Are you wondering how to start a T-shirt business that stands out?

You are not alone.

Many young entrepreneurs have the same question.

In this short but comprehensive guide, I’ll be showing you how to:

  1. Launch a successful T-shirt business
  2. Automate the printing and shipping process
  3. Set up and run a successful online T-shirt business

This guide will be invaluable for anyone for anyone looking to start their own T-shirt business.

Let’s get started.

7 Steps to Start Your Own T-shirt Business

Step #1: Find a Niche for Your T-shirt Business

Step #2: Create Your T-shirt Designs

Step #3: Build a Strong Brand

Step #4: Create a Mockup of Your Designs

Step #5: Find a Print on Demand Service

Step #6: Choose an eCommerce Platform

Step #7: Launch & Start Selling

Step #1: Find a Niche for Your T-shirt Business

You don’t need me to tell you that picking up a niche for your T-shirt business is crucial.

In fact, this single factor can determine whether or not your business is going to succeed.

What do I mean by that?

Let me give you a quick example.

Let’s assume you want to start a T-shirt business with cat prints.

You start your research by typing something like “Cat T shirt” on Google:

Cat T shirt on Google SERPs

Immediately, you’ll see SERP (Search Engine Results Page) features popping up:

t shirt google SERP Features

You’ll also get the usual blue links from websites—mostly eCommerce ones—that prompt users into clicking and learning more about the products:

cat t shirt blue Links on SERPs

As you can see, most results come from high-authority domains and well known brands like:

  • Amazon
  • Etsy
  • eBay

If you were to click on one of these websites, you could see what T-shirts are actually sold.

For example, let’s take a look at the cat T-shirts sold on Amazon:

Cat T shirts on Amazon

As you can see, there are plenty of clothing lines that sell cat T-shirts.

The designs of these are pretty solid, too.

Moving a bit deeper—and going back to the SERPs—let’s see what kind of cat T-shirts an eCommerce store sells:

Cat T shirts on Spreadshirt

Once again, we can see that there are actually some good cat T-shirts that come in all kinds of different colors and designs.

Identify T-shirt business opportunities

There are many T-shirt business ideas out there.

What you need to do is:

  1. Avoid the ones that are overcrowded
  2. Pick up ones that aren’t as crowded, but which still interest enough people

This is why I suggest making a list of the ideas you have, and then prioritizing your ideas based on things like:

  • Total search volume—For example, on Amazon or Google
  • Competition level—How you would rate your competitors
  • Number of sellers on a marketplace—For example, on Amazon or Etsy
  • Quality—Just your take on things
  • Variety of designs—How many designs based on that idea already exist
  • Online communities—If there are active online communities around that niche

You can research many other areas, but I strongly recommend searching for the ones that matter most.

To give you a glimpse of how that might look, let’s say you’ve come up with the following T-shirt business ideas:

T shirt Business Ideas on Google Sheets

Use as many criteria you like to prioritize your ideas, keeping only the ones that are viable and can support your business model.

Note: Classification in the second column is random and doesn’t reflect the actual competition level that exists for each niche.

All in all, you should be very careful with the niche you’re going to choose.

I’ve seen businesses skyrocket because of choosing the right niche at the right time.

Make sure to be extra cautious when choosing yours.

Here are some tools you can use when doing research for your T-shirt business idea:

And some other tools specific to sourcing T-shirt business ideas:

Pro Tip: To see the best-selling products on any Shopify store, simply copy and paste /collections/all?sort_by=best-selling after the root domain that you want to check.

Some additional resources for your research:

Let’s move on to the next step.

Step #2: Create Your T-shirt Designs

Next, you need to create your T-shirt designs.

Many people might say:

“This is the easy part—I can have my T-shirt designs ready in less than an hour.”

However, this is where most people fail at setting up a successful T-shirt business.

With so many T-shirt designs out there, your designs need to be truly remarkable to stand out.

This is why making customized T-shirts is not easy.

How to design T-shirts

There are four ways to design your T-shirts:

1) Hire a designer

The first way is by hiring a designer who can do it for you.

You can find a reliable graphic designer by searching on websites such as:

Say that you want to use Upwork—and assuming that you have a client account—you can search for something like “T shirt Designer” in the search bar:

Search for Freelance Designers on Upwork

Scroll through the results:

T shirt Designers on Upwork

After doing some research and visiting each designer’s profile, you can shortlist the ones that you like by clicking the heart button:

Sortlist Freelancers on Upwork

Alternatively, you can post your own job and wait for freelancers to come to you:

Post a Job on Upwork

Pro Tip: Ask freelancers to start their proposal with a certain word or phrase in order to avoid spam and automated messages.

When hiring talent online, focus on things like:

  • Past experience
  • Relevant testimonials
  • Turnaround time
  • Price quote
  • Communication

2) Design them on your own

The other path here is to design the T-shirts on your own.

To do that, you will need a design tool.

There are many free design tools online such as Canva:

Canva Website homepage

However, you will need something more sophisticated that allows you to dive deeper into the details of your T-shirt designs.

