How to Start a T-Shirt Business

Approximately 2 billion T-shirts are sold globally every year. Yes, billion.

Keeping this massive demand in mind, it makes sense that many e-commerce entrepreneurs want to start a T-shirt business. 

T-shirts are cheap to source, easy to customize, and have universal appeal. And starting the business requires little investment and basic technical skills.

Don’t be fooled, though. Running a T-shirt business can be daunting, especially if you don’t have experience in the ecommerce field.

Below, I’ve prepared a step-by-step guide to show you how to start a T-shirt business online and earn some extra income month after month.

The Easy Parts of Starting a T-Shirt Business

T-shirts are versatile wardrobe staples. It’s what makes them so popular, which also means you’ll always have a wide market to sell in. You’re also assured of higher profits—provided you offer quality services and successfully establish a good brand name in the market.

Moreover, the day you launch your T-shirt business is the day you become your own boss.

You decide your own schedule. You can work three days a week or go all out and take no breaks. It’s also why you need to be self-motivated, as otherwise, you might end up getting nothing done.

Starting a T-shirt business doesn’t involve a lot of capital or expertise either. You’ll find tons of manuals online filled with brilliant tips and techniques to help you design and print T-shirts for sale.

Finally, you might be surprised how easy sourcing and customizing T-shirts are.

You can do the designing yourself or hire third-party designers to do it for you. There’s a lot of opportunities to showcase your creativity. You can modify your designs however you please. If it clicks with your audience, you’ll have a loyal customer base always ready to buy from you.

The Difficult Parts of Starting a T-Shirt Business

Several online guides will try to convince you that starting a T-shirt business is the easiest biz in the world. Well, it isn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, the T-shirt business is a pretty straightforward operation. But it consistently requires a lot of hard work and time. If you’re not a self-starter or have too much on your plate already, you should consider other entrepreneurial options.

Next, you have to conquer several startup obstacles you’ll run into when getting started.

You’ll need permits, licensing, insurance, reliable wholesale suppliers, talented graphic designers… the list is long. You’ll also be responsible for brainstorming effective marketing and advertising strategies to promote your designs to boost sales.

Let’s not forget T-shirts tend to fade with time, regardless of the material and printing quality. So stocking up on inventory isn’t a long-term option here.

However, one of the biggest challenges of starting a T-shirt business is the competition.

There are already millions of other T-shirt businesses operating around the world. If you don’t have authentic and unique designs, you may find them difficult to sell. It’s also why there isn’t any room for bad decisions concerning your design, quality, and brand.

Step 1: Create Your T-Shirt Brand

A person’s clothing choices have become an extension of who they are and how they see themselves. It’s why establishing your brand identity is incredibly important when starting your T-shirt business.

T-shirts, in particular, are very personal. Aim to give your target audience an authentic brand experience. Customers are people who respond to authentic brands that they can relate to.

Pick Your Niche

Selling to everyone is impossible, and even if you somehow do, it’ll be expensive. 

You’re more likely to succeed if you design your clothing with a specific audience in mind. For instance, if your target audience is environmentally conscious, you should sell sustainably sourced T-shirts and use only eco-friendly inks for printing. 

Here are a few T-shirt niche examples to give you an idea about the industry:

  • Sustainably sourced organic T-shirts
  • Pop culture or political references
  • Exclusive high-quality T-shirts
  • High-performance and technical athletic T-Shirts
  • Celebrating history or cultural touchpoints
  • Limited edition T-shirts
  • Sleepwear or loungewear T-shirts

Study your target audience’s age demographic, interest, and budget when choosing your niche. Figuring out the T-shirt models—shirt dimensions, T-shirt style, and so on—is also necessary to ensure you’re in tune with your customer’s current needs and preferences.

Decide Your Visual Brand

Customers identify your brand through visual components like your company logo, specific brand colors, signature graphic elements, or an illustration system.

Your logo should be an extension of the kinds of T-shirts you sell. If it looks out of place, your brand will look bad, and you may lose potential business. 

What’s more, you can incorporate your visual brand component’s into your future T-shirt design. This will ultimately pay you back over time in brand recognition and T-shirt revenues.

