How to Start a T-Shirt Business Online


How to Start a T-shirt Business: Ultimate Step-By-Step Guide

This post was last updated on June 10, 2021.


Are you looking to start an online t-shirt business? The humble t-shirt can make a statement about the wearer’s personality, style, attitude and interests in the blink of an eye. If you have an idea for a t-shirt design that you think others will love, then why not take the leap and make it.


From 2019 to 2020, Wix eCommerce stores globally saw year-over-year growth of 151% in sales within the Clothing and Accessories category. And in 2020, the global custom t-shirt market size was valued at almost $4 billion. It’s no wonder then, that selling this universal wardrobe staple is an increasingly popular choice for clothing entrepreneurs.



Starting an online t-shirt business


Starting an online t-shirt business might just be the best–and fastest–way to break into the booming fashion industry. It’s now easier than ever before to find an eCommerce website builder offering designer-made t-shirt store templates, full integration with print on demand services like Printful and Printify, and multichannel marketplace integrations to expand your brand’s reach.


Thankfully, starting an online t-shirt business doesn’t necessarily require a big investment. eCommerce entrepreneurs can launch and start selling custom tees quickly and with minimal costs.


We’ve created this 12-step guide to take you through the process of how to start a t-shirt business online from scratch.



How to start your successful t-shirt business in 12 easy steps:


  1. Build your online store

  2. Integrate with a print on demand service

  3. Pick a niche and find your audience

  4. Create stunning designs

  5. Select quality products

  6. Choose a printing technique

  7. Manage your inventory

  8. Get feedback on your designs

  9. Calculate your costs

  10. Set your price

  11. Build your brand

  12. Scale your business



image of a t-shirt with Be Great written on it


01. Build your online store


A professional eCommerce platform gives your customers the trust they need to complete their purchase. It’s also an important reflection of your brand’s identity. Start your online t-shirt business journey by creating and customizing an eCommerce website that embodies your brand. Make sure to choose a platform that allows you to easily integrate your store with print on demand services, if this is your business model. You’ll also want easy integration with additional sales channels like Amazon or eBay, social media channels like Facebook and Instagram and professional eCommerce apps.


Here are some other factors to consider:



Costs


Start lean and budget expenses carefully. Find an eCommerce platform that allows you to start your business with a small investment. Some platforms even let you start for free. Pro tip: Choose a platform that can support your business—at any scale. Review if the platforms offer advanced marketing and customer management tools to help your business grow.


Design capabilities


You’ll want a platform that offers plenty of design flexibility and customization. This’ll allow you to create a site that matches your brand. Pro tip: Look for a platform that offers ready-to-go, designer-made, store templates that can easily be adjusted to fit your unique brand.

Mobile view


More than half of all online purchases are made on mobile. Make sure your store is mobile-friendly so your customers can complete their purchases on the go. Fans of the Instagram-famous cat, OwlKitty, can purchase branded tees through its online store which is optimized for mobile. By connecting their Instagram account to their store, OwlKitty sends shoppers directly to their store's fully-optimized product pages.


Pro tip: Pick a website builder that’ll optimize your site for mobile.



Owl Kitty website mobile view

Once you’ve chosen your platform, start building your online store.


Here are some points you’ll need to consider:


  • Name your business. Start by brainstorming a word bank of concepts that relate to your t-shirt business idea. If you need help, you can use a business name generator, or more specifically, a clothing line name generator. Choose a name that reflects your business but won’t limit you if you grow.

  • Choose your domain. Match your domain name to your brand name. This will help your customers find you online.

  • Design your store. Customize any store template to reflect your brand and appeal to your target audience.

  • Add payment options. Make it easy for customers to pay you. Provide multiple options to make sure you don’t lose out on any potential buyers.

Want more guidance? Use this checklist so you don’t miss any essential steps when building your store.



02. Integrate with a print on demand service


OWLKITTY T-Shirt Product Page


What is print on demand?


