T-shirts – a staple everyone has, and yet always needs. No wonder that selling t-shirts online has quickly become a popular and profitable small business idea among the new entrepreneurs.
What’s even better – you don’t need to be a business veteran to succeed with this venture. Today, there’s plenty of t-shirt printing companies, ready to handle the operational part of your e-commerce business such as manufacturing, warehousing and shipping. All you have to do is come up with a good design, set up an e-shop and start marketing your business. And even if you run a t-shirt business as a side hustle, you can still make over five figures per month as several success stories prove.
In this guide, we’ll take a deeper look at how to start a t-shirt business at home.
1. Brainstorm Your Niche
Choosing a niche is hugely important for any type of business. There are several good reasons for that:
- “Owning a niche” is easier than being the “best in all”. The smaller target market you begin pursuing, the less competition you will initially face. Meaning, you can take your business off the ground relatively quickly, and later choose to scale and conquer a larger market.
- Marketing will be more affordable. By targeting a narrow niche, you get a bigger bang for your ad buck spent on social media marketing or search engine marketing campaigns.
- Higher customer loyalty. Nurturing a loyal group of early brand adopters is crucial for long-term success. Those early “fans” will later act as a backbone of your business and act as ambassadors for your brand. Plus, it’s much easier to build a niche following and customer base, by giving each customer a personalized treatment, sending thank you notes and otherwise showing that you have their best interests at heart of your biz.
When it comes to the graphic t-shirt industry, it’s especially important to have a clearly defined niche and a recognizable brand behind it. With so many companies producing all sorts of T-shirts, you really need to cater to a specific target audience if you want to be noticed. And the narrower you go – the better. For example, Funny slogans t-shirts are plentiful. So how about printing t-shirts with funny slogans for engineers or designers?
Niche T-Shirt Business Ideas to Consider
“Geo” T-shirts. There are plenty of Paris, Tokyo, Berlin tees out there. But just a few specific ones featuring say subway or street names. Richard Lazazzera from A Better Lemonade Stand decided to sell t-shirts with “Finch” subway print – the closest subway station to where he grew. The idea took off, and he made $347.71 in revenue within 24 hours after the launch. Not so shabby, eh?
On-Trend T-shirts. Last year, a popular French fashion house CELINE (former Céline), decided to switch creative directors. The departure of Phoebe Philo and the subsequent drop of é from the logo created an uproar among the devastated fashionphiles. One savvy entrepreneur designed to capitalize on this hype and launched the Old Celine t-shirt shop, selling old logo tees ($175 USD each) each and other Philo-inspired garments online. The shop has been positively reviewed in top media outlets so we can assume that the creator is making a hefty profit from her timely t-shirt idea.
Source: Fashion Journal
“Professional” T-shirts. Because every professional needs a good tee. What’s even better, the smartest ones are using their “pro” t-shirts to secure work gigs. Gerard Dawson shared how coming to a conference is a “Copywriter” t-shirt helped him secure $5,000 in client work. Clearly, there are a lot of other professionals who could benefit from t-shirt marketing.
2. Create Your Designs
Here you have two options – DIY or hire a professional. If you aren’t great with Photoshop or other design software, it’s best to pay a pro to create several t-shirt designs for you. You can find great graphic design talent at sites like Dribbble or Behance.
Alternatively, you can buy pre-made designs on marketplaces such as:
NB: You may not be the only one who’ll fancy a certain design. So it may be a bit tougher for your t-shirt business to stand out from the masses.
If you don’t mind using someone else’s design, you can also consider dropshipping from Aliexpress or another company. This way you’ll get access to ready-to-sell t-shirts that you can list for sale under your brand.
Once you’ve secured your designs, you’ll need to create product mockups – the visual representations of the t-shirts you plan to list on your website and sell. Basically, you’ll need a photo editing software to add your design to a t-shirt mockup. Or you can use an online tool designed for that purpose.
You can find the latter at one of the following websites:
Now you have a full range of “models” sporting your t-shirt designs. You can download those images and list them in your e-shop.
3. Find a Custom T-shirt Printing Partner
Now you’ll need to bring your designs to life. To minimize your business running costs and startup risks opt for on-demand t-shirt printing. This way you solve several issues at once:
- You only pay for printing when someone purchases your tee. No sales = no loss due to pre-ordered stock.
- You won’t have to deal with warehousing, shipping or logistics. A t-shirt printing company will handle that for you.
On-demand t-shirting printing is a low-cost way of getting your e-commerce business up and running in no time. However, do be mindful of the following when signing on with a printing partner:
- T-shirt quality. Obviously, you’ll want you base tees to be durable, machine-wash safe and otherwise pleasant to own and wear regularly. Sign on with a company that offers several quality options (middle/top) to pick and choose among or sources from reputable vendors e.g. American Apparel.
- White label shipping. This means that your t-shirts will be shipped under your brand (not the printing provider). So that you can include an on-brand packaging, customs invoice, and other marketing materials.
- Transparent fixed pricing. Make sure the provider clearly stipulates the printing/shipping costs, payment terms and other charges that may apply.
- Fast printing turnaround. You don’t want to get stuck with a printing services company that takes several days to process your payment or reply to a query.
- No MOC. Some printing companies may impose a Minimum Order Quantity (MOC) e.g. 10 t-shirts or we won’t budge. If you want to keep your t-shirt business costs low, avoid signing up with such providers.
Below are several popular on-demand t-shirt printing services that match the requirements mentioned above, and are rather popular with entrepreneurs:
If you plan to set up your t-shirt shop on Shopify, the platform also offers several great printing/dropshipping apps:
4. Set Up Your T-Shirt Shop and Operations
This is the last step of your t-shirt business plan – opening a digital storefront. If you are relatively tech-savvy, you can set up your e-commerce store yourself on Shopify. It’s very intuitive and easy-to-master for beginners. Plus, it comes with a number of apps, tools and designs that you can use to build and run your business. The con is that Shopify isn’t free. You’ll have to pay a monthly subscription fee to use the platform.
If you wish to cut some costs for the long term, consider building an e-commerce website using WordPress + WooCommerce or Magento. Initially, you may spend more time getting all set up and will likely need to hire a developer for some assistance, but once your e-commerce website is live, there would be no recurring fees to pay for maintaining it (except for hosting/domain name).
Once your website is ready here’s how to sell t-shirts:
- List all your t-shirt mockups with designs
- Connect the t-shirt printing service to your website
- List your prices
- Write catchy product descriptions
- Create a Shipping/Return Policy Page
- Write a quick “About Us” page.
- Set up payment integration
- Start marketing the heck out of your shop to generate those first few sales!
How to Price Your T-Shirts?
Your price will largely depend on production costs. So make sure you calculate those for every type of t-shirt design listed at your store. Most t-shirt printing companies will separately bill customers for shipping depending on where they are in the world. So you don’t have to worry about that.
Next, you’ll want to add a brand markup (= the profit you’ll make from a sale). How much should it be? Well, it depends. Some can get away with as much as 200% (think lux brands), while other retailers typically settle for 30%-50%.
Get online and see how much other small brands charge for similar t-shirts. In any case, be realistic and don’t set a price that people in your target market won’t pay. The best strategy is to start with lower prices to build up the initial customer base and break even (in case you have invested something in your t-shirt business) and then experiment with different pricing tiers.
That’s how you can leverage t-shirt printing services to start a side hustle or a full-time business from home and earn some good cash!
Photo by EVG Photos