How to Make a T Shirt Company
There’s nothing new about printed t-shirts, but the demand is as high as it ever was. This guide looks at how to make a t shirt company. Getting started is the easy part. The hard bit is to make your products stand out from the rest and take orders. There’s plenty of competition out there. Keep reading if you’d like to know how to create a successful printed t-shirt business.
Understanding the options is not difficult at all. It’s what you do with that knowledge that determines success or failure. This guide aims to give you the right foundation to build your t-shirt company.
3 Professional T-Shirt Opportunities
There are three main ways to generate sales and create business opportunities in tees:
- Dropshipping: Selling predesigned t-shirts via a supplier
- Warehouse & fulfillment (W&F): Stock and distribute client’s t-shirts
- Print on Demand (POD): Provide t-shirt printing services for others
#1 T-Shirt Drop Shipping Model (most popular)
The most popular model is to run an online t-shirt business that uses dropshipping. The entrepreneur doesn’t have to buy or store any physical stock. They merely take orders and pass them on to the drop shipper. The dropshipper then processes the request on the client’s behalf. You can read about the pros and cons of dropshipping further down the page.
#2 Warehousing Fulfillment (W&F) Model
Another way to make a t-shirt company is in Warehousing and Fulfillment (W&F). The role of a fulfillment warehouse is to hold and transport physical stock, so the client doesn’t have to. It comes under the business umbrella of third-party logistics. A fulfillment warehouse works in the background and takes no claim for the goods they service. It’s akin to dropshipping, but clients own the stock.
With W&F, you pay someone to look after your best inventory and follow through with the orders. A storage & distribution warehouse is an excellent solution for large or expanding t-shirt companies.
#3 T-Shirt Print on Demand (POD) Model
Some people prefer to run a professional Print on Demand or POD business. You can be the t-shirt seller who uses a Print on Demand service. Or, you can be the printer who fulfills orders from t-shirt business owners. A POD business requires space and equipment.
Here are a few typical heat press printer examples used by small t-shirt POD business owners:
1. T-Shirt Heat Press and Digital Sublimation Machine by Transfer Crafts
Editor’s Rating: 4.7/5
This popular product is a 15” x 15” model for light commercial and personal use. It’s an easy-to-use yet capable device. There are enough features to transfer graphics onto t-shirts and other garments efficiently and safely. It has an LED temperature and time display/controller with safety alarms.
2. Everyday Cricut EasyPress 2 w/ Adjustable Heat
Editor’s Rating: 4.9/5
This is a simple yet capable 9” x 9” iron-on type pres. It’s an excellent choice for anyone who wants to dip their toe into the t-shirt printing business. It offers the convenience of a regular iron and the speed of a pro-level heat press. The EasyPress 2 transfers graphics onto t-shirts in 60 seconds or even less.
3. CO-Z 360 Degree Swivel Multifunction Heat Press Machine
Editor’s Rating: 4.3/5
The swing-away is a 5-in-1 heat press that comes equipped with all the essential attachments. It transfers color images and characters of sublimation dyes and dissolved inks onto T-shirts, caps, and just about any other flat surfaces you can think of.
4. ePhoto New Digital T-Shirt Heat Sublimation Heat Press Machine
Editor’s Rating: 4.5/5
This is a 15” x 15” heat press. It transfers graphics onto t-shirts and many other types of garments and flat-surfaced items. It arrives fully assembled and ready to use straight out of its box. The product has a digital LED temperature and time display controller plus audible alarms to prevent overheating.
HPM-1515-BK Industrial Digital Sublimation T-Shirt Heat Press
Editor’s Rating: 4.4/5
It’s an industrial quality digital sublimation T-Shirt heat press by PowerPress. It has an affordable price tag with a 15” x 15” Teflon coated heat plate. That makes it easy to clean and does away with the need for coated sheets. The device comes ready to use and has all the vital safety features.
Pros of an Online T-Shirt Business Model
The rest of this page looks at the most popular t-shirt business model. Working online has opened all kinds of opportunities and resources for running a profitable business.
Here are the main advantages of starting an online t-shirt company:
- Almost everyone at every age and gender wears t-shirts
- Run it as an online-only business (low overheads)
- Can be a part-time or full-time enterprise
- Unlimited profit potential with the right ideas
- Get to work flexible hours
- Work from anywhere if you use drop shippers (see below)
That’s quite a list but don’t get too ambitious until you weigh up the cons along with the pros.
Cons of an Online T-Shirt Business Model
It’s time-consuming, especially during the startup process. That’s not a problem for conscientious types who expect to roll their sleeves up and get stuck in. It’s an issue for anyone who buys into articles that say it’s the easiest, most profitable business model ever. It’s not. A t-shirt printing business can be fun, exciting, and rewarding for the right candidate, but it’s no walk in the park.
