How to Start a T-Shirt Business in 2019: 7 Things You Need to Know

If you want to know how to start a t-shirt business, check out this guide. It'll certainly point you in the right direction! It's hardly surprising that 63% of people in their 20's want to start their own business. The freedom that comes with being your own boss is fantastic- not to mention the earning potential is also pretty enticing. These are just a few of the benefits that would make anyone reconsider the traditional nine to five.

So, why don't more people stop dreaming of becoming an entrepreneur and just get on with it?

Well, for many, it's not a lack of passion. Instead, it's the know-how.

So, if you don't know how to start your own online business, selling t-shirts online might be just the ticket.

Why?

Answer: You can put the wheels in motion pretty quickly, and it costs next to no money.

Sound good? Let's dive into everything you need to know in order to answer the question; how to start a t-shirt business?

Step 1: How to Start a T-Shirt Business- Choose a Selling Platform

The short answer is; Shopify.

Shopify is one of the most straightforward and accessible platforms to launch a T-shirt business with.

Not to mention, they also offer users plenty of integrations. It's here on the app store where you'll connect with the drop shipping company of your choice. This service will shortly become the lifeblood of your venture because they'll print and ship all your custom shirts to your customers.

Enter, Printful.

Integrating Printful‘s app with your Shopify store is pretty seamless- which is a bonus.

Plus, Printful also offers an extensive selection of shirts to choose from, all at a reasonable price. Additionally, if you want to expand your product line, you can provide customers with canvas prints and bags- how awesome is that?!

However, do NOT sign up for Shopify’s 14-day free trial until you've finished your designs.

how to start a tshirt business

Should I Consider Other Selling Platforms?

If for whatever reason you're not a fan of Shopify, there are loads of other selling platforms to choose from.

However, before throwing in the towel check out our; 10 Must-Read Shopify Tips & Resources. (Mainly) For Beginners.- This is sure to point you in the right direction.

Alternatively, you might be tempted to use Teespring; over the last few years, this platform has become increasingly popular.

However, options like Teespring aren’t great from either a digital marketing or branding perspective.

‘Why?' we hear you ask.

Well, when you use a platform like Teespring your T-shirt store resides purely on their platform. So, you don't own it! This means business owners don't have the same opportunities to brand themselves.

You also don't have access to the same data analytics. These figures are essential for digital marketers- otherwise, they'll never properly get to grips with their target audience. Once more, your customization options for designing your storefront are somewhat limited, which makes it challenging to maximize for conversions.

The key takeaway: If you’re taking this venture seriously, you need to own your online store. This doesn't necessarily mean Shopify (although we thoroughly recommend them).

how to start a tshirt business - teespring

Why Printful?

There are a few things to consider when choosing a printer or drop shipper:

  • The choice of t-shirts they can offer you,
  • The price per unit,
  • The cost of printing,
  • Shipping fees,
  • The quality of the print,
  • The quality of the actual t-shirt,

Most printers and drop shippers offer different t-shirts boasting various standards of quality. This means the price per unit can vary, depending on the blank shirt you opt for. So, the good news is that there's plenty of choices out there.

In our opinion, Printful rates pretty well on all the factors listed above.

how to start a tshirt business - printful

Is Printful the Best?

In short, no.

It's widely believed that American Apparel provides the best quality T-shirts for printing on.

Unsurprisingly, these set you back a pretty penny, which, unfortunately, will eat into a significant portion of your profits.

On the whole, it's usually best to go with a t-shirt that's ‘middle of the road' both in terms of quality and price.

Step 2: How to Start a T-Shirt Business- Pick a Niche

If you want this to be a success, you need to choose a niche- and stick to it. Period.

It's the only way to shine in an industry that's already pretty saturated because you can use your niche to position your brand so that it stands out from your competitors.

When we say niche, we mean getting really specific with the stuff you're selling. It's not enough to sell T-shirts with cute animals on them. Instead, you'll need to target a narrower demographic — for example, pug owners with funny slogans on them relating to this specific breed.

Not to mention, if you decide to run paid Facebook ads, a narrow niche makes targeting your ideal audience way easier.

Step 3: How to Start a T-Shirt Business- Get Designing

We don't need to tell you, the design plastered on your tees needs to look top dollar.

This doesn't mean you need to craft intricate graphic designs (in fact, simple imagery and text tend to do better). It also doesn't have to cost the earth.- So you can breathe a sigh of relief!

Most importantly, you need to avoid your shirt's design looking like a copy of something else.

How do you manage that?

The design of your tee needs to resonate with your audience. To achieve this, you'll need to research your target demographic to understand what they find funny, what interests them, and what struggles they're dealing with.

With this info, you're way more likely to create something that stands out.

how to start a tshirt business

Where Can I Get Inspiration?

If designing doesn't come naturally, don't worry. There are lots of places to get inspiration to fuel your own designs.

Firstly, take a look at what's currently selling well. After all, if it's not broke don't fix it, right?

