How to Start Your Own T-Shirt Business

Updated: 2022-02-08 / Article by: Jason Chow

T-shirts are the epitome of casual comfort, worn by everyone from Taylor Swift to the neighbor’s dog. The business is a gravy train, and thanks to new technologies and methods, you too can start your own t-shirt business with minimal funding. 

Even if money isn’t your sole objective, t-shirts are the ideal canvas for expression.  Be bold, be serious, get wacky – the choice is yours. 

Running your t-shirt business is also something flexible. You can take it on as a sideline hustle, a traditional business, or even full-time working on a Florida beach. If the thought appeals to you, here’s our expert guide to starting your own t-shirt business.

Here are the steps:

Step 1. Getting Started (a.k.a. Selecting a Niche)

Many things start with a concept, and the same goes for your t-shirt business. While the medium is an attractive proposition due to timelessness and being a blank canvas, you should ideally choose a niche or two upon which to focus. 

Choosing a niche in t-shirts doesn’t have to be along the lines of a particular style or design. It’s better to look towards categories. For example;

  • Holidays
  • Events and Conferences
  • Sports and Hobbies
  • Colleges and Universities
  • Music and Bands

While you may have great ideas and million design concepts in your mind, focusing on specific areas will help you down the line. Remember that you’ll need to market your products, and a more streamlined approach will make this easier.

Step 2. Design & Validate

The Rolling Stones Lip logo turned into the most iconic t-shirt design of the century.
The Rolling Stones Lip logo turned into the most iconic t-shirt design of the century (Source: TFL)

Once you know the niche to embark on, it’s time to roll back your sleeves and hit the drawing board. Putting pen to paper (or mouse to monitor) is when the magic happens. If you aren’t able to reproduce the great ideas in your mind, all else is moot.

Draft several concept designs to see how things turn out. Once you’re happy they provide a good representation of what’s in your mind, it’s time to see if everyone else agrees.

Drop a few of the designs on popular forums and ask for feedback. Ideally, choose a couple to hit and don’t rely on just a single channel. You should select forums that fit your target market – for example, a uni forum if you’re looking to sell to this category.

Remember to watermark your designs to avoid getting them stolen. 

Doing this will help you gauge public response to your designs and provide valuable data. You can then gather all the feedback and improve the final products or lean towards certain design areas.

Tip: If you’re interested in starting a t-shirt business but aren’t a designer, all is not lost. Hiring a freelancer to produce designs for your t-shirts is possible thanks to platforms like Fiverr and Upwork. After all, you only need a few designs to get started.

Step 3. Source Your Products

Suppliers like Printify help you run a t-shirt business without the need to hold inventory.
Suppliers like Printify help you run a t-shirt business without the need to hold inventory.

Sourcing your products is the “link” between design and production. This step is the most evident difference between traditional t-shirt businesses and what’s happening today. 

Traditionally, you would have to send your designs to a printer. The printer would then run a batch of products that you’ll need to pay for in advance. In addition, you’d need to arrange for storage, shipping, and everything else in between.

Things today are a whole lot simpler and cheaper, thanks to dropshipping. In this model, you’ll find a supplier that’s willing to generate products on demand. Whenever you make a sale, the supplier produces the item with your design then ships it directly to the customer.

You’ll find many options available for t-shirt print-on-demand like Printful, Printify, and Teelaunch

Step 4. Set Up Your Online Shop

With design and supply in hand, it’s time for the main event. You’ll need a platform on which to hawk your t-shirts. Various options are available for this, each with distinct pros and cons. Which you choose will depend on elements like your skillset and what you foresee as the future of your t-shirt business.

Option 1 – eCommerce Store Builders

eCommerce store builders like Shopify offer extensive ecosystems designed to let you focus on your core business.
eCommerce store builders like Shopify offer extensive ecosystems designed to let you focus on your core business.

eCommerce store builders are online services that help you quickly construct a website to sell products. They often include a tool that lets you build the store even if you don’t know any coding. It’s a visual experience, much like fitting blocks of Lego in place.

In addition, many of the more established brands like Shopify offer store owners a comprehensive ecosystem of services. For example, the integration of payment processors, marketing tools, and even support for analytics and reporting.

eCommerce store builders are easy to use and allow you to focus on the t-shirt business instead of struggling with technical issues like website design and web hosting management. They charge a flat monthly rate for the use of these services.

Option 2 – Online Marketplaces

Amazon is one of the Word's top online marketplaces for your t-shirt business.
Amazon is one of the Word's top online marketplaces for your t-shirt business.