Consider Trademarking

Considering how vital a logo is for your visual brand, getting a trademark should be on your priority list. Otherwise, you cannot do anything if other businesses decide to use your logo to cash in on your business’s popularity.

Before that, make sure you have a custom logo that can be trademarked. This means you cannot use generic stock or clipart. Think of this as an investment for your T-shirt business that will help you legally protect your brand.

Step 2: Register Your T-Shirt Company

After defining the brand, you have to iron out other important details of starting and running a T-shirt company.

Select a Business Structure

Sole proprietorship or LLC? Do you want a partner on board or opt for incorporation?

Choosing the right business structure for your business is a crucial decision that affects your business in many ways. Therefore, give this some real thought and consider all the pros and cons. 

If you want to launch your T-shirt quickly, a sole proprietorship would be the right choice. But if you want more protection, a limited liability company (LLC) may be a better fit.

I highly recommend consulting an attorney. They can give you good advice and help you understand your tax situation and personal liability extent.

Sort Out All Paperwork

After finalizing your business structure, you have to file the necessary paperwork.

As per the U.S. Small Business Administration regulations, every business requires some form of license or permit. Head over to their website to get all the information you need on the licenses or permits you’ll need to start a business in your state.

Create a Business Plan

A business plan keeps your business on track. 

At the very minimum, your business plan should include a vision and mission statement for your T-shirt company, a general description of your product, and a strategic plan to sell them. Also, these plans don’t need to be lengthy contrary to popular belief. Instead, it should focus on including relevant aspects only.

With all your objectives, financials, and other intentions clearly laid out, you and your team members will have a better idea of how to proceed and make decisions. 

When making a business plan for your T-shirt company, you have to figure out what kind of T-shirt company you want to run in the first place. You have two options: print-on-demand or custom wholesale.

Under the print-on-demand business model, you provide custom designs. You enlist a third-party vendor who prints and ships pre-existing garments to your customers. On the other hand, custom wholesale purchasing pre-made wholesale tees and then customizing them by hand. 

Want to create the best possible business plan for your business? Check out my article titled How to Write a Business Plan for Your Startup for a step-by-guide.

Step 3: Crunch the Numbers

The whole point of launching a T-shirt business is to earn money. However, you cannot determine your company’s profitability without understanding numbers.

Know Your Total Costs

You have to track your sales and profits, assess your start-up cost, calculate other expenses, and stay on top of many other metrics. Here’s a list of expenses commonly associated with a T-shirt business:

  • Brand designing expenses (logo, website, business cards)
  • License and permit fees
  • Marketing and advertising costs
  • Rent and deposit for work location
  • Infrastructural costs (phone and internet service, e-commerce expenses, invoicing software)
  • Hourly wages to cover your and your employees’ labor time

Once you calculate your total cost of starting your T-shirt company, compare it with the funds you already have, plus the profits you want to make. Then figure out how to make up all the difference.

While you don’t need a lot of capital, you do want to shop for the best prices at your quality point. You can also consider looking out for business financing options to raise funds.

Set Your Prices

At this point, you should know how much it costs to produce a T-shirt. This will be your cost-per-unit or CPU.

While your print-on-demand partner will provide you with the CPU, you have to calculate your own CPU if you decide to proceed with the custom wholesale model, including the T-shirt costs and printing or customization costs.

Keep in mind that the CPU is only the tip of the iceberg. You have to bake the entire cost of running a business, and of course, your profit into the T-shirt prices. 

Don’t forget your competition too! You have to know what your competitors are charging as your potential customers will be comparing your prices with theirs.

You might feel your T-shirts should cost more to reflect quality or brand, or you may want to charge less to get more customers. Both choices are okay. Still, it’s better to set the prices in a way that it’s neither too high nor too low compared to your competition.

In my experience, aiming for prices that are 30% to 50% higher than your expenses is usually adequate to sustain your business over time. 

Step 4: Design Your T-Shirt Line

As mentioned, customers want their T-shirts to reflect their beliefs—an extension of themselves. 

Planning your first T-shirt line is a crucial step, but luckily, there’s plenty of room for creativity in the T-shirt business. 

Your T-shirts should introduce your unique design perspective while simultaneously reflecting your brand essence. Your first line will show your audience what quality, design, and messaging they can expect from your brand consistently.