However, do NOT be tempted to copy these designs. Remember, what we just said- it HAS to be original. These designs should only be used to influence your creativity- and no more than that.

So, with that being said, peruse through popular t-shirt marketplaces and take a look at their bestseller pages. For example-

  • Teeview
  • Skreened Trending Shirts
  • Snorg Bestsellers
  • Zazzle Bestsellers & Zazzle Popular
  • Redbubble Popular
  • Kickstarter T-Shirt Campaigns

These should give you a better idea of the different niches out there, and the designs that are possible to create.

If you still need further inspiration, use software like Google Trends and Google Hot Searches. This software also gives you a better idea of things people are interested in buying.

how to start a tshirt business

What If I'm No Good at Graphic Design?

That's no problem- you don't need to be an expert graphic designer; you just need a killer idea.

It's easy to hire someone to bring your vision to life (and it probably won't cost you as much as you're thinking).

Your starting point for finding a designer should be the online design communities.

We love Dribbble. This is a fantastic designer community-it's brimming with talent. Just search for the kind of t-shirt style you're looking to create, and ping a message over to the designers you're interested in hiring.

If you don't have any luck on Dribble, give Behance a try. This is another top-notch designer community. So, there's a good chance you'll find someone to create your design on one of these two platforms.

how to start a tshirt business

What About Freelancer Networks?

We couldn't write an article on how to start a t-shirt business without touching on this subject.

You've probably come across freelance networks before. You know; Fiverr, Freelancer, Upwork, etc. The best thing about these platforms is that they run on a rating system, so spending your money isn't usually a massive risk.

Plus, the price of the services on these networks tends to be incredibly reasonable- win-win!

How Do I Mock Up My Designs?

By this stage, you'll have at least one final design to work with.

Now it's time to create a few mockup images with your designs on t-shirts. After all, it's not unreasonable for your customers to want to see what your beautiful designs look like on an actual t-shirt.

So, how do you go about doing this?

You have two main options:

  1. You can order samples of your t-shirt and the take photos yourself (or with the help of a professional)
  2. You can utilize one of the hundreds of t-shirt templates online, and create a digital mockup.

Adobe Photoshop

If you haven't already got this software, and you don't have the budget for it, you can just use their free trial.

Once you've created an account, search for T-shirt templates. Most of these have multiple layers which enable the designer to modify the color and insert their design. This software ensures the print complements the contours of the shirt.

If you can't get the knack of Photoshop, you could try using Shopify's Free T-Shirt Mockup Generator. This is another user-friendly option for creating digital mockups.

Alternatively, there are tons of graphic design marketplaces, like Creative Market, where you can also create digital mockups. Just like Photoshop, there's plenty of “t-shirt templates” for you to use. However,  some of these templates cost a few dollars- so factor this into your budget!

It doesn't matter which software you use; you can manually apply your designs to your desired t-shirt templates, save your files, and upload them to your Shopify store.

Alternatively, if you really don't have the time or the skills to do this task, head over to one of the freelance networks we just spoke about. There are plenty of designers who charge as little as $5 for this!

how to start a tshirt business

Validate Your Designs

Now you have a mockup; you're ready to get your potential design validated.

Validating your design is especially important if you're buying your blank tees in bulk from a wholesaler.

The last thing you want to do is shell out a ton of cash for a design that doesn't convert into sales.

It's all very well you liking your design- but, you need to see whether there's a demand for it.

There are many ways you can validate your potential tee:

Social Media

There's a good chance you'll use a variety of social media accounts. If so, upload your designs and ask for feedback.

Top Tip: If you're using personal profiles, be wary of asking friends for their opinion. There's a good chance they'll be a tad biased.

Reddit

There are hundreds of subreddits, so it incredibly easy to find your target demographic and get their opinion.

how to start a tshirt business

Step 4: How to Start a T-Shirt Business- Use High-Quality Tees

Other than the design of the print, the next important thing is the quality of your blank t-shirts.

The last thing you want is your pattern to crack or fade after a few washes. Needless to say, this won't help you to establish a loyal following.

Remember: repeat customers are more valuable to your profit margins (in the long run) in comparison to any saving you'll make selling t-shirts of inferior quality.

What Makes a T-Shirt ‘Good Quality'?

The quality of a shirt can be deduced by examining the following:

  • The comfort of the fit,
  • The accuracy of the sizing,
  • The feel of the material,
  • The weight,
  • The quality of the stitching,

Use the above criteria to create a short list of potential blank tees to print on. Then order one of each, so you can see for yourself exactly what you're working with. This is the only way you'll be able to make an informed purchasing decision.

Step 5: How to Start a T-Shirt Business- Install the Printful Shopify App

You're now ready to set up a Shopify store and download the Printful app.

Firstly, you'll need to create product pages on your Shopify store. Once you've done that, the Printful plugin should automatically pull all your products.

All that's left to do is upload the design file for each of your products onto Printful's app, and select the shirt you want to print on.

