How to start a t-shirt company

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Are you thinking of starting a t-shirt company? When I first thought of starting my t-shirt company, Tees for Change, in 2007, I had no idea where to begin! knew I had a great idea for my t-shirts, but I was pretty much clueless about everything else! So I went online and learned as much as I could about starting a t-shirt company.

I learned about where to source blank t-shirts, how to set up my online store (I started with ZenCart, but outgrew it a little later and switched to BigCommerce, which is my absolute favorite e-commerce platform, along with Shopify), how to get publicity for my tees and how to use social media to promote my business. I ended up selling my t-shirt business in 2011, but I learned A LOT about running a t-shirt company in those four years, so I thought I would put together this handy guide to help you on your entrepreneurial journey.

Here are 10 tips for starting a t-shirt company

1. Come up with a marketable idea

After you’ve decided that you are starting a t-shirt business, start brainstorming about possible ideas for your t-shirts. Write down as many ideas as you can. Some things to think about are: do you want text shirts or graphic shirts or both? Do you want to make shirts for women, men, babies? What is hot right now and what is everyone wearing? Do you want color shirts or mostly black or white shirts? The more questions you ask yourself, the more ideas you will come up with during your brainstorming session.

2. 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. “Women between the ages of 18-45” is not a specific target market. You must dig deeper and find your niche. Some examples of target markets are skateboarders, women who have toddler children, grandmas or grandpas, Las Vegas tourists between the ages of 25-45, men who play golf, etc. The more specific you can get with your niche market, the easier it will be to sell your shirts.

3. Set up your business structure

Most t-shirt entrepreneurs starting a t-shirt business start out as a sole proprietor, but as their company and sales grow, they change their company structure to an LLC, LLP or corporation. 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.

4. Manufacturing your t-shirts

Many who are starting a t-shirt business start out by purchasing the t-shirt ‘blanks’ from other manufacturers. This allows them to offer a variety of sizes, colors, and styles, but keep costs to a minimum. 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.

You can also start with a “print on demand” business model – this means that you use a third-party vendor to print and ship out each order as it comes in, so there is no inventory storage or upfront costs on your end. You can use a company like Printful or Printify (and both can easily integrate with your Shopify or e-commerce platform).

5. 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 screen printers in your local area and meet with them to discuss your needs. Don’t be afraid to interview a few screen printers and work with the one who is a good fit for you.

6. 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. Also, consider if you plan on selling retail or wholesale or both. If you are not selling your shirts to other stores or boutiques, then you might be able to price them lower since you are cutting out the middleman. Set a price that allows you to cover all the costs and make a profit as well. And don’t be afraid to price your shirts higher if your costs justify it.

7. Storing and shipping your t-shirts

Many people who are starting a t-shirt business start out by storing their shirts in their garage, basement or home office in bins or on shelves. Think about how much time and space you have and what you want to focus your efforts on. Do you enjoy packing and shipping and do you have the time to do it? If so, starting in your home is a good idea. But if you hate the idea of going to the post office every day or if you don’t have space in your house to store your shirts, consider hiring a fulfillment house, which will do all the storage, packing and shipping for you for a fee.

8. Selling your t-shirts directly to consumers

If you are starting a t-shirt business and want to sell your shirts directly to the consumer, it’s probably a good idea to set up your own website using Shopify. 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.

If you don’t want to set up your own website, you can sell your shirts with Merch by Amazon and have access to their millions of customers.

9. Selling your t-shirts wholesale

You can also sell your shirts to other stores that target your niche market when you are starting a t-shirt business. These can include local boutiques, gift stores, t-shirt shops, and even larger retail chain stores. You can call the store directly and ask to speak to the buyer. Many stores like supporting businesses in their area, so it’s best to start out with stores in your town or city first.

10. Marketing and promoting your t-shirts online and offline

Just because you have a website doesn’t mean that swarms of people will know about it or even find it online. It’s best to work with your web designer to make your website search engine friendly so people can easily find you. Contact other businesses and ask to exchange links, post comments on other people’s blogs (with a link back to your online store) and partner with websites that target your niche market but don’t compete with you. And, use social media and influencers to spread the word about your t-shirts.

You can also sign up for a program like Media Leads, which allows you to connect directly with editors and bloggers so you can get your t-shirts featured in print magazines and online.

And lastly, wear your t-shirts as often as you can! This is often the best and most effective method to get your shirts seen. Tell everybody you know about your new business venture and ask them to tell their friends. Word of mouth is very powerful.