How To Start a T-Shirt Business: A Step by Step Guide
Having just one job, living from a single source of income is no longer a possibility for many. Living, truly living, is been getting expensive so it’s time to diversify and create multiple streams of income. This article will teach you how to start a t-shirt business and cover both alternatives for starting it, offline and online.
Let’s dive into the subject and learn how to start a t-shirt business on a shoestring budget and not fail while at it. You probably have not started yet, that’s great, or you might be halfway there on launching your very own t-shirt venture, if this is the case, feel free to skip ahead.
What this t-shirt business guide covers:
T-Shirt Business Feasibility
“If you don’t find a way to make money while you sleep, you will work until you die” -Warren Buffett
Repeatedly, newcomers ask themselves the same questions and I’m now determined to answer the most popular ones.
Where to start?
What to do first?
Having a t-shirt business isn’t rocket science nor a piece of cake. Truth is, it is doable by all of us, actually, making money from home by selling t-shirts online is a great way to start generating passive income for your household. So first you need a plan and some spare time to put at it. Hopefully, you are a bit on the artsy side and you are able to either create original designs yourself, have a good taste in arts, or know about fashion and style trends. This will help, but you know what, there are people that have made it in the t-shirt business without really having any of these skills or characteristics so if you didn’t tick any of these, believe me, you still have a shot.
Josh Kaufman in his book The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything…Fast states that if you put 20 hours of deliberate practice into a new project you want to start or a skill you want to learn you will acquire what is needed to succeed on it.
So how would a plan look like? What you have to do is to divide the master plan into smaller tasks or subtasks which will help you accomplish your ultimate goal, selling a lot of t-shirts. You can use software like Trello to get organized.
Now, what you need to do first is to see what other artists are already selling by visiting the popular t-shirt Print on Demand online marketplaces. Identify the marketplace where your designs will be most likely to have success and bookmark it. By doing this you will get an idea of what kind of designs you will start creating. You may already have great designs to put on t-shirts, well then in this case you are almost halfway to having your very own online t-shirt business. Digitalize your artwork or paintings to be able to upload them to a t-shirt marketplace. Here in Placeit, we created and ordered t-shirts from several print-on-demand websites, learn how it went! Once we received them, we tested the t-shirts for fit and feel, learn which ones had the best quality!
How are you going to fund this new venture?
How much will it cost me to start my t-shirt business?
The amount of money needed to start your t-shirt business varies depending on your skills and how much of the job you are going to do yourself and how much of it you are going to end up outsourcing. The benefit of having a thorough plan for your business is that you can apply for small business grants that some governments provide which will give you some extra money to maneuver. Hopefully, you will start your t-shirt business with your own saved-up money, asking the bank is a possibility but then interest rates could end up eating up your pursuit.
It’s also a good idea to partner up with a person as motivated as you. It happens that when people want to venture on their own they end up doing anything at all because well, there’s a lot to do. Instead, when you partner up with the right person and you both are in constant communication you are naturally pushed to keep on working and make your shared dream happen.
If you are selling through a website like Threadless, Teepublic, or Redbubble to mention a few, there won’t be upfront costs, but keep in mind that if you won’t be creating the designs yourself, you’ll need to invest in purchasing imagery online or hiring a graphic designer to help you with this super important task.
Also, consider spending on Paid Social Media Advertising if you want your online Tshirt venture to succeed, the average amount destined to this can get to around $50 USD per week give or take. Add on top giving away maybe 5 to 10 tees to influencers who will wear your brand and naturally persuade their peers to get that same item. For more pieces of advice, check out this 5 step guide to promoting your artist shop.
Besides this, you should ALWAYS put a price on your time.
It’s very different when you want to have a brick-and-mortar t-shirt business. Investment is higher but returns are higher too. You will have to buy bulk blank t-shirts that let’s say they are going to be $4 a piece and then find a high-quality t-shirt printing company in your area. Don’t buy t-shirt printing equipment, it’s expensive and you still don’t know if you are going to make good money to make this purchase really worth it. It will take time to learn how to use this printing equipment so instead, find a printing company that provides top-notch printing quality and has hours of practice printing t-shirts.
Depending on the scale you want to take this enterprise to, you could plan a product launch event to get people talking about your brand. The next step will be to set up an e-commerce enabled website, consider you will have to pay for hosting, domain, and plugins that will allow you to make your t-shirts obtainable online.
