How to Start a Successful T-shirt Business in 10 Steps

A t-shirt business can be very profitable if you set it up the right way. Our 10-step guide can help get you started and understand the costs involved.

Starting a t-shirt business can be a profitable venture for even a business novice. It’s a global market that only continues to grow, offering you a great chance to find success.

To ensure your t-shirt business is able to grow and become a profitable revenue stream in a heavy market, you’ll need to be prepared. From my experience, even the best products on the market won’t make an impact without a strong business strategy to back them up. 

That’s why I’ve laid out 10 steps to help you get your business off right, plan for the unexpected, and ensure you understand the requirements around running a t-shirt business. 

Your T-shirt Business Can Easily Accept Credit Cards
Pay.com makes it simple for you to accept payments on your website via credit cards, debit cards, and a variety of other payment methods. It’s easy to set up, even if this is your first time starting a business. Click here to find out how you can get started.

10 Steps to Start a T-shirt business

1. Identify Your Market

There are countless t-shirt designs available on the market, all appealing to different types of customers. While it can be tempting to offer a huge selection to sell to the widest possible customer base, spreading yourself too thin from the outset could lead to failure.

Instead, determine what kind of shirts you want to sell and figure out which type of customers would be interested in your offerings. 

For instance, maybe you want to offer high-quality organic cotton t-shirts with natural dyes, so you’d market to environmentally-conscious consumers. Or maybe you want to sell fast-drying, low-odor performance t-shirts, so you’d market to athletes. 

Niching down as specific as possible will help you determine the best styles, materials, and designs to go for when starting your own t-shirt business. Then, perform some market research about their wants and needs. Be sure to also check out your competitors to see what they’re offering and if you can offer something better.

2. Design Your T-shirts

No matter your niche, you’ll need to have good t-shirts to stand out. You’ll want to consider:

  • The fit of the shirts
  • The colors and sizes available
  • The materials of the fabric
  • The weight and softness of the fabric
  • The designs

You’ll want to have stylish, relevant designs that fit your market. Browse popular t-shirt sites online to find inspiration and gather ideas, but definitely don’t copy. All designs need to be unique to your business. 

If you have the ability, you can make the designs yourself using online tools (or even hand drawing). If you aren’t artistically gifted, you could outsource to a freelance designer, license other designs, or even hire an in-house designer. All of these options will be more costly than doing it yourself, but the design is what sells, so it can have a high return on investment.

3. Source Materials

Once you’ve narrowed down the type of shirt and styles you want to sell, you’ll need to find a t-shirt wholesaler. Look for suppliers that have good reviews, as you’ll need a reliable source material in order to meet order demands, as you grow.  

It can be tempting to go with the cheapest material available, but t-shirts that get shredded when washed the first time won’t earn you any repeat business. You may choose to go for the highest quality, if that’s your market, but a mid-quality material will generally be fine for most t-shirt businesses. 

Another option, which can be great for new businesses is print-on-demand. Instead of sourcing the materials and holding inventory yourself, you can work with a white label supplier to print t-shirts when they are ordered, which can simplify the process in a cost-efficient way. It can also take the pressure off you, as the supplier handles the printing and shipping for the customer, similar to a dropshipping model

4. Decide on a Printing Method

If you’re going to be creating your own t-shirts, you’ll need to determine how you’ll print your designs and branding onto them. Most new businesses use printing companies as opposed to buying the equipment themselves. There are three main types of t-shirt printing:

  1. Screen printing is the most popular method and creates long-lasting prints and designs. It works best for large orders printed in bulk, as it has a long set-up time and can only print simpler designs with few colors. 
  2. Heat transfers are the simplest way to print designs, but they’re low quality that generally won’t last. However, it can be used to print designs with lots of color and for one-off prints. 
  3. Direct-to-garment is cheaper than screen printing and can be used for colorful designs. However, it is more time-consuming than screen printing for bulk orders, but more affordable and can be used for smaller orders as well.

Direct-to-garment will generally be a good option for newcomers as it’s good for smaller orders, is high quality, and is relatively affordable. 

5. Create a Business Plan

It’s a good idea to take the time to develop a business plan. If you’re going to be seeking a business loan or other investment, you’ll want to make this pretty concrete. If you’re self-funding, it doesn’t have to be so formal, but it’s still good to have. Your business plan should include:

  • An executive summary – introduce your business and your overall mission statement.
  • Market forecasting – showcase relevant market research, general trends, and outlooks
  • Product offerings – describe your t-shirt designs, your ideal customer, and the production method
  • Marketing strategy – discuss your plans to market and grow your business at various stages of the business.
  • Financial projections – calculate the cost per t-shirt sold and estimate how much revenue you expect to earn in the first six to eighteen months.

6. Make Your Business Legal

This is an important step whether you plan to sell full-time or just as a side hustle. The main things you’ll need to do to make your business official are:

  • Register your business. The specifics vary by location but you’ll generally want to either register as a sole proprietor or an LLC (limited liability corporation). An LLC will provide greater protections for your personal assets, and allow you to easily keep your personal and business finances separate.
  • Get your finances in order. Unless you’re self funding, you can apply for a business loan to pay for the upfront costs. In order to do so, you’ll need your business plan to show trustworthiness to any lending banks or potential investors. 
  • Understand your tax obligations. Whether you sell 60 t-shirts or 60,000, you’ll be required to file business taxes on your earnings. Some locations may require additional taxes such as VAT or GST. Be sure to understand your requirements, or enlist the help of an accountant. 

