
6. Choose a Selling Platform
So you’ve got your shirts back from the printer, and man are they cool! Resist the urge to give them away for free to all of your friends, family members, and dog. (Ok, the dog can have ONE.) You’re a business now, so sell those babies.
But how are you going to sell? Are you going to start the first door to door t-shirt biz? I mean, go ahead and try, but we’re pretty sure you need to sell online, too.
Fact: 38% of people will stop engaging with a website if the content or layout is unattractive. (Source)
Explore your options here and choose the best store for you. Make sure your store is easy to set up, and cheap to run (you won’t want to dig even further into your profit margin). You’ll also want to make sure the store offers variants to make your life easier.
You’re going to be selling different sizes, and possibly different colors, so you need a store that can support those choices. Once you’ve chosen the right store for your business, list your tees and get to marketing.
7. Market Your Business
Your shirts are ready, your store is done. It’s time to sell. How are you going to market these shirts? I mean, they’re clearly awesome, so whoever sees them will buy them, but how are people going to see them?
The friend route is the best way to go, at least to start. Share your store on Facebook, Instagram, your blog, email and anywhere your friends will see it and share. Make sure to follow our posting suggestions so you’re not a pest, though. You can also share your designs on community sites like reddit.com, imgur.com, tumblr.com, etc. Do whatever it takes to get the word out.
You can also work with us to whip up some Facebook and Instagram ads if you want to target people outside of your circle. These may be a little pricey, but with a little finessing, you’ll still be able to sell some shirts without digging too much further into your profit margin.
8. Celebrate Your Success!
Is this the most important question of all? Maybe. Now that you’ve made your shirts, put up a store, and marketed yourself, we bet you’re going to make a sale real soon. Now it’s time to celebrate the success.
So what’s it going to be? High-fives? Champagne? A trip to France? (Okay, we may be getting a bit ahead of ourselves with the France thing.) Celebrate that 1st dollar made, and get back to work. The people love you!
Create more designs! Make more t-shirts! You officially have a t-shirt business.