What are the profit margins for each shirt?
How much time will it take to make my t-shirt business profitable?
What’s the profit margin for non-online t-shirt sales?
Simple response, every Print-on-Demand website has a different profit margin. Let’s break them down assuming you are in the US.
Spreadshirt: You can sell on spreadshirt.com and add the desired profit margin on top of the $19.99USD t-shirt base price. Or you can sell on a Spreadshirt hosted shop to earn 20% more on top of a t-shirt base price but you won’t be featured on spreadshirt.com. Depending on the items you sell you can be eligible for a Volume Commission bonus. We made a Checklist To Make A Living Out Of Selling T-Shirts on Spreadshirt, check it out!
Threadless: T-shirt’s base cost is $15 USD, add your desired profit on top.
Spring: A Hanes Tagless Tee has a base cost of $10.22 USD. Add your desired profit margin on top to know your T-shirts final price.
TeePublic: T-shirts profit margin is $4 when sold at full $20 price (normal times) and $2 when sold on sale for $14. TeePublic t-shirts appear on sale immediately after your upload your t-shirt design and it lasts on sale for the first 72 hours. There are also sitewide sales and if you get featured your t-shirts will be available at a sale price for you to sell more!
Zazzle: A Basic White T-shirt on Zazzle is $14.95, your profit margin on top can be anything from 5% up to 99%, it´s up to you.
Society6: Default profit margin of $2.40 USD.
Redbubble: You are free to add your profit margin on top of their base price. The final T-shirt’s price of a classic t-shirt would be the combination of the base price ($20.67 USD) + your desired profit margin.
Design by Hümans: t-shirts profit margin is $3 USD.
If you are buying t-shirts in bulk and printing them yourself you can set the profit margin you want. Defend and justify your pricing by providing great quality t-shirts and you are good to go. Remember to price your time and efforts and state and local tax costs.
Should I order bulk t-shirts from overseas?
Yes. Generally speaking, importing bulk products from overseas is a smart way of obtaining quality products at the best possible price. Browse around Alibaba’s Wholesaler Market to find a great deal.
Pros from ordering bulk wholesale t-shirts:
- Price, you will definitely get a better price since you are cutting the middle man.
Cons from ordering bulk wholesale t-shirts:
- Feeling of uncertainty. Even though e-commerce is more and more common every day, fraudulent businesses still exist.
- The need to plan ahead since it can take anywhere from 2 to 4 months for an order to be shipped. Remember to write down your address as perfectly as possible, any error can get your items shipped back to overseas and delay delivery for an extra month.
- Publish on your social media account that you are looking for a t-shirt wholesale retailer. You never know, maybe someone you trust can point you in the right direction and find a trustworthy wholesaler.
- Ask the wholesaler for photos and videos until you get convinced that what you are buying is what you want to receive, some vendors can even send out proofs so you can test the items in real life and be confident that you are truly offering a high-quality product to your customers.
Check this guide on importing goods from overseas if you want to learn more about the subject.
T-Shirt Copyright Laws, Intelectual Property and Accountings
Do I need to trademark or patent my t-shirt line?
What about copyright issues?
How do you register the name of the business?
How do I guard against someone stealing my design?
Ideally, yes you should protect your t-shirt brand.
A copyright is the exclusive legal right of a literary, artistic, or musical work that allows you to reproduce it, and distribute it.
A trademark is a recognizable name, word, phrase, logo, symbol, design, image, or a combination of these elements which identifies products or services of a particular source from those of others. Trademarks can be licensed to others.
By uploading designs to any of the print on demand websites you are agreeing to their terms & conditions regulations where you acknowledge the authenticity of your designs.
So yes, you should protect your visual arts. Although in a way, your art gets automatically protected as soon as it is finished and fully perceptible. Quoting from the United States Copyright Law: “your art is considered copyright protected from “the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”
It would be a disgrace to find someone else profiting from your hard work wouldn’t it? Don’t take my words for granted, talk with a copyrights attorney to get the best advice.
Ready to register your art? Visit copyright.gov.
Do you need some sort of seller permit or business tax ID when you sell t-shirts online?
Should I register my t-shirt business as a legal business?
You don’t need a seller’s permit or business tax ID since you are selling through a Print on Demand site. In other words, you are not the seller, the seller is Society6 or Threadless or whoever.
IF you are the seller, let’s say you have your own e-commerce enabled website, then you should comply with the state laws.