One such option is Adobe Photoshop:

Photoshop by Adobe Website

Alternatively, you can use Adobe Illustrator:

Illustrator by Adobe Website

Both of these design tools are great, and will help you to create stellar designs that will resonate with your audience.

Some quick tips:

  1. Don’t focus on the number of your designs, but rather on their quality
  2. Your designs have to resonate with your chosen target audience
  3. Take ideas from other successful T-shirt companies, but DON’T steal their designs

This is how you can make your T-shirts unique, so that they stand out from the crowd.

Here are some websites you can use to generate some T-shirt design ideas:

Let’s move on to the next step.

Step #3: Build a Strong Brand

What do you need to start your own T-shirt business?

You need to build a strong brand around it.

But what is a brand exactly? Naming your brand is only part of it…

 

In these early stages of starting your own T-shirt business, building a brand actually means telling a story.

This is the story behind the creation of your T-shirt company. For instance:

  • What motivated you to start your own clothing line?
  • Is there a particular cause you are trying to support?
  • Who are the people—the team—behind your company?
  • Are you using recycled fabrics or anything else worth mentioning?

All of these elements are extremely important and need to be communicated in the best way possible.

Why is building a brand so important?

Think of it this way:

Someone visits your product page on Amazon.

They then visit a competitor’s page, as they are still searching for what to buy.

Scrolling down the page, they’ll notice the company description:

Merch by Amazon Product Listing

As you can see, these elements add an extra something for people who are considering a product from that particular company.

Taking this example a bit further, you’ll notice that most sellers already have some customer reviews:

Customer Review on Amazon Product Page

These are things that you—as a beginner—don’t have yet.

This is why telling a story about your brand is important.

Learn from other T-shirt business success stories

What you can do right away is to learn from other T-shirt business success stories. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • How do they form their messaging?
  • Is there a story behind their brand?
  • What kind of colors do they use and what do these colors mean?
  • How do they help the environment or support an important cause?

These are simple questions you can answer simply by carrying out some online research.

For example, here’s how Tluxe—a premium clothing brand—promotes their culture and ethos through their website:

Tluxe Website

They have a section dedicated specifically to their brand:

Tluxe Brand

For instance, in their Ethical Trading Policy page, they analyze their approach on supporting a sustainable supply chain:

Tluxe Ethical Trading Policy

These are elements that can make or break a business.

Make no mistake, building a brand is one of the most critical aspects of starting your own T-shirt business.

Some tools you can use to design some core brand elements are:

Let’s move on to the fourth step.

Step #4: Create a Mock up of Your Designs

Next, you need to create a mockup of your designs.

This is the best way to start your own T-shirt line.

It will provide you with a solid idea of what your T-shirts will actually look like.

The question is, how can you create a mockup of your designs?

If you’re using Photoshop, this detailed YouTube video will show you exactly how to do that:

How to Create a T shirt Mockup Tutorial

If someone else doing the designs for you, you can just ask for your T-shirt mockups.

A third solution is to buy ready-to-use mockups from a marketplace like GraphicRiver:

T shirt Mockups

The good thing about these marketplaces is that you can mockup your T-shirt designs in literally any type of T-shirt you want.

Some marketplaces and resources you can use for your T-shirt mockups are:

Starting a T-shirt company on a tight budget probably means that you can’t afford to arrange photoshoots for your products.

This is why investing in good T-shirt mockups is essential.

Keep in mind that the better the mockups, the more likely people who visit your product pages are going to buy from you.

Many people overlook this and wonder why they don’t manage to make any sales.

Don’t make the same mistake.

Making the T-shirt is one thing; selling them is another.

Creating high-quality mockups will help you sell them much faster.

Let’s move on to the next step of the process.

Step #5: Find a Print on Demand Service

This step is the most difficult.

When it comes to printing your designs, you have two options:

  1. Print them on your own
  2. Find a print on demand service

Although I’ll be focusing on the second way, I want to provide you with some reasons why printing your own T-shirt designs is not a good idea:

1) The cost of printing is high

Keep in mind that printing your own T-shirts means that you’ll need—among other things—a printing machine.

Let’s take it from the beginning.

The first thing you probably do is Google a search term like:

T shirt Printing Machine

Note: According to KeywordsEverywhere, this particular term has a monthly search volume of almost 60k.

You’ll notice a dozen product pages popping up at the top of the search results:

T shirt Printing Machines on Marketplaces

As well as some blue links leading to major marketplaces like eBay and Amazon:

T shirt Printing Machines Blue Links

Were you to click one of these links or product pages, you’d see a variety of printing machines.

Hypothetically, buying one of these machines would make your life easy, right?

Not exactly.

Keep in mind that aside from the cost of the printer itself, you’ll also need to pay for:

  • Regular maintenance
  • Teflon sheets (for heat press)
  • Ink

This is NOT something you want.

2) Inventory management is hard

The second reason why you should avoid printing your own T-shirts is because you don’t want to mess with inventory management.

Having your own printing machine means that you’d have your own stock, and having your own stock means you’d need to manage that stock.

Stack of T shirts

Yes, holding your own stock may increase your profit margins and allow you to sell more T-shirts in person, but you want to build an online business that moves fast, right?

