If you've ever thought about starting a t-shirt business, you'll love this guide.
We're going to show you, step by step, exactly how to start a profitable t-shirt business in 2019.
For such a simple product, the business model itself can be a bit complex, but by the end of this article, you'll know exactly what is needed to succeed in the t-shirt game.
Let's get started.
Why Create Yet Another T-Shirt Business?
You might think that there are enough t-shirt businesses out there already. And that's true.
The custom-printed t-shirt market is projected to hit $10 Billion by 2025. It's a big market, and that's why there are so many competitors.
This is precisely why it's such a great market. It's still growing, and there is ample room to establish your own brand and take market share away from a slew of mediocre competitors.
Startup costs can be extremely low, depending on the business model you choose, and your marketing options are virtually endless.
Let's break down how to get started.
1. Plan Out Your Product/Market Fit
This part is fun.
Designing your own t-shirt lets you express yourself creatively and make something truly unique that people are excited to wear.
A. Who do you want to sell your product to?
If you don't have a clear grasp of who you're designing for, it's kind of like taking a stab in the dark.
This is why defining the demographic you want to appeal to—otherwise known as your niche—is an essential first step.
Think about the niches you're interested in and look for ways you can fill a gap or solve a problem for that group. Maybe you want to create a line of t-shirts for Millennial women that includes empowering sayings and designs. Or perhaps you want to appeal to animal lovers, and you tie your brand to a local shelter or national organization.
Still not sure how to find your niche? Ask yourself these questions:
- Is there a gap in an industry that I can fill?
- Is there a specific market that I'd like to create t-shirts for?
- What do I like designing?
- Who would wear this t-shirt design and why?
Make a list of the different demographics you are interested in reaching with your brand and eliminate from there. Your product will evolve as time goes, but your niche will help guide choices surrounding those changes.
B. What kind of t-shirt does your niche want to buy?
It's pretty simple.
You have your niche, and now you must design a product your niche wants.
But how do you know what your niche wants to purchase? Enter: market research.
Dive into your niche's world and find out the following:
- What types of clothes is your target audience wearing?
- What kind of style are they shopping for?
- What brands do they like?
- Where are they shopping?
- How much are they willing to spend on an article of clothing?
- Are they buying clothes online, in-store, or both?
These are just a few questions to get your research started, but as you'll come to find out, one question usually leads to another and so on.
One of the great things about conducting market research is that there are many ways to go about collecting it. The more sources you retrieve information from, the more well-rounded your findings will be. And well-rounded findings will lead to better marketing and product decisions.
So where should you look for answers?
Social media is a top resource to gather information about your target audience, but there are several other places you can look to for insight, including:
- T-shirt-specific online forums
- Market statistics and studies
- Competitor shops (both online and in-store)
- Resources on the history of t-shirts and apparel design
- Conduct a SWOT analysis of your target niche
Think about where your customers are online and gather all you can from those sources
C. What will your product look like?
Once you have a firm grasp on whom you're selling to and what they're interested in buying, you can start designing your t-shirt.
The market research you collect should be a leading force behind the design of your t-shirt, down to the cut, color, and price point. From there, design a product that your niche wants to purchase based on that research.
Once you start to design your t-shirt, consider these questions:
- What is your vision for the design?
- Will you have multiple designs or just one?
- Will the shirts be different colors, styles, sleeve lengths, etc.?
- How will you print your t-shirts?
- What will make your design stand out from the competition?
As you get to work, keep those questions top-of-mind and you'll make something your customers can't get enough of.
D. Will your product sell?
This is also a great time to test your shirt design and see if it's something that people want to buy.
Before you start accumulating boxes of t-shirts to sell, consider seeking outside opinions of your shirts from both your target customers and reliable sources who will give you honest feedback.
There are several ways you can gather feedback on your t-shirt design:
- Email customers in your niche and ask if they would be willing to share their opinions.
- Give away a few samples in exchange for feedback (Pro tip: this is an excellent opportunity to gather input on the fit and feel of the t-shirt as well).
- Invest in more market research.