Learn more about your particular state laws by Googling this:
[Your_State] + sellers permit
[Your_State] + sales tax
[Your_State] + DBA
[Your_State] + LLC
Further reading on the subject:
What about accounting? Do you recommend any particular software packages or do you just use a generic invoice book?
There’s accounting software that can help you out but if you are organized, a simple Google Spreadsheet can help you keep your books up to date.
Doing Market Research for Your T-Shirt Business
The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself. – Peter Drucker
How may I know what kind of artwork customers are looking for?
Is it OK to choose more than one niche?
Is there a real market for my products?
A niche market is a small segment of a population that shares specific demographics, interests, and motivations. For example, the vegans market is huge. Inside a niche, there are sub-niches which are the ones you should ideally target. There are different kinds of vegans, there are pregnant vegans, vegan bodybuilders, vegan kids, catholic vegans, you get where I’m going. Niche marketing works because by doing research for a specific sub-niche you will get a good idea of what they are interested in, and this way you will be able to create items that these sets of people desire and will probably want to buy. When the time to invest in marketing and promotion comes, you will have it easier to target your customers and create marketing material that will appeal to them.
Your chances of success increase when you follow this thorough research process.
Don’t get me wrong, you can still make it big even if you don’t follow this flow; but proper research means you would be making decisions based on data which is definitely the way to go, especially considering how easy it has become to access information nowadays.
Take a look at the Niche Hacks website which features expert advice on Niche Marketing.
I am interested in starting my t-shirt business, but not interested in creating my own art, how and where can I get graphics and designs?
You designed your own graphics, right? How can I get some graphics of my own if I don’t design?
How do freelancers charge and what range can I expect to pay for a t-shirt design?
Starting a t-shirt business without being a graphic designer, an artist or a fashion guru is totally possible. What you can do is buy designs/artwork from a graphic designer friend, or artist friend or head to UpWork, Freelancer, Fiverr or 99designs hire somebody to create designs for your t-shirt brand.
Try to be as specific as possible when you ask a third person for a design. You might have the idea well pictured in your mind but there’s a huge gap between your mind and the designers; so send examples, mockups, drawings, whatever helps to get your point across in order for you to receive the artwork you were really looking for.
I’m wondering where/how do I design my T-shirts? Example: I want to have plain text or just a word.
What template did you use for women’s t-shirts?
What did you use to make your shirt designs?
Having basic Photoshop and Illustrator knowledge helps. By knowing your way around this software you will be able to work with .AI and .PSD files which are the standard for the graphic design industry. The reason is that Print-on-Demand websites require specific image sizes and resolution to print your artwork properly and Adobe’s software allows you to manipulate your artwork as needed. Society 6 suggests uploading an image at least 6500px at 72dpi or higher in order to have your artwork ready to print on most of the available items in their marketplace. Then Redbubble suggests starting at 13500 x 11462 pixels in order to make it fit every product they offer.
Nevertheless, more options exist for those without graphic design experience. T-shirt design templates allow you to jump-start your t-shirt design process. These are ready-to-use t-shirt designs that with a little editing from your desktop can be transformed into original designs. There are all types of t-shirt design templates for all the occasions you can think of. Similar to this tool, other t-shirt design software exists, be sure to consider all the available options and keep the one you feel more comfortable working with.
If you are selling online, you don’t need to work on templates. As long as you have your artwork then all you have to do is to create an account on your Print-on-Demand platform of choice, be sure to follow file upload requirements and specifications, and once uploaded you will be able to preview and create your products directly through the website.
If you want to start an offline t-shirt business (brick and mortar, pop-up shops) then the best way to go is to get in touch with the person or company that is going to print your t-shirts and ask about their specific file requirements. You can show them how you want your final product to look by creating a t-shirt mockup by using Placeit t-shirt mockup generator which is ridiculously easy to use. Once inside Placeit’s website go and choose a model/mockup you like, then choose a garment color, drag and drop your artwork, arrange your artwork to the desired position, and voilá you have a t-shirt mockup done in a matter of seconds. Send on an email this mockup image file together with the original artwork file plus specific indications to your t-shirt printing partner and that’s it.
Choosing Sales Channels for Your T-Shirt Business
Should I be opening a brick/mortar store to sell t-shirts or should I start an online business?
Best custom T-shirt printing company?
Where’s the best place to sell shirts online?
