Wearing a t-shirt with printed slogans is many people’s idea of making a statement, especially when they want to be vocal about something but is not able to be. It is an easy way of expressing oneself; wearing those t-shirts that declare what they want the whole world to know – their inner secrets, cravings, support, aversion and a whole lot of other emotions.
There is one thing you can do to help them – give them more of those t-shirts – by starting a t-shirt business.
As a business opportunity, there is no end to demand for good quality creatively designed printed t-shirts. Everyone wears t-shirts. They are always in demand.
The basis of a t-shirt business is simple – availability of good quality blank t-shirts (your canvas) and unique and original wordings/creative designs printed clearly and attractively on them. You also need a good market to sell them to. Then the business will take care of itself with word-of-mouth publicity, repeat buys, etc.
If you think you are ready to venture into a profitable t-shirt business there are certain things you ought to know and certain things you need not know that much. Here is a rundown of these
T-shirt Business Essentials
To start a T-shirt business you do not ‘have’ to know how to design. But you need to know ‘about’ designing.
Good Design is the backbone of a t-shirt business. You can either use clip arts and stock designs that you can buy ready made or buy pre-made templates that you can adjust to your liking or create your own unique custom designs.
The readymade designs are available easily on websites but they are available to all, even your rivals. If you have unique designs that no one else has, you are ahead in this business. But still, for some popular wordings and images, you can use these stocks designs.
DIY or Hire ?
If you want your own personalized creative designs, you can take photographs, modify them or create them from scratch on your computer using designing software like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator in graphic formats (Vector or Raster) that can be transferred on to fabric.
To do this work you can either hire a graphic designer or do it yourself. If you are doing the work yourself, you have to know how to operate the high-end graphic design software.
If you do not know professional designing at the point of starting the business, it is better to hire a designer for the job. Because there is a learning curve for the work.
Remember that you have a lot of other work to do in the business. Fiddling with cool designs may seem interesting but that is not what sells the t-shirts. So unless you are very passionate to learn and you are a very quick learner, leave designing to those who do this for a living, who have had hours of practice perfecting this skill.
But even if you are buying pre-made designs only or hiring a designer to do everything, it pays to know the concepts of design and where the designs should be placed and which colors appeal to the customers etc.
Designing has a lot to do with who you will be selling the t-shirts. You cannot make thousands of t-shirts and hope that one or a lot of your neighbors would come and pick it up, maybe. It has to be targeted.
Every marketer ought to have a target market in mind, when they start a business. Common sense. The person who buys an Apple iMac and another who buys budget laptop are on two tangents and need two kinds of marketing approaches. One company may not be able to cater to both types of customers unless they have big budgets.
So most startups start off marketing to a small section of people. This is what niche marketing is all about and it is the best one for a t-shirt business.
You have to find that specific group of people who have a common interest (eg. atheists, teenagers who love jazz music etc.), ie those who belong to categories according to gender, age, geological locations, interests, then know everything about them, make designs specific for them, sell to them like crazy, conquer that section till everyone there owns your t-shirt, and then go from there to another group, or sell more to them.
There are many options that are available for printing on t-shirts. You need to pick up the best one for you. Whatever method you use, ensure that the end product does not peel, smudge, smear, or fade after washing.
The choice of printing method depends on the type of fabric the design is going on to, color of the fabric, the quantity you are printing with the same design and the type of design. Another thing to consider is whether the printing technique is suitable/viable for printing of small orders and short turn around orders.
Screen printing, Plastisol transfers (screen printed), sublimation printing, direct to garment printing (DTG) are the best options.
Sublimation printing is good for printing on polyester t-shirts, not for cotton t-shirts. The design should be darker than the fabric.
Screen printing gives you a very durable and vivid result. But Screen printing is usually viable only if you have a lot of t-shirts to print in the same design. It is not expensive but you just need bulk orders with limited colors otherwise it is not so inexpensive. If you have a place that does this at an affordable cost for your big order, it is a very good option.
Today most of the t-shirt businesses use Screen printed transfers (Plastisol transfers); these are special designs made on high quality heat transfer papers which are adhered to the t-shirts using a heat press machine. You need to buy a Heat press machine for this. You can print on even dark colored fabrics with great clarity with this method.
This is done by screen printers. They will transfer your digital design onto a special release paper. You can then use a heat press machine to transfer the design onto your t-shirt, at your convenience. You will place the design and use the heat and pressure from the heat press machine to fuse the Plastisol inks onto the surface of the t-shirt, wherever you want, whenever you want.
You have a great deal of flexibility and the convenience of doing the printing even in front of the customer. The quality is as good as that of screen printing.
Direct to Garment (DTG) printer is excellent for printing quality photographs on light colored fabrics but the printer itself is very expensive. And printing a lot of t-shirts with this method may turn out to be expensive to sell at a profit. Advantage of DTG printing is that you can print even short runs or even a one off t-shirt. If you have unique photographs you can use this method to sell print-on-demand tshirts.