It's imperative to know if your design is missing anything critical that only those in your target niche could identify. Having confirmation that your product is going to be successful—or on the flip side, what you need to change to make it a success—is essential to a prosperous launch.
2. Select The Right Business Model For You
You've established your niche and your product. Now you need to determine how you're going to structure your business.
When it comes to clothing and apparel, there are quite a few ways you can configure your company.
Let's take a look at some of the most common business models for clothing brands.
Dropshipping takes the headache of shipping and logistics out of the equation, because you're selling items directly from a wholesaler.
This model is different from other business models because you don't have much control over the product your customers receive or how the product arrives at their door. There's a chance something could go wrong with an order, and you not have much control over how it's handled.
Despite that fact, it's a great way to save on the expenses associated with shipping, logistics, and inventory.
If you don't mind giving up a little control regarding your product, or don't want to deal with matters related to shipping and logistics, this may be worth looking into.
B. On-Demand Printing
With an on-demand business model, you fulfill customer orders as they come in. So when a customer makes a purchase, you create the t-shirt they ordered and send it to them.
This is one of the quickest ways to get your business up and running. It also ensures you aren't spending too much on inventory from the start. You just need to make sure you have enough supply to meet the demand and have the ability to ship out product when you promised it to your customers.
C. Private Label
With a private label business model, you purchase "blank" t-shirts in bulk and add your design to the shirts all in one swoop.
This way, your product is ready to go as soon as a customer places an order.
A private label business model could save you money in the long run if you get the shirts at a great price from a wholesaler.
However, like the other methods, there is a risk associated with this model. If you don't sell all the shirts you ordered, or if you make a surplus, you might find yourself with a lot of extra product and nowhere to put it.
Dig into each business model and decide what works best for your company. You could always start with one type and change things up if it's not working.
D. Brick & Mortar vs Ecommerce
It's also important to determine if you're going to sell your t-shirts entirely online through a storefront or if you want to open up a brick and mortar shop (or do both).
There are numerous benefits to both types of storefronts including:
Brick and mortar: Customers can try on merchandise before they purchase, you can interact with your customers in person, and you can construct an engaging in-store shopping experience.
eCommerce: Customers can shop whenever they want, low financial cost, and you can sell to customers all over the world.
Even so, it's important to take into account what is best for your business concerning your goals.
3. Draw up a Bullet-Proof Business Plan
A business plan is an all-encompassing document that acts as a guide as you grow your company.
It's also a great way to solidify all the different aspects of your business and help you establish a clear picture of how you can accomplish your goals.
Every business plan looks different, and depending on if you're going to seek financial help, it may require a different level of detail.
Most business plans include the following:
This section is made up of a detailed description of what your business is, who you're targeting with your product, and what your product is.
Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
This is a clear, concise statement of what makes you different from your competitors. Maybe a percentage of your profits go to a charity organization, or perhaps you've partnered with underrepresented artists and want to help showcase their work. Whatever your USP is, make sure it explicitly defines who you are and what makes you unique.
This part should include a detailed breakdown of everything financial as it relates to your business. If you aren't sure where to start with this part of your business plan, it's wise to talk to a financial planner or advisor that can help you figure out what's best for your situation.
Of course, this section is subject to change, but it's essential to have this part hashed out initially, so you don't overspend, can price your products accurately, and are on track to make a profit.
Audience analysis and marketing strategy
This section should detail who your target audience is as well as how you plan on reaching them and selling to them. Your market research should help guide this part.
As mentioned above, if you're looking for financial backing from an investor, you'll likely be required to incorporate other details or include additional sections that further make a case for your business.
4. Setup Your Business
You know what your product is, you know who you're trying to sell to, and now you have a business plan.
The next item to tackle is to figure out the logistics of your business and how it's going to function.
A. What should you account for when setting up your business?
Many components go into making a business thrive. And as your business grows, you'll learn how to optimize different aspects, understand what tools benefit you the most, and what is best for your company.
Depending on the business model you selected, you may need to consider the following:
- Product shipping and logistics
- Packaging, fulfillment, and returns
- Inventory and storage
- Customer service
As you can see, there's a lot to consider. But as a business owner, it's up to you to make sure things are running correctly and that every decision you make is helping your bottom line.