If you have little money or almost no money to start your new t-shirt venture you should definitely start selling t-shirts online. Wherever you look, the rent costs of brick-and-mortar shops are too high when compared to e-commerce costs.
So your best shot is to start by selling online through ONE Print-on-Demand e-commerce website, get real good at it, and then start diversifying your efforts and sell on more sites. Don’t get greedy, nail it first at one POD site, and then move on to the next one.
So here’s the best way to start your online t-shirt business and not failing at it:
- Study the sub-niche you will be selling to, define a persona.
- Infer where your designs are most likely to have success by looking at the POD’s audiences.
- Choose the Print-on-Demand website that is going to help you sell your t-shirts.
- Get really good (have several successful sales) at the specific POD site you chose.
- Triple test your marketing strategy.
- See what works on and what doesn’t and improve upon.
- Once you know exactly how you can take advantage of every aspect of that POD site or you are close to getting there (maybe 80% close) then start diversifying and move on to a second sales channel.
Selling through Print-on-Demand marketplaces reduces profit margins but you stop worrying about printing, dropshipping, etc. It’s a great way to start your soon-to-be big t-shirt business. Etsy for instance is a great place to get started selling t-shirts online, check this Beginners’ Guide for Etsy T-shirt Sellers to learn more.
Ideally, you should save money from your sales and save up to eventually end up buying bulk t-shirts, printing, selling, and dropshipping them yourself to get all the profit for yourself rather than giving away a big cut of your hard work to the POD websites.
It’s hard to tell which online T-shirt printing company is the best but Printful and Printaura are two of the best online printing, fulfillment, and shipping companies. It’s also difficult to know if people that post about their “experience” with different printing companies are somehow affiliated with a specific printing company or if their reports are legit.
One good way to know how shirts from a specific site look are to search for user-generated content on Instagram through hashtags. In fact, user-generated content can also be a great marketing tool you can use in your favor.
Marketing Your T-Shirt Business
“Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you’re doing, but nobody else does.” – Stuart H. Britt
What are the best ways to promote my t-shirt business?
Can anyone help me marketing my site?
Paid traffic is what works best when starting off a t-shirt business. Organic traffic is cheaper definitely but results take much more time than paid ads.
In order to promote your t-shirt business effectively, you need a digital marketing strategy with S.M.A.R.T. objectives.
- Specific – Well defined, clear to understand.
Sell 5 t-shirts in one week’s time with a $10 USD investment in Facebook Advertising.
- Measurable – You have to be able how far you are from your goal.
By the end of the week, you should be able to see how many users bought your t-shirt thanks to the Facebook ad and compare it with your desired results.
- Assignable – specify who will do it.
You might be outsourcing this task, or maybe your partner, or of course you can always do it yourself.
- Realistic – results should be realistically achievable, given available resources, knowledge, and time.
- Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.
In 7 days.
- Be Agile
Review why a strategy worked or why it didn’t and improve upon it. The wrong target demographic? Low-quality visual material? Pay attention to what your customer really wants and is looking for and give them exactly that. Know your Key Performance Indicators
To know the health of your t-shirt business you must first establish measurable KPIs that show how effectively you are achieving objectives. You can have marketing KPIs, sales KPIs, and so on. Don’t forget that you can’t improve what you don’t measure. Build an Email list
Setting up an email marketing campaign is not as difficult as it sounds. There is amazing email marketing software out there that is FREE. Define the goals that you want to achieve, for example, you may want recipients to visit a specific item in your shop, or maybe taking them to your blog. Follow Campaign Monitor’s expert advice to build an email list and how to get started with email marketing.
Give Mail Chimp, Campaignmonitor, or any other marketing software a test drive and start making sales out of automated emails.
- Remarketing/Retargeting for your Tshirt Business
For those unfamiliar with the terms, remarketing is a way of displaying ads to users that have already somehow engaged with your content. It’s a somewhat advanced digital marketing activity but once you get a handle on it, it is well worth it. With these two guides, you should be good to go to start retargeting your customers. Google’s Best Remarketing PracticesA Guide to Facebook Pixel Remarketing by Wordstream
- InstagramInstagram is one of the most effective ways to promote a t-shirt business because this platform is all about sharing cool photos and videos and well who doesn’t love to procrastinate watching nice images. Photos shared on Instagram need to be of superb quality in order to be effective and wow the viewer. Use models that relate to the niche you are targeting. Here’s an excellent example of a clothing brand telling a story with a superb Instagram strategy. Read this post to know more about how to improve your t-shirt business with Instagram:
7 Tips for Using Instagram for Business
- Organizing a Tshirt Photoshoot
Although it is a great idea, most of the time it is not within the average t-shirtpreneur’s possibilities. Organizing a photoshoot consumes a lot of time and energy. Better than organizing an expensive photoshoot get t-shirt mockups to market your new t-shirt designs inexpensively.