You manage to do this right, and you’ll immediately have a customer base to increase revenue. But if you do it wrong, you may find it hard to make a single sale.

Decide Who Will Design the T-Shirts

If you’re a designer, you can get started right off the bat and create your own T-shirt designs that reflect your brand creatively and interestingly. But if you’re an entrepreneur wanting to make money by selling T-shirts, you can hire trusted designers to come up with original (and appealing) T-shirt designs.

There’s no right or wrong choice here. It all boils down to your designing abilities and preferences.

Evaluate Your T-Shirt Printing and Decoration Options

After selecting a T-shirt design, you have to know how to execute them. There are tons of printing and decoration options you can consider:

  • Screen printing
  • Heat transfer
  • Embroidery
  • Appliqué 
  • Direct to garment printing
  • Mock-ups

Each of the above printing processes has a distinct style, which when used creatively, will give you incredible results. I recommend analyzing your target audience’s preferences and ongoing trends to understand which pattern would appeal most to your customers.

Step 5: Establish a Solid Online Presence

Having an online presence is incredibly crucial in today’s time. If you don’t have a website or social media platforms, you’re losing access to thousands—probably even millions—of potential customers.

Once you create your business website and social media platforms, make sure you link them together to enhance your marketing and sales efforts.

Build Your Ecommerce Website

Starting an online store is the most cost-effective way to launch a T-shirt company. Compared to buying or renting a brick-and-mortar storefront, paying for website hosting, ecommerce platform, and any other upfront web designing costs is always cheaper.

Your T-shirt business website has two jobs: look how good and function well. Therefore, you need to finalize your website’s appearance and then take the necessary measures to boost its functionality.

Here are some suggestions to enhance your website design:

  • Place your logo in a prominent place.
  • Choose an easy-to-read font and use your brand colors.
  • Fine-tune your market copy to suit your target audience’s tastes.
  • Be generous with white space. Using too many design elements and T-shirt pictures might overwhelm your website visitors.
  • Use custom photos of T-shirts. Put up clear, professional mockups if needed.

Your website’s functionality is as important as its appearance. Here’s a list of some important factors to keep in mind:

  • Ensure your website loads quickly. Every extra second makes it more likely for the visitor to click away.
  • Streamline the buying process, making it easier for people to buy your T-shirts.
  • Make your website easily navigable.
  • Offer 24/7 customer support, with highly efficient and professional people on the team.

Implementing the above tips to improve your website’s functionality will lead to more successful purchases, which, in turn, means higher revenue for you.

Create Relevant Social Media Profiles

Your T-shirt business doesn’t need to be on every single social media platform—only ones that your target audience frequents.

If you offer sustainable clothing, having profiles on Instagram and Facebook would make more sense. However, if you sell merchandise with political or pop culture references, Twitter and Instagram would be better options.

Step 6: Create a Sales Plan

Making T-shirts is only half the battle. You have to master the art of selling them to turn your idea into a profitable business.

Just like how a business plan facilitates better decision-making and chalks out a framework for your daily operations, a sales plan helps you develop a viable marketing/sales strategy and a list of effective tactics to help you sell.

Choose an Ecommerce Platform

Shopify, BigCommerce, Squarespace…you’ll find several amazing e-commerce platforms that let you create and manage an online store easily even when you don’t have any technical experience or expertise.

The only catch here is choosing the right ecommerce platform—something that’s admittedly challenging considering the wide variety of options. Here’s a list of questions to keep in mind to pick a good e-commerce platform:

  • How reliable is the platform? How much downtime do they experience?
  • Does the platform support payment methods compatible with your audience?
  • Does the platform charge any fees? If so, how much?
  • What’s the loading speed of the platform? Does it process orders quickly?
  • How many integrations of the platform of a? Are they helpful for your business?
  • Can you create a customizable website using the platform?

Open Your Online Store

After selecting your ecommerce platform, you can work on building your online store to start selling your T-shirts. This step is essentially the culmination of all your hard work thus far.

Sign up for your chosen ecommerce platform. Follow all the instructions that pop up on your screen to activate your online store.

All done? 

Congratulations! Your T-shirt business is now up and about.

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