Iron on transfers are very easy to do but the least stable, so not recommended for a business.
You should look for printing establishments with fast turnaround time – that is, how fast can the job be done once you place the order. You will need to order samples to check whether the turnaround they offer is true or not.
You will have to ask specific questions like “how many colors can be used for the design?”, “Will I own the right to the design” or “How to transfer the copyright of my design from the designer”, “What is the guarantee for the quality of the printing” etc.
Related post : 12 Popular T-shirt printing methods.
Buying blank t-shirts at the right cost
Buying a lot of t-shirts with superior softness and the right fit is an important key to your t-shirt business success. If your t-shirt is not a good buy in terms of feel, colorfastness, etc., you will lose customers.
You also have to get many other factors right – women’s t-shirt style is different from men’s; some customers want cotton t-shirts and nothing else. Usually, 100% combed and ring-spun Preshrunk cotton is preferred. A little stretch may be added with some polyester fibers. People who are into high-intensity sports and athletics may find cotton t-shirts not so comfortable and they may prefer blends.
Here is a related post listing out the criteria to look for when buying t-shirts.
If you are buying it at a price that is not viable for reselling to your market you are doomed from the start.
You will need to contact many wholesale vendors who sell blank t-shirts and ask them for samples (or buy samples). Print on them to see if they are right for the printing you have in mind, before buying in bulk.
A totally different way of starting a t-shirt business is going the dropshipping route – In this method, you will just be selling t-shirts made available from wholesalers, manufacturers, distributors, or suppliers. You are a middle man. No need of buying any inventory or designing or shipping. You just have to find customers for the readymade t-shirts. So no need to trouble yourself about buying anything in this case.
Laws, regulations and taxes
Ignorance of law and negligence of taxes is the death knell for businesses. Get yourself acquainted with all the laws of the land. It may save you a lot of trouble – fine for not paying taxes, copyright claims by ruthless designers (they may have right over your artwork unless there is written agreement), right to operate your business from home, fine if you do not deal properly with the chemicals used in the printing industry, etc.
Accounting and office work
The tshirt business can be conducted in 3 ways. The first and easiest is dropshipping. Others hold a large inventory of printed T-shirts and sell them through marketing activities online and offline and then some others simply print on demand. All of them need different types of accounting.
Managing the money you have, without overspending is a skill that not every businessman knows. But they ought to because this is what makes one person successful and another broke. You will need to know bookkeeping or will have to hire someone who knows.
For this business, it is important to be efficient in keeping track of suppliers, orders, sizes, addresses of customers, customer service activities etc. You will need proper systems for this.
You also need to do regular maintenance of all the equipment you have including the printing equipment, computer and peripherals.
If you have a website you will need to keep aside some time or money to maintain it, update blog by adding new content, refresh product photographs etc.
In your t-shirt business you will need to buy necessary raw materials, manage inventory, take orders, fulfill and ship those orders, manage customer complaints, do marketing activities and be active on social media promoting your brand. If you cannot manage all of these on your own you may have to hire help.
Would the business bear the extra expense?. This expense would have to be adjusted in your pricing. Would this make your t-shirt more expensive than those selling on amazon or by other competitors?.
Pricing is an element that needs your complete attention.
You need to know how to take decent photographs of your sample t-shirts. They should be clear and attractive enough to attract the attention of your potential customer.
Anyone can start a t-shirt business – it costs very little to start; you can operate it from home; No need for any special skills or software; there is great demand. But that means – more competition.
You need to be tough to survive in this industry. You need nerves of steel in this business as competition is tough, just because the entry is easy. You have to be mentally prepared for all the potential challenges that this business will throw in front of you. Best wishes.
Related post : 13 rules for running a home business.
This is the most important thing of all. When it is a business, selling is the number one thing – you need continuous sales month after month. You need to do a whole lot of selling to turn profitable.
So you have to turn on your inner and outer salesman full blast and go about breathing, eating and living sales.
You are in business, not when you have a garage full of beautiful creatively printed t-shirts that everyone in your family admires but when you have sold the lot.
You can sell your t-shirts on your own website, or on other websites with special interests, on popular online marketplaces, at stalls in craft shows, sell to your local community through advertising in the local newspaper, sell to special interest groups or clubs by contacting them with cold emails. You can also simply copy your competition -see what they are doing in your market and then do the same. There are countless ways to sell.
When you think about it, some people even manage to sell sawdust to the lumber mill. Selling your beautiful printed t-shirts is certainly going to be easy. Good taste is almost always appreciated.
You can read more on t-shirt printing on this exclusive t-shirt printing forum. Online discussions in forums like this can teach you a lot about the real business of selling t-shirts.