Print on demand is a form of dropshipping that allows you to make and sell custom t-shirts online without the hassle of managing inventory, fulfillment or shipping. Wix Stores who integrate dropshipping launch an average of 15% faster than other online retailers.


In the first quarter of 2021, Wix Stores using print on demand grew 529.39% year over year.

The first step to successful print on demand is having an online store to house your offerings. So, if this is your preferred business model, connect your store to print on demand services like Printful or Printify and start creating your tees.


Many of these services even have mockup generators that let you virtually place your design on tees and see how it’ll look on models. You can then use these product images on your website to show your customers exactly what they’re buying.


By integrating your site with a print on demand platform, you can sell your graphic tees directly from your online store. Once an order is placed, the service will then print the product and ship it straight to your customers–worldwide. This business model cuts down on your initial investments making it easier to get started.


Watch this video to learn how to add Printful to your Wix Store:





If you built your website with other platforms, follow their instructions to integrate your store with print on demand services.


Using a print on demand service might be the fastest way to start selling t-shirt designs online, but there are plenty of alternative routes–from sourcing to manufacturing–when it comes to building a t-shirt empire. You just have to choose the right one for you.


If you choose to source your own t-shirts and connect with local or international manufacturers, take some time to research the process and learn more about how to start a clothing business. Some entrepreneurs use print on demand to test the market or establish their brand before switching to alternative suppliers as they grow and scale.

03. Pick a niche and find your audience


Goat T-Shirt Product Page


With billions of tees out there, why should shoppers buy yours? The answer: Because you made your product specifically for them.


To find your niche, you might use your personal interests and passions as inspiration. Is there a specific group you identify with? Are you a diehard fan of a sports team, a TV show, an indie movie, a specific celebrity? Do you hold a specific political position or are you a member of a particular movement?


Or, discover your niche by researching what’s on-trend. What are people interested in and talking about? Use Google Trends to find out what search terms are trending in your country or worldwide and use that information to inspire or validate your choice of niche.


Once you choose your niche and define your target audience, get to know them better:



Use Reddit.


On Reddit, users create posts that are voted on by the community. The site is broken down into sections called subreddits and there’s one for seemingly everything. Users subscribe to specific subreddits that interest them in order to see those posts. Discover what your target audience is posting. Explore feeds to see which content receives the most engagement and subscribers. Use this information as a springboard for creating designs and messaging for your t-shirts.

Search Facebook Groups.

Find niche communities that share your interests. Engage with these users and see what receives feedback. Ask them for ideas and test out your designs.


Check out your competition.

Try and determine what’s working for other businesses and what isn’t. Jot down ideas on how you can create a better product that will attract your target audience.


Find an untapped market and tap into it. Narrow down your niche to a small audience that’s not yet being reached. Then design unique tees that will resonate with them.


Define buyer personas and try to determine what your target audience wants. Then create a business plan outlining your vision for your t-shirt brand. Include details on your niche, target audience, marketing strategy, financial projections and sales goals.


Little Tail Farms is a family-owned Hobby Farm in Dunlap, TN, that offers tours and farmstays. Visitors can see an adorable array of animals, from Nigerian dwarf goats to alpacas and miniature horses. By integrating its website with dropshipping apps like Printful and Modalyst, Little Tail Farms is able to sell farm-inspired merchandise, like t-shirts and hoodies, that can help boost revenue.



04. Create stunning designs


modern magnolia co t-shirt company example


Make your t-shirts stand out from the pack with original designs.


Use your t-shirt to express a message, tell a story or display an aspect of your personality. Your designs don’t have to be complex. A simple, trendy design will attract customers.


Modern Magnolia Co sell handprinted t-shirts with illustrations and slogans that appeal to a broad range of female users. Its t-shirts have a strong American flavor–with a touch of humor–and target niche audiences like parents, music fans and animal lovers.


You don’t have to be an artist to make a cool design. But if you are, this is your moment.