Once you have your Shopify store up and running, switch on your checkout and run a test order. You don't want to start sending customers to your store, to then realize they can't purchase anything!

how to start a tshirt business - printful + Shopify

Step 6: How to Start a T-Shirt Business- Market Your Store

Marketing your Shopify store is imperative for driving traffic to your site and securing your first few sales. Here are a few things you can do:

Keep Up to Date with Current Events

Have any events or milestones impacted the target demographic you're marketing to? If there has, reach out to the people involved via email or LinkedIn to see whether they'd be interested in featuring your store either on their social media or blog.

This technique goes hand in hand with influencer marketing. Do some research and see who the key players are in your industry. Then contact them to inquire whether they'd be happy to give your products a shout out.

You should note: there's a good chance this will come at a cost. So, be prepared to part with some of your hard earned cash.

Facebook Ads

Facebook boasts an incredibly diverse user base- so there's a good chance your target market will be on here!

One of the best things about Facebook ads is that you're able to laser target your ideal customer by:

  • Age,
  • Gender,
  • Job titles,
  • Location,
  • Interests,

You get the idea!

Out of all the above, it's the ‘interests' that enable marketers to get their ad in front of the right people. For example, you can use the Facebook pages people have liked to help you reach a relevant audience.

So, if you have a clear vision of who your target audience is- Facebook is the way to go.

Take this scenario for instance; if you're selling t-shirts with funny slogans aimed at carpenters, you could target those with the job title  ‘carpenter' (or, the wives and girlfriends of carpenters who want to buy your t-shirt as a gift!).

Pairing your Facebook ads with an ad management tool like HubSpot will make your ad campaigns all the more powerful. HubSpot will connect your ad leads to your CRM so you can track and measure exactly what impact your ads have had on your sales.

how to start a tshirt business

Pinterest

Unless you're in the wedding industry, Pinterest is severely underutilized.

I don't understand why this is the case, because Pinterest has a pretty defined user base. Namely, females with disposable income. So, if this demographic complements the kind of t-shirts you're selling, you'd be stupid not to use Pinterest!

Instagram

If your ideal customers are millennials, Instagram is the place to be.

You have two options here:

  1. Influencer marketing (as we've already discussed)
  2. Organic Reach

By organic reach, we mean publishing images showcasing your beautifully designed apparel- loads of relevant hashtags should accompany them.

If the quality of your image is good enough and you use the right hashtags, it should be relatively easy to reach out and engage with your target audience.

how to start a tshirt business

Google Ads

For those of you who don't know what Google ads are, they're the text ads that appear at the top of Google's search engine results. Alternatively, you can purchase one of their shopping ads, which unlike a text ad, shows a product photo and a price.

To make the most of Google ads, you'll need to conduct some keyword research. When you do this, you'll want to get a feel for the search volume of each of the key phrases your customers are searching for. The same is true of both the price and competitiveness. From there you can deduce whether it's worth launching an ad to target that specific keyword phrase.

 

how to start a tshirt business

7: How to Start a T-Shirt Business- Brand Your T-Shirt Store

In the world in e-commerce, branding has never been so important. Without a strong brand, you'll struggle to capture your prospect's attention and transform them into loyal customers.

So, what's a brand?

Put simply; it's how customers perceive your business whenever and wherever they come into contact with it.

Capiche?

This then raises the following question; how do you influence the way customers perceive you?

Luckily, there are tons of things you can do- but first and foremost you need to conduct extensive research into both your target audience and your competitors. That way you'll get a better idea of how to brand yourself to resonate with your ideal customers.

Top Tip: Use the same info you found when you first did customer research to fuel your initial designs. This is a fabulous foundation for you to work from!

Here are a few other resources to help you get a more complete picture of your target demo:

  • Take a look at subreddits relating to your niche and see what your customers want!
  • Utilize Facebook's audience insights and list their interests, role models, hobbies, etc.
  • Look at your competitor's social media accounts to see how they're branding themselves. Note down what they're doing well, and more importantly…the things that aren't working for them.

Once you have all this info, you'll be in a better position to write your company slogan, decide on the tone of your website and settle on your brand visuals (color palette, fonts, and logos)

Once you've established a brand, all that's left to do is keep it consistent.

Do You Now Have a Better Idea of How to Start a T-Shirt Business?

We hope this guide provides you with all the answers to the question; how to start a T-Shirt business?

Please feel free to refer back to this article as many times as you need to as you set about launching your t-shirt brand.

Have you got any other advice for all the budding entrepreneurs reading this? If so, leave a comment in the box below and let us know your thoughts on how to start a t-shirt business.

We'd love to hear all the pearls of wisdom you have to offer.

Speak soon!

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Rosie Greaves

Rosie Greaves is a professional content strategist who specializes in all things digital marketing, B2B, and lifestyle. In addition to e-commerce platforms, you can find her published on Contena, Cake and Lace Blog, and Love You Tomorrow. Check out her website Blog with Rosie for more information.