Starting a t-shirt business can be fun, simple and a great way to earn money. But it can be a challenge if you don’t know where to start or all the steps needed to get started. In this article, we’ll walk you through all the steps, things to consider and suggestions on how you can get your t-shirt business up and running in no time. We want you to be successful in your endeavor and give you everything you need to grow your own t-shirt business.
Why Start a T-Shirt Business?
With the expected increase in the global T-shirt printing market, it’s no wonder it’s become a popular business idea for many, just in the US alone the industry is expected to be valued at $3 billion by 2025, an 11.5% increase. People are continuing to have more disposable income available and a shift in trends towards more custom design apparel are some of the many advantages of starting your own t-shirt business. Additionally, with the increases in technology to printing machines, it is even more affordable now to start a t-shirt business with very little start-up costs. And with the wide variety and market of the t-shirt industry, it’s easy to create your own unique niche, get creative and appeal to a specific audience to create a name for yourself.
But even though there are a lot of advantages to starting a t-shirt business, it doesn’t come without risks. Just like in any other business, you have to work hard, spend time researching and create a business plan before you can become successful. Even then, there is no guarantee a business will be successful, so make sure it is something you really want to do and that you are willing to put the work in before taking the leap.
E-Commerce or Retail
Another important decision you will have to make that will impact how you set up your business and put together a business plan is deciding where you will sell your designs. You can choose to sell your t-shirts online or in a brick-and-mortar store or both. Within each of these options, you have options to consider. Will you sell through your own website or sell through a third party like Etsy or Amazon? With a retail business, you can set up your own store or sell your t-shirts to existing stores wholesale. Each has pros and cons, but setting up your own brick-and-mortar will have the highest start-up costs associated with it.
Steps to Starting a Successful T-Shirt Business
Now that we’ve gone through some of the basic things you need to consider before getting started with a t-shirt business of your own, here are the steps you need to start a successful t-shirt business.
Research Your Target Market
Since almost everybody buys t-shirts, you will first want to start off by deciding and researching who you want to target with your t-shirts. To be able to stand out from the thousands of other t-shirt businesses out there, you want to really narrow down a niche and cater your business to them so that you can be heard through all the noise of other similar businesses out there.
You’ll want to consider things like the age, gender, location and interests of whichever niche market you decide to pursue. To do the research on your target market, you will want to use sites like Facebook and Reddit to find natural groups of people who are likely in your niche. For example, if you want to target people who love books and reading, you can join Facebook groups and Reddit threads that are dedicated to talking about and recommending books.
You can get an idea of what the people in those groups are interested in and narrow down your niche even further. You will get a great understanding of who your audience is, what they like to talk about and the language they use so you can more easily communicate and reach them with your marketing. Another great tip you can use is to send out surveys to those groups or do a few interviews with members of those groups to get an idea of what they look for when purchasing a t-shirt.
Develop Your Brand Identity
Once you’ve researched your target market and gotten a good understanding of what they are looking for when it comes to t-shirts, you can begin to develop your branding. The insights you’ve gathered will be able to guide you in your brand development and help you make some of those key decisions like the logo, name, brand mission, tone and how you overall outwardly present your business.
Diving deeper into branding, you will not only have to develop the visual side of your brand but the messaging and identity of your brand as well.
Visually, you need to craft a unique logo, choose the primary colors of your brand and decide on the fonts that you will use and where those will show up to create a cohesive visual style guide that will make your t-shirts recognizable.
From the messaging perspective, you will want to develop a brand story that not only has meaning to you but connects with your audience. You would specify a target audience and tailor your messaging, tone and communication channels to specifically speak to and reach them. Along with the messaging, your mission and values will need to be evident in all that you do. Customers want to feel like a brand has similar values to them, and they make purchasing decisions from their perception of that brand. A great example of a brand that does this well is Patagonia. Its customers are loyal and feel like the brand gets them and speaks to them directly.
Select a Printing Method
You can choose from a few common methods when deciding on how you want to create your t-shirts. We’ll dive into the process for each so you can get a better idea of what will work best for you and your business.
Screen printing is an old technique but produces durable and long-lasting results. It lets you print on multiple different types of material and is great if you are working in large quantities. It takes some time and money to set up but can be worth it if you are planning on selling in bulk or want to expand your product line at some point.
Alternatively, with heat transfers, you can print designs from your home computer and transfer them with an iron. This method can be the most affordable option, especially when you are starting out and not doing large batches yet. Once you grow, it will be harder to keep up because it is the most time-consuming method as well.
The direct-to-garment printer acts similar to an ink printer you would have at home, printing the ink directly onto the shirt. It offers better quality than heat transfers and similar startup costs but can still be time-consuming when it comes to larger quantities.
Source Your Printing Supplies
Once you’ve decided on a printing method, you will want to start sourcing all the supplies you need to sell your t-shirts. One of the most important supplies you will source is the actual t-shirt. Your audience and the research you’ve done will help determine a price point and the quality you should be on the lookout for when deciding on a t-shirt supplier.
Beyond the actual supplies of the product, you will also want to think about and get supplies for marketing material you are planning on doing, which could include software for helping you design your t-shirts, business cards and flyers.
Design Your T-Shirts
Now the fun part comes into play — actually getting to design your t-shirt. The first step to launching a t-shirt business is to decide on the types of shirts you want to produce. You can choose from a variety of materials, styles, colors and designs, the options are unlimited. This is your time to decide if you want to expand and branch out beyond t-shirts into other clothing like sweatshirts and tank tops. You can also decide if you want to specialize in a certain niche such as organic cotton shirts or custom-printed tees, depending on your audience. Once you have chosen your niche, you can focus on designing and manufacturing shirts that fit your brand.