Luckily, there are countless software and tools built to power eCommerce businesses. With the right software, you can manage all areas of your business with ease.
B. Should you register your business?
Regardless of how you want to structure your business, it's a smart decision to register your business.
It's simple: there are several tax breaks and legal protections that make registering worth it.
What's not simple is the process of actually registering it.
Unfortunately, it isn't a matter of quickly filling out a form. Instead, there are a few steps involved:
Register your business name
You'll need to complete this step if you are planning on naming your company something other than your name. In this case, your business will be registered under your "doing business as" (DBA) name.
Register your business as its own legal entity
This won't be necessary for all businesses, but if you think your company will benefit from establishing a legal structure like this, you may want to consider registering as an LLC or an S Corporation.
Register your business with the IRS
Depending on whether you have employees (or plan on hiring employees in the future), this step may look different for some. If you have employees, you'll need to obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN). If you aren't planning on hiring employees, you can use your Social Security Number for business purposes.
Obtain the correct licensing and permits
Every business needs the proper documents to operate legally. Make sure you have the right ones before you start selling your product. Because you're setting up a t-shirt company, also be sure that you aren't violating any copyrights or trademarks with your designs, too.
C. How should you choose your pricing?
It goes without saying that before you start selling t-shirts you have to finalize your pricing.
Take a look at some of your competitors' pricing and see if you can match that. Don't forget to consider your expenses as well.
Your competitors may have their prices set lower than yours, but the quality of their t-shirts may be lacking.
Still, walking the line between making a profit and selling at a price point your customers are willing to shop at can be tricky. That's why it's vital that you make a case for why your pricing is what it is. If you're sourcing t-shirts that are made ethically, and therefore cost more than the average blank t-shirt, your price point is likely going to be higher.
If you're transparent about your pricing, your customers will appreciate it (and like you more for it).
5. Build a Brand Your Target Audience Loves
There must be a demand in order to sell your product.
If there isn't a demand, you have to create one.
What better way to create demand than with a killer marketing strategy?
There are several ways to spread the word about your business and make sure your product gets in front of the right people.
Let's take a look at some of the best methods.
From social media ads to native and retargeting tactics, there are various options at your disposal when it comes to creating the perfect ad.
Test out a few channels at a time to gauge what is optimal for your business and what helps you sell the most products. With ads, you can also discover a lot about your target audience in terms of how they behave online, how they shop, what their interests are, and more.
B. Search engine optimization (SEO)
There are plenty of brands to compete with these days—especially as a t-shirt company.
Therefore, it's more important than ever to have a solid SEO strategy in place so your ideal customers can find you.
Luckily, even if you aren't confident with your knowledge of SEO, there are many resources (most of them free!), such as Moz, Ahrefs, and Search Engine Land, that can help you learn the basics of how to leverage search.
If no one sees your website—we'll talk more about that in a minute—it's going to be difficult to sell your products and reach your niche.
C. Social media marketing
In addition to ads and search, it's essential to build a community around your brand.
A great way to do so is through social media—both with ads and organically.
Encourage customers to take pictures wearing your shirts, post them to their social media channels, and tag your company. Ask your followers engagement-driving questions, like what types of designs they would like to see more of or what their favorite style of t-shirt is.
To build an authentic community around your brand, you must invest time and energy into growing one.
Focus On What Makes You Better
Now that we've outlined the steps, it's time to get started. Go build that t-shirt business!
Remember that you have a lot of competition, so your goal is to figure out how you'll be better than your competitors and then focus on becoming the best in the business in that area.
While we can cover most of the steps to building a business within a single blog post, in reality, each step has a lot of complexity and flexibility. It's nice to have more in-depth mentorship, as well as help from a community of entrepreneurs.
If you'd like both of those things, sign up below to try our premium course, completely free, and get added to our Facebook community of ambitious entrepreneurs. This is the same course more than 3,000 of our students have used to quit their jobs and launch successful, full time businesses.