Given the popularity of online shopping today, I’m sure most would be familiar with online marketplaces. Amazon, Shopee, eBay, and more are seeing a booming business as more businesses shift towards the digital space.

Online marketplaces are an easy way to get started for those who don’t even want to think about building a website. The platform and customer base are in place – all you need to do is fill out a product catalog and start selling.

The problem with online marketplaces is that most will take a hefty cut from your sales. For every item you sell, the marketplace imposes a sales commission, quickly driving up your cost of business.

Amazon, for example, imposes seller fees, referral fees, and fulfillment fees, along with other costs. Once added up, you may have to price items astronomically just to keep your head above water. It isn’t an ideal solution.

Option 3 – Self-hosted Online Stores

The third option for selling products is one of the most cost-effective longer-term solutions. You can simply grab a web hosting plan and deploy an eCommerce solution on your own. There are many web applications available for this purpose – for example, WooCommerce or Magento.

Because of the low cost of this option, it’s a good way of controlling expenditure over more extended periods. However, building your eCommerce store from scratch also means more effort must go towards development and marketing.

Of course, since the store belongs to you, there’s no need to worry about sales commission or other fees as well.

Option 4 – Omnichannel Sales

You don’t necessarily have to choose one sales channel and stick to it since some work well in concert with others. Shopify, for example, is so well integrated that you can expand towards other channels seamlessly.

The platform lets you work with your Shopify store as the anchor while selling the same product lines on multiple channels, including social media and other online marketplaces. You just need to install the Shopify app for the purpose you seek.

You can do the same with other platforms as well, albeit perhaps not quite as quickly nor easily.

Step 5. Grow Your Brand

Regardless of your choice of platform, marketing is one aspect that nobody can avoid. While the market for t-shirts is large, you’ll also be competing with hundreds of thousands of other sellers in the digital space.

You’ll need to find the most cost-effective solution to reach out to the right target market for your brand and draw them towards your products. Thankfully, there are many marketing tools and strategies you can consider.

Some ideas to consider include;

Content Marketing – One of the most powerful solutions, content marketing relies on Search Engine Optimizations (SEO) to build organic traffic to your online store. Once you have the content drawing visitors in, the rest is simply sales conversions.

Social Media Marketing – For visual-heavy products like t-shirts, social media marketing can be a powerful booster. A good campaign can help you quickly build awareness and foster close relationships with a large buyer market.

Influencer Marketing – This area can be as effective (or even more so) as social media marketing, and you can use them in tandem. There’s a catch, though, and that’s choosing the right influencer for your brand and products.

What to Consider When Starting Your T-shirt Business

In addition to the progression stages above, you need some special considerations for the t-shirt business. While not directly affecting the process, they may influence how you produce and market the t-shirt.

Quality of Material and Print

As with every product in the world, t-shirts come in a wide quality range. Not only do you need to look at the quality of the raw product, but also the printing techniques. The latter will affect the print quality and durability of the print.

Screen printing, for example, results in more durable prints but may not always be available to drop shippers. Conversely, heat transfer prints are faster and cheaper but tend to wear out more quickly.

Uniqueness of Design

It’s simple to get your hands on ready-made designs, but you’ll be competing more directly against many other sellers if you do so. Unique designs make a statement, but then you risk getting your t-shirts copied.

Consider if you’ll want the hassle of comprehensive design protection. Alternatively, you can choose to go with simple designs that refresh quickly – marketing them on limited-time production or similar concepts.

Services and Value-added Features

Shipping is a headache many sellers would rather avoid, and holding inventory can get expensive. However, doing it yourself allows you to offer unique services and features that might not otherwise be available via a dropshipping model.

Consider the needs of your brand and marketing efforts as it may influence a decision to hold inventory instead of dropshipping. 

Final Thoughts

Online retail sales figures are reaching all-time highs, with the value expected to hit over $5.4 trillion by 2022. If you’re thinking of entering the t-shirt business, it’s an excellent time to do so, especially if the digital space is your playground.

We have a perfect balance of options in tools right now, making it easier than ever to achieve our goals. Be it as a full-time business or something to build a nest egg for retirement, the t-shirt trend isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.

And that’s a fact no matter how many suits Dolce & Gabbana or Ermenegildo Zegna design.

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About Jason Chow

Jason is a fan of technology and entrepreneurship. He loves building website. You can get in touch with him via Twitter.