Price Your Products
After you’ve decided on the material and design of your t-shirts, it’s time to price your products. There is a lot to consider when pricing your product that goes beyond the actual cost of what you put into creating it, including labor, overhead, equipment, competitor prices and the value you provide with your product. One step beyond that is going back to your brand identity and seeing what makes sense from a branding perspective as well.
Choose Your Business Structure
In this article, we’ve covered the basics of what goes into starting a t-shirt business and listed steps to help with the creation and development of the product. Another important aspect is the actual setup of your business entity and the considerations that go into it. A lot of people may overlook this step or deem it unimportant. but it has long-lasting effects on your business and you do not want to ignore it.
A sole proprietorship is a business that is owned by one person where there is no legal distinction between the person and the business. That means that you are personally liable for any obligations that have to do with the business. Some states require a license or a permit to operate at the sole proprietorship level while others do not.
The advantage to operating as a sole proprietor is that less funding is needed to get started, and it is not as complicated to do taxes and run your business because less separation between you and your business is required. However, on the flip side, if there are legal issues that occur with your business, you are not protected from liabilities or obligations of the business.
A general partnership is a formal arrangement between two or more parties on how a business will operate and how profits are shared. In a general partnership, everything is shared equally between the number of parties involved.
Benefits of doing a general partnership are that you share responsibility for the business and have another person there to help, bounce ideas off of and bring different strengths to the business. Of course, things can get ugly if the relationship turns sour while running the business, and you risk not having many protections in place.
A limited partnership is similar to a general partnership except one or more parties do not play as large of a role in the day-to-day operations of the business. When you are a limited partner you have less liability with the business and do not need to be consulted for business decisions.
Some advantages to this setup are that you are able to have one person who manages the day-to-day and decision-making may be easier when handled by only one person. They are very easy to set up even though they require registering with the state, which general partnerships do not. However, with any business relationship, if a partner is not trustworthy or does something to the business that you wouldn’t do yourself, it can be a challenge to be liable when you are not directly involved in the success of the business.
Limited Liability Company
An LLC is a legal business structure and is legally separate and distinct from the owner. You can either operate the LLC on your own or have multiple owners. An LLC is preferred by many companies because it is relatively easy to set up and operate an LLC but also provides protection for owners who are not personally liable for debts and obligations of the business.
A corporation is a business completely separate from its owners and is owned by stockholders and administered by a board of directors.
The assets and liabilities of the corporation stay with the corporation and if any member of the company leaves, it does not affect the business. For a small business, a corporation has a lot of compliance and record-keeping obligations that are not necessary and can be time-consuming for a small business. However, if you are planning on scaling your business, adding employees and growing substantially, it may be an option to consider.
Register Your Business and Obtain Licenses and Permits
Depending on the legal requirements of the state you’re in and where you are operating your business, there may be licenses and permits to consider. After deciding on a business structure, familiarize yourself with your state’s legal requirements.
Also, depending on how large an operation you will be running, permits may be required for the type of freight being hauled or the size and weight of the vehicle.
Set Up Your Store
Whether you are going e-commerce, retail, using a third party or doing it on your own, it’s time to set up your store. Platforms and websites like Shopify or other integrations are great for product-based businesses onto traditional website builders like Woocommerce. You can decide to hire a web designer to help set everything up for you so you can get started quickly and easily selling and promoting your t-shirts.
If you are going the route of retail and are renting or buying your own brick-and-mortar store, you’d work with a realtor to look at spaces near you that are available to rent or buy. If you are going to be wholesaling to stores, you will have to do your research and reach out to the owners of shops near you to see what the requirements are for wholesaling.
Advertise Your Business
Now that you have everything set up and ready to go, it is time to get the word out there. Advertising is much easier nowadays because of access to social media, but it can be a challenge to get your name out there with so many companies vying for people’s attention.
Go back to your target audience and where they typically are spending time and focus your marketing efforts there. Test out different types of messaging, platforms and imagery to see what resonates with your audience. Once you have a better idea of what works, you can start putting advertising dollars behind your marketing if you choose to. You can also do offline media like newsletters, flyers or direct mail. These forms of advertising can work well if you are going the route of retail. The simplest and easiest place to start is with social media as it is an easy access point and allows you to reach a lot of people with very little money.
Ready to Hit the Ground Running?
Starting a t-shirt business takes a lot of time, preparation and work, but it is also probably simpler than you thought and is something anyone can do. There are so many resources and options available to you that let you tailor and adjust your t-shirt business to fit your wants and needs. As long as you put in the proper preparation and planning upfront, you can be successful with your business.
Resources are available to you to help you out along the way, like doola for when your business grows and you need to hire out for services like bookkeeping.
How profitable is the t-shirt business?
Profitability for each t-shirt business is different and depends on a lot of factors like materials, target market, size and expenses. On average though you can expect to make as much as 50% profit in your t-shirt business.
How many designs do I need to start a t-shirt business?
You can start with as little as one design! It’s better to have one great design than 20 ok designs. Start small and scale from there.
What equipment do I need for a t-shirt business?
In this article we go over the different types of printing methods there are which details the type of equipment needed to start a t-shirt business.
What kind of shirts sell the most?
The shirt that sells the most are still plain t-shirts. There is so much variety and a part of everyone’s wardrobe.
How can I start my own t-shirt business with no money?
To start a t-shirt business with no money you can use a dropshipper like Printful. You can easily get started there to make money before moving to your own website.