Come up with a creative message or concept and sketch it out. Then use a design program to create your image. You can also turn your hand-drawn images or lettering into vectors and modify them on your computer. If you don’t have access to design software, try Canva or design a logo using a logo maker.


Create an image that has a transparent background (PNG file) unless you want the backdrop as part of your design. Note that each manufacturer or print on demand service will have different image requirements. Read through them carefully to ensure your design prints correctly and at the highest quality.


For example, Printful has the following requirements:

  • Images should be at least 150 DPI (dots per inch). Some specific t-shirt brands may require a larger DPI, so double-check before uploading your design.

  • Your design can be uploaded in JPG and PNG formats.

  • Print files should be saved in sRGB not CMYK.

If you don’t want to create a design yourself, get a professional graphic designer to do it for you:


  • Fiverr: Connect with a freelancer to create a single design. You can search by the type of designer and filter by how much you are willing to spend.

  • Upwork: Use this platform to find long-term freelancers to help with numerous or ongoing projects.

  • Behance: Explore this designer-focused social media platform. Graphic artists use Behance to show off their work, gain inspiration and find jobs.

  • Dribbble: This is another platform where designers hang out. You can scroll through showcased art or filter by style to find designs you like. Then reach out to the artist to discuss your project.



05. Select quality products


Nobody likes an ill-fitted, low-quality graphic tee.


Whether you’re using print on demand services, or sourcing your own t-shirts, sample your products. You want to ensure that you’re selling a quality product that creates positive word of mouth and keeps customers coming back.


Buy the t-shirts you want to sell and test them out. Try out a bunch of options. Is it comfortable to wear? Are the colors vibrant? How does it look after a wash? Does it shrink? Does the pattern crack?


Most suppliers will offer tees made out of cotton and ringspun cotton. Some use organic cotton, grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers. Here’s what to consider when choosing your material:



pros and cons list for choosing t-shirt material


If your t-shirt business has a sustainable ethos, it’s worth choosing t-shirt manufacturers or print on demand services who offer t-shirts made from organic cotton or recycled fabrics, like cotton scraps and upcycled polyester. It’s likely that these options will have a higher unit price, but shoppers are often willing to pay more for more eco-friendly options.


Consider what size options you’ll offer customers too. Do you want to build a size-inclusive t-shirt brand that is accessible to everybody? Or perhaps, for now, you want to limit your inventory and specialize in tees for a particular size range.


In short, treat your customers like you’d want to be treated. Make sure your product is made well so your customers keep coming back and become ambassadors for your brand.



06. Choose a printing technique


girl wearing a white t shirt with GRL PWR on it


When it comes to inking your tees, learn about the different printing options available. Choosing the right printing technique is just as important as choosing the right material.


Heat transfer


This is a good option if you want to print images yourself.


The most popular type of heat transfer is called Plastisol Transfers. For this method, print your design with a professional printer on high-quality release paper. Then, use a heat press to “print” the image on your t-shirt.


Screen printing


This method is ideal for printing large quantities of t-shirts with the same design.


Using stencil-like mesh screens, designs are painted onto t-shirts layer by layer. Each layer is limited to a single color. While you can add multiple layers and colors, doing so will drive up your cost.


Because of the labor-intensive setup, this method is best suited to large batches of tees with the same design.


Direct-to-garment (DTG)


This is currently the most popular method of printing designs onto t-shirts.


Using an inkjet printer, your design is applied to garments. This is ideal for complex, detailed designs. DTG uses the same process for small or large quantities of prints.


All-over print (Sublimated)


If you want to create a truly unique t-shirt, you may want to print outside the seams. All-over print allows you to do exactly that.


Create a design that will be printed all over your tee. Unfortunately, not all print on demand companies will allow you to do this.


Embroidery


Stitch a unique embroidered design on your tees for a more delicate look. While you’ll be limited in colors and sizes, well-designed embroidery can be all your shirt needs to make a statement.


Both Printful and Printify offer embroidery for t-shirts, but pay close attention to their guidelines.


Here’s what to consider when choosing a printing method: