Starting an online t-shirt business

starting an online t-shirt business 2023

Before we rush into setting up a Shopify store for your ecommerce needs (our personal recommendation), we think it’s important to make sure you’re making the right business decisions when starting an online t-shirt business to save you money, time and wasted effort.

Here are 7 tips you wish you knew before starting an online t-shirt business.

limit your t-shirt design to one color

Limit your first design to one color.

Having your t-shirt designs screen printed is typically your most expensive cost when starting an online t-shirt business. Setup fees and print location costs can be upwards of $50-$60 per color and print location, so, if you are planning on having more than one color and adding (even simple) designs on multiple locations (ie: chest, and sleeve) this can have serious implications for your budget. For now, limit your designs to one color, save on setup fees and use the increased profits to reinvest into your business.

Know your ideal t-shirt customer

Know your ideal customer.

There’s a saying we like to remember here at PPTK: “If you try to please everyone, you’ll please no one.” In the context of this post, I would re-write the saying to, “If you try to create a product for everyone, you’ll sell to no one”. Once you know WHO you are creating for, the WHAT you’re creating, becomes a lot clearer.

Construct a profile of the ideal customer you want to direct your products at, by answering questions like: What’s their age, gender, interests, personality, passions, career, income level? What types of blogs/books/magazines do they read? What movies or programmes do they watch? Which social networks do they like/use?

culture is everything in business

Culture is everything.

Successful brands center around a core culture that is influenced by and, in return influences their target client audience. By building a culture that penetrates every element of your business and brand, you shout to the world your direction, motivation and passion. Think of sports clothing companies, social enterprises, food companies etc. Their success comes from their ability to build culture and execute it in every facet. From the promotion of inner beauty and vitality to people achieving greatness depending on what brand they wear. Great marketing from a brand that has a clear culture, helps to influence how and what people are saying.

However, the beauty (or danger) of culture is that it’s not always healthy. A culture has the power to influence individuals and large groups to the point of success or destruction. With great responsibility, comes power. Use it wisely!

starting your own online t-shirt business

Source your own garment.

Middlemen = Increased costs for the exact same product.

I’ve been in the clothing design and production industry for long enough to see that most people learn this lesson after a long period of time. I want you to win from the beginning so my insider tip is source your own garments. Make the phone calls, check out samples, either way the time and (possible) money you might spend at the beginning will pay off, literally, when you are producing larger quantities further down the track and increasing profit.

make your logo work everywhere

Make your logo work everywhere.

This one is quite personal for me, since the hours I have spent creating and designing logos for myself, others and countless businesses (mine and others) are more than I ever wish to keep count of. Creating a logo that works everywhere is one of the most complex challenges for a designer and/or business. It will be seen everywhere and what it represents and stands for can truly bring meaning to the saying ‘a picture can tell a thousand words.

The word ‘logo’ comes from the Greek ‘logos’ meaning ‘words’ or ‘speech’. In the case of our modern, drawn logo, it really can tell more than a thousand words. It can tell the history of a company, it’s ethics, it’s culture, it’s heroes and villains, it’s products, reputations and personal lives can literally be told in a simple image. This is why companies pay exorbitant amounts and can go through countless iterations to find ‘just the right one’.

Think about where you will be promoting it. If you have small details, would these fine details be lost during the screen printing process? Will your logo make sense from a distance? Will your logo work in a website header as well as a small social media icon thumbnail?

Produce clothing you would wear everyday.

It blows me away when I meet people who are wanting to be experts in their profession and yet they don’t ‘participate’ in their brand’s culture. As an (non-clothing) example, I don’t understand (and usually steer clear of) baristas who don’t drink coffee. How can they ensure that what they’re producing is of the highest quality, the absolute best of what they can do, each time? If you don’t participate in your business then how can you sell it to someone else? We believe in transparency and authenticity. If it’s not something we would wear ourselves, then we won’t produce it, simple. It might mean having to go back to the drawing board, or making a loss somewhere, but if you want to ignite and keep the passion of producing quality clothing then make sure it’s hanging in your own wardrobe before putting it in someone else’s.

get samples for everything

Sample everything!

We are passionate about transparency and sharing our failures so you can learn from them! When it comes to Starting an online t-shirt business, make sure you get the right product first. This means samples, samples, samples! Spend the money to buy one sample t-shirt or product from the supplier you believe to give you the best quality for value. If you find a product is substandard but very cheap, don’t use them just to save a buck, because chances are your customers will think the same and you’ll be known for poor quality products. Invest the extra and create your brand known for high quality products. 

source multiple t-shirt samples

Early on, we sunk almost all of our startup money into purchasing what we thought, were some, on-brand, yellow t-shirts for printing our logo. They arrived and were completely different colors! To make matters worse, the sizing was completely incorrect. The size small t-shirts were actually the same as a large size. We couldn’t afford to switch supplier or even get a new run of shirts so we had to change design and sell them! Suffice to say, they weren’t popular and if it wasn’t for our friends and family taking pity on us (and all wearing oversized shirts), it would have been a complete flop. It was a waste of time and money, but a lesson learned!