How do I advertise on Facebook?
How can I use Facebook to promote my t-shirt brand?
Incorporating Facebook Ads into your marketing mix is a must. Facebook advertising is the best form of paid traffic your money can buy. The top benefit of this paid advertising option is that it is mobile-friendly and it is highly targetable. Since we already know what our desired customers like and do, targeting them with Facebook ads is the way to go.
Set up a killer Facebook Page that includes:
- A creative and attractive profile picture, header image, and content images.
- Info on EVERY section of your Facebook page that goes with your keyword strategy.
- Engaging content that people will like to interact with.
- A channel for two-way communication so is ready to communicate with your fans.
Now let’s move on and learn about the Facebook Advertising Powers
The simplest way to get your post seen by more people is by boosting your posts.
When boosting a Facebook post you get to choose who you want to show the ad to (choosing your Audience). Your options are:
- People you choose through targeting Audience: This is where you should start. You can choose a post’s audience by:
- Age Range
- Interests (Pages they like, topics they follow)
- People who already like your page Audience
- People who like your Page and their Friends
Target different sets of Audiences by clicking on the Create New Audience link. (e.g. Cat lovers, dog lovers, etc)
Once you’ve chosen your desired Audience you can set the amount of money you want to spend boosting your post and you can also determine how many days you want your promotion to run.
This is the most basic way to promote on Facebook.
Now there is the Advanced method where you get to take full advantage of Facebook paid advertising features. Click here to get to the Facebook Ads Manager.
With Facebook’s Ad Manager tool you can create ads according to your current marketing objective:
- Brand Awareness: Increase awareness for your t-shirt brand by reaching more people who are more likely to be interested in it. If you don’t have a logo or need a refresh, take a look at this guide we wrote on How to Make a Clothing Brand Logo.
- Local Awareness: Promote your brick and mortar t-shirt business to people who are nearby.
- Reach: Show your t-shirt business ad to the maximum number of people according to your budget.
- Traffic: Send more people to a destination (e.g. a URL) on or off Facebook. It can be a specific item.
- Engagement: Is used to get more people to see and take the desired action with your post or Page. Actions include comments, shares, likes, offer claims, etc.
- App Installs: You can take users to an App Store, not useful for our t-shirt business.
- Video Views: Get more people to view your video content.
- Lead Generation: Collect lead information, such as email addresses, from people possibly interested in your t-shirt business.
- Conversions: Get valuable actions on your website such as buying a t-shirt. By using the Facebook pixel you can track and measure conversions.
- Product Catalog Sales: Create ads that automatically show products from your product catalog based on your target audience.
- Store visits: Get customers to the business location that is closer to them.
- You can tick the Create Ad Split Test box to test the ad sets against each other. This way you will be able to see which ad set design gives you the best results.
- Create Multiple Ad Sets to make your advertising efforts as effective as possible by delivering a tailored message to each Audience. Audience variables could be:
- Different Custom Audiences. Learn how to create a Custom Audience from your customer file.
- Different location variations
- Age range Variation
- When you promote your shop items and you get likes on your ads you can further leverage your investment by clicking on “John Smith and 20 others liked this” and then send those users an invitation to like your Page.
- Follow a scientific methodology to improve your paid advertising strategy.
In the beginning, you will probably not make as many sales as you would expect but this happens to every one of us. It takes time to become good at Facebook Advertising there’s no way around it. Persevere and you will get there, trust me.
To wrap up here’s an Infographic with 21 Social Media Marketing Tips that should help you build your Social Media following and boost sales.
Placeit Now has T-Shirt Video Templates to Promote Your Designs
Follow the same simple steps to create a T-Shirt Mockup to create T-Shirt Video Mockups in seconds. Start getting more t-shirt sales by using t-shirt video mockups and t-shirt cinemagraphs. See it yourself! Tshirt Videos look great, right?
What are you waiting to upgrade your marketing communication strategy and boost t-shirt sales? No video editing skills are necessary whatsoever.
How to Start a T-Shirt Business
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