3) You won’t be able to automate the shipping process

The third reason why you want to avoid printing your own T-shirts is because you won’t be able to automate the shipping process as easily.

On the other hand, with a print on demand service, you basically have to worry only for two things:

  • Marketing
  • Customer service

The best way to go here is therefore to choose a trustworthy printing business.

How to Print T-shirts

To print your own T-shirts, you’ll need to find a trustworthy print on demand service.

There are many such services online—you just have to find the one that fits your needs.

Here’s a quick example.

Let’s assume you want to find a print on demand service for your Shopify store.

So, you visit the Shopify App Store and use the term “T-shirt” for your search:

Search for T shirt on Shopify App Store

You will be redirected to a page with over 60 results:

Print on Demand App on Shopify App Store

Of course, not all of these Apps are good, and not all of them would make a good choice for your T-shirt business.

Things that will help you make the right choice are:

  • The pricing
  • The average rate
  • The number of reviews
  • The actual reviews from the users
  • The add-ons and services the App offers

I suggest actually going on to read some of the App’s reviews, in order to see how other users feel about their own experiences:

Review on Shopify App Store

Pro Tip: The name at the top of the review usually represents that name of the store. Use it to contact the owners and ask for more information about the App.

To save you the trouble of finding the best printing service, here are some of the best on Shopify:

Some of the benefits of working with a print on demand business:

  • There’s no inventory to hold
  • Less risk since you don’t invest in stock
  • You avoid the hassle of packaging and shipping the products
  • Overhead is eliminated with printing your own T-shirts

Now you know how to choose the best print on demand service for your T-shirt business.

Let’s move on to the next step.

Step #6: Choose an eCommerce Platform

I’ll keep this one short.

An essential step in the process of starting your own T-shirt business is choosing an eCommerce platform.

Simply put, you have to choose how and where your T-shirt are going to be sold online.

Some key factors to consider are:

  • If the eCommerce platform has an active community of users (like Shopify)
  • If there are enough marketing and sales tools to use after launch
  • The usability of the eCommerce platform
  • The competition (if its a marketplace)
  • The fees and seller charges

In this step, you’ll need to make important decisions:

  • Are you going to launch your own online store and use an eCommerce platform?
  • Are you going to sell with MerchbyAmazon or eBay?
  • How are you going to promote your store or products in the first place?
  • Are you going to build a new store or buy an existing one?

If you’re going to build your own store, you might want to consider the following stats about each platform’s market share:

  • WooCommerce: 28.06%
  • Shopify: 9.67%
  • Magento: 7.91%
  • MonsterCommerce: 5.87%
  • VirtueMart: 4.36%
  • PrestaShop: 4.27%
  • WixStores: 3.46%
  • BigCommerce: 2.27%
  • OpenCart: 2.17%
  • osCommerce: 1.29%

Source: twispay blog

In terms of marketplaces, you may want to consider factors such as their monthly traffic.

For example, here is Amazon’s traffic estimation according to Ahrefs:

Amazon Organic Traffic

Here is eBay’s traffic estimation:

eBay Organic Traffic

And here is Etsy’s:

Etsy Traffic Estimation

You’ll likely also want to consider things like competition on each of these platforms, as well as seller fees, as I mentioned earlier.

Last but not least, if you don’t want to set up a new business, and instead want to purchase an existing one, you can visit marketplaces like Shopify Exchange:

Shopify Exchange Website

Some other marketplaces you can use to search for online T-shirt business for sale are:

Let’s move on to the next—and final—step of the process.

Step #7: Launch & Start Selling

You might think that launching your website and starting to sell is the easy part.

Well, not exactly.

You see, “getting out of the building” is one thing.

Getting people to pay attention and start buying your T-shirts is another.

How to sell T-shirts online

To sell T-shirts online, you need to be:

  • Authentic—people always appreciate authenticity
  • Unique—people want to feel a part of something special
  • Transparent—many dropshipping businesses don’t get that, but being transparent is the best way to achieve long-term results
  • Avoid being sales-y—you want to promote your products without disturbing users’ online experience

Above all, don’t be discouraged by early difficulties.

Keep in mind that even Coca Cola—with a current valuation of almost $80 billion—sold only 9 bottles a day in its first year.

Truth be told, launching a successful T-shirt business is not difficult.

However, the chances of surviving are extremely low.

Get comfortable with the odds, or don’t roll the dice.

Now Over to You

Many people have launched successful T-shirt businesses.

Does this mean there’s no space for any new online T-shirt businesses?

No—it just means that competition is tougher.

This is ultimately a good thing because it will make you a better entrepreneur.

Now I turn it over to you.

Which of these above steps do you find to be more difficult? Is it finding a niche, or maybe validating your idea and actually starting to sell?

Let me know by leaving a comment below!

Author

Avatar for Will Mitchell
Will Mitchell

Will Mitchell is a serial entrepreneur and Founder of StartupBros. You can learn more about him at the Startupbros about page. If you have any questions or comments for him, just send an email or leave a comment!

  • You have mentioned very good points in the article. I wanted to mention one more point here about buyer mentality and multiple competitions and platforms.
    Can you put some lights on these points above?