How to Build a Profitable T-Shirt Business

How to Build a Profitable T-Shirt Business - StartupStorey

An online t-shirt business is a simple business, but it isn’t an easy business. It’s so much more than just having funny designs. It requires real thought and marketing work to succeed.

We at StartupStorey have previously written about 6 Myths about Starting your Own Business and don’t forget to make use of our 150 Free Resources for Startups!


Test it out on other websites before starting on your own

Don’t start your own thing until you have used other platforms and sites (Redbubble, Teepublic, Etsy, Amazon) to test your designs and whether they will sell.


Come up with a marketable idea

There’s no scope for sales if you can’t market an idea. After you’ve decided that you are starting a tshirt business, start brainstorming about possible ideas for your t-shirts. Write down as many ideas as you can.


Research & Development

You don’t want to just whack any old designs onto t-shirts and try to sell them. You want to have designs that appeal to a certain group of people (niche) and that carry a coherent, consistent style.

So look around at brands and companies you like, and figure out what it is they do that you like, and how you can do something similar.

You might start by looking for a niche you know about (eg some online community) that doesn’t already have a ‘go-to’ brand for clothing. you’re looking for inspiration, not to copy anyone.

If you can’t come up with your own thing, you won’t last long.


Determine your target market

After you’ve brainstormed your ideas for starting a T-shirt business, it’s time to start thinking about your target market.

Who do you want to sell your t-shirts to? Be as specific as possible.

You must dig deeper and find your niche.

The possibilities are endless and the more specific you can get with your niche market, the easier it will be to sell your shirts and come up with specific marketing plans.


Set up your business structure

Think about how big you want your business to be and then consult with a business or legal professional on what the ideal business structure would be for you.

Another thing you might want to consider is what type of sales you want to focus on – retail (selling directly to consumers), wholesale (selling to other stores) or both. This might help you decide what business structure is best for you.


Manufacturing your T-shirts

Many t-shirt blank manufacturers have really low minimums, so you can test a few different styles to see what will sell best for your niche market.

Another option is to have a t-shirt manufacturer make shirts according to your specifications, but they often require you to purchase thousands of shirts at a time, which might not be feasible when you first start your shirt business.

If you search for “shirt blanks” or “shirt manufacturers” you will be able to find a plethora of resources online.


Printing your T-shirts

Some people get in the t-shirt business because they love to screenprint and they have all the necessary equipment to print their own t-shirts.

If that’s not you, then search the Internet for screenprinters in your local area and meet with them to discuss your needs.


Pricing your t-shirts

The price of your t-shirts depends on what it costs you to make each t-shirt. When calculating the price, make sure to include the actual price of the shirt, screenprinting costs, shipping costs, costs of hangtags and labels and other costs such as marketing, storage/warehousing and labor.


Storing and shipping your T-shirts

If you are starting a tshirt business and want to sell your shirts directly to the consumer, it’s probably a good idea to set up your own website and print some postcards so you can promote your t-shirt business.

Allow people to purchase items directly from your website and make sure you have good photography that reflects the quality of your t-shirts.

You might also want to consider selling your shirts at local events such as flea markets or street fairs or fundraising events.


Don’t design what you want to sell, design what the customer wants to buy (and is already buying).

Once you have a good idea of what your company/brand is going to be, you need designs (the artwork for your shirts).

If you are not a designer you will need to find one. Find someone you know who can design, knows photoshop, ideally illustrator also.

Work with them to produce at least 5 decent designs. Pay them if you need to, or get them to partner up with you.

These should be designs you would be happy wearing yourself. They need to look professional, but they don’t need to be complicated.


Be prepared to create hundreds of designs…otherwise you must become a marketing expert and build an organic and engaged audience of passionate fans.

In fact simpler is usually better. It is the concept or idea behind each design that is going to sell the shirt, even more so than the design itself.

Once you have your designs, you need to produce ‘mock ups’. These are images of your designs superimposed onto shirts.

If you just google ‘tshirt mockup’ you’ll find a bunch of free psd templates you can use.

If you’re going to offer multiple colours of shirts then you need a mockup for each colour. Save all these in a folder, with sub-folders for each design.


Set up your website – time to go at it solo!

You will need a domain name (around $9/year) and a web hosting account ($5/month). Then you will setup a WordPress site on your hosting account. For hosting, we recommend using Siteground given their robust support ticket system that includes live chat.  

Once you have WordPress set up, install the woocommerce plugin. Just google ‘start wordpress site tutorial’ and you’ll find a bunch of articles that will walk you through the whole thing.

Woocommerce is the plugin that’s going to allow you to sell stuff on your website. You will also need a Paypal account.

How to setup Siteground

1. Choose your hosting plan

SiteGround has three plans and one can sign for any of them with a great discount through your affiliate link.

How to Use Hosting Sign Up Step 1

Step 2. Choosing Domain

Clients can choose to buy a new domain, or sign up with an existing domain. Use the GrowBig and GoGeek plans if you’re looking to have a free website transfer from your current existing website.

How to Use Hosting Sign Up Step 2

Step 3. Review and Complete

Unlike many other hosting providers our advertised discount applies to any of the initial periods chosen during the sign up process.

Being able to get the low price for the one year period is a fact that increases conversions greatly in comparison to other providers where the lowest monthly price applies only for the longest period.

How to Use Hosting Sign Up Step 3

Set up your website now using Siteground by not missing this exclusive offer!

Design and configure your site

Your designer should be able to help – if not you need a friend who is good with websites. Make it look nice. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just clean and simple and usable.

Add your products (google ‘adding products with woocommerce’).

Give them good titles and descriptions. Set up your shipping costs (again via woocommerce – google it).

Insert your paypal email in the woocommerce checkout settings and place some test orders to check everything works. (you should receive an email when someone buys, and so should the customer – so get a friend to help).


Design Niche is important if you want to thrive.

It’s important to have a nice in any business. It’s just as important when it comes to t-shirts.

The niche defines the definition of your product but even more so, in a marketing-dominated industry like t-shirts, who your target audiences it/who’s going to buy your shirts.


Once your site works, promote it.

Tell people who would be interested in the shirts you sell. Don’t tell people who would not be interested (waste of time).


If you do not wish to handle your own inventory, try dropshipping.

Dropshipping is by far the most low-risk way to start a t-shirt company.

Thanks to the power of technology, you can now design t-shirts online and sell them on a print-on-demand basis, meaning there is very little upfront investment required.

You’re going to use a fulfilment (drop shipping / print on demand) company to actually print and ship any orders you get.

The 2 biggest dropshippers are printful or printaura. Whichever you choose, setup your account with them.

When (or if) you get an order, simply place that order with either printaura or printful. You pay them, and they send the shirt out. You keep the difference (what customer paid – dropshipper cost = profit for you).

Read the Strawberry Startup ebook

Should you go for a T-shirt business or not?

I think the bottom line of creating a t-shirt business in today’s market is that Shopify and other tools can make it really easy to set up.

But then the real work begins — marketing and sales.

Figuring out how to reach your customers profitably is the difference between a successful tshirt business) and all the others that scatter along the shoulder of the t-shirt industry highway.


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