7. Launch Your Website

Just like the designs of your t-shirts, your website design can make or break your business. I always recommend creating your own website, as opposed to using a third-party marketplace. Having your own site enables you to scale quicker, and market your designs without competition. Plus, it will save you commission fees in the long-run and is easy to set up. 

You can use a drag-and-drop website builder, which will be cheaper, or hire a web designer to create a custom site for you. Both can work just fine, as long as they are functional and well-designed. 

Your website should be easy to navigate for customers, searchable, and responsive. Customers should easily be able to choose the correct size and color they want. Without these elements, customers will often leave without making a purchase. Also, ensure it looks as professional as possible, to help build trust in your customers. 

8. Set Up Your Payment System

As an ecommerce t-shirt business, accepting online payments will be a key aspect of your business. You’ll want to do whatever you can to make your customers feel confident enough to enter their payment information on your site. 

Pay.com offers a full payment infrastructure, allowing you to accept credit cards, debit cards, and many other payment methods on your website. You can customize your own checkout page to make it match your brand, to give your customers that sense of security.

Best of all, Pay.com is easy to set up. The onboarding process is quick and you don’t need any tech knowledge to start receiving payments from your customers, even if this is your first time selling online. Click here to get started now! 

9. Get the Word Out

It’s time to spread the word about your t-shirt business. For ecommerce, online marketing and social media will be essential to your success. 

Growing a social media presence can allow you to hype up your t-shirts and gain followers – and potential customers. Find ways to interact with your ideal customers through groups, hashtags, and by generally being present. 

You can also use paid marketing, which comes in a variety of forms. Paid search ads, social posts, or even influencer marketing are all ways to boost your online presence, but will cost you. On a starting budget, it’s generally best to focus on organic traffic and free marketing. 

10. Launch Your Store

Finally, it’s time to start your business. After building the hype and getting the first order ready, it’s time to launch your website and start selling t-shirts. Make sure your website is fully functional and responsive, and deal with any issues immediately. 

As you gain customers, ask them for reviews online to bolster your brand recognition and help you grow. Don’t put too much pressure to grow quickly though, but focus instead on building customer loyalty and trust through consistent high-quality t-shirts, great customer service, and trustworthy payment options online. 

The Pros and Cons of Starting Your Own T-Shirt Business

Pros:

  • There is a huge global market for t-shirts.
  • It can be creatively rewarding to design shirts.
  • There is a lot of growth potential. 
  • T-shirts usually have a high margin, which helps increase revenue for you. 
  • You can help raise awareness for a cause you care about. 

Cons:

  • Your styles may go quickly out of fashion.
  • There is a lot of upfront work to get started. 
  • There is a lot of competition online.
  • You have to stay organized to maintain inventory and orders. 

The Bottom Line: Is Starting a T-shirt Business Right for You?

Starting a t-shirt business can be very rewarding. However, with a lot of competition and a global online market, it can be tough to break in and make a name for yourself. By following our steps and doing your research, you’ll be better prepared for the ups and downs. 

Pay.com can help you get your business off the ground with a beginner-friendly payment processing service. The Pay Dashboard allows you to track all payments, deal with disputes and returns, and get reports on your earnings, so you can easily stay on top of the financial aspects of your business. 

Click here to get started with Pay.com.

FAQs

How can a t-shirt business accept payments?

If you plan on running your t-shirt business online, you’ll want an easy-to-manage payment system built into your website. Pay.com allows you to accept many different payment methods and customize your checkout page to match your site. You also have the option to take customers’ payment information over the phone and input it directly into your Pay Dashboard. Click here to find out more.

How much does it cost to start a t-shirt business?

The start up costs involved with a t-shirt business can range dramatically depending on printing style, t-shirt material, and other expenses. Generally, though, it will cost between $1,000-10,000 to get started with the proper tools and registrations. As far as accepting payments is concerned, it’s best to work with a payment service provider like Pay.com. You pay a flat-rate per-transaction fee, with no upfront investment.

What is the most popular t-shirt color?

While there will always be trendy colors that everyone seems to be wearing, statistically, black, navy, and gray are the three most popular t-shirt colors out there. These classic colors are seen as slimming, sophisticated, and easy to match with other clothing. 

What t-shirt size sells the most?

In the US, the most common t-shirt size is large, with about 30% of all t-shirt sales. Medium follows with 28%, then extra large with 20%. Knowing these general numbers can help you roughly determine your order sizes. Though if you only target athletic women or body builders, then your average size may skew smaller or larger.

How can I start a t-shirt business with no money?

If you have no or very little money to invest in a t-shirt business upfront, you have a few options. You can create a business plan and try to get a business loan or outside investment. If you want to self-fund, you’ll need at least around $1,000 to register your business, start a website, pay payment processing fees, and run your first batches. 

You could also use a print-on-demand service, which wouldn’t require any upfront investment.

Meet the author

Ashley Hague

Ashley Hague is a B2B writer based in New Zealand. Specializing in fintech, SaaS, and sustainability in business, she helps businesses achieve their goals. When not working, she can be found rock climbing or delving into a historical biography.

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