The Way Forward
Working through a list helps to simplify the study. Here are some preliminary considerations:
- Find a sub-niche (essential)
- Choose a business model, i.e., bricks & mortar business, online only
- Get to know the competition
- Source quality products
- Brainstorm design ideas—be creative
- Validate your designs
- Be open to constructive criticism
Add anything else to the list above that matters to you. Having a checklist of ideas is a great way to keep organized. Record your thoughts and take photos of inspiring designs when you’re out. Too many brilliant ideas have gotten lost forever because people didn’t record them at the time.
The next section looks at the 7 points above in more detail.
#1 Printed T-Shirt Sub-Niche
It needs to be a niche-orientated business as there’s so much mainstream competition around. Seriously, it would be next to impossible to compete as a new company with common designs. The idea here is to tap into something that has lots of customers and little competition. Think sub-niche (see below). Or, start with areas to avoid first if you have trouble zooming in on anything specific.
Printed t-shirts with funny slogans are everywhere, so that’s one example of a broad niche to avoid. Below is a simple method of drilling down a niche to uncover its sub-niche potential.
|FITNESS (MAIN NICHE)||VEGETARIAN (MAIN NICHE)||EVENTS (MAIN NICHE)|
|Sub-niches of fitness:||Sub-niches for vegetarianism||Sub-niches for events|
• Mental awareness
• Product advertising
• Extreme sports
• Marital arts
• Protests & marches
You may discover a brilliant niche market in a single thought, or it could take some time, trial, and error. I’m a big fan of writing stuff down as you think about it. It’s a great way to recall potentially profitable niches. Ideas can pop up in the head when you least expect them so don’t let them slip away. Try to find a niche that excites you as it will make your efforts so much more enjoyable.
Here are a few more topics to drill down with to get your creative juices flowing:
- Careers & skills
- Hobbies & passions
- Family related
- In memory of…
- Bygone age (people, places, or things)
- Animals & wildlife
- Travel & adventure
- Music & musical instruments, ad infinitum
Offer something with your t-shirt designs, drawings, colors, and patterns not found elsewhere.
#2 Choose a Business Model
Some of you reading here may be thinking about starting a local printing business. By ‘local’ I mean a bricks & mortar setup where customers can walk through the door. Or, you’re looking for a more flexible, low-cost route to a t-shirt printing business. Running an online-only company is quite doable, but there’s no passing trade. That means you must learn how to get eyeballs to visit your online store.
There are already successful online businesses that use t-shirt drop shippers. A drop shipper stocks and dispatches products on your behalf. The concept is a simple one but needs a careful approach.
The main benefits of dropshipping for the retailer (you) are:
- Lowers the startup cost for your t-shirt business
- Increases cash flow—you don’t have to buy stock
- You don’t need space to store an inventory
- Have access to an unlimited inventory with the right drop shipper
- You don’t have to mail the product to your customer
It’s a 3-step process that looks like this:
- Customer places an order with YOU
- You forward that order to your Dropshipper
- Supplier (drop shipper) prints and ships the t-shirt directly to your customer
It’s a great way to save your time, money, and effort, but it’s not without dangers (see next).
There are some risks with the drop shipping approach. That’s because you rely on the quality and goodwill of the middle man. If a drop shipper lets you down it reflects negatively on YOU, not them.
Here are the 5 potential disadvantages of using a drop shipper for your t-shirt venture:
- Lowers profit margins
- You don’t have full quality control of the products
- Returns can be difficult—or not allowed—with some drop shippers
- Shipping could be expensive
- May not always be able to guarantee inventory
These are serious concerns and why you need to choose a drop shipper with great care. Three well-respected drop shipper printer apps are Print Aura, Printful, and Merchify. There are others, but read how these three businesses operate to get an understanding of the services they offer.
#3 Know Your Competition and Compete
This is a critical step. It’s easy to come up with a brilliant idea and think it’s unique. The reality is that most—though not all—good ideas are already in use. Also, just because you feel something is a good idea doesn’t necessarily mean it is. It may be, but it may not be too. Therefore, research the market carefully. Get to see what works and why, and then think creatively.
Product—rather than price—is how to beat the competition. Most people prefer to spend a little extra on quality rather than cheap crap that only lasts 5 minutes. It’s also about targeting a specific niche (see #5). There will always be competition, so a sub-niche with ample customers is the way to go.
#4 Quality Products & Exceptional Service
It can be tempting to look for the cheapest materials when starting a new t-shirt business. I say there’s never a second chance to make a first impression. It takes time, effort, and continual excellence to establish a brand. It only takes a moment of shoddiness to break it all down or prevent it from starting. Always get samples sent to you first if you use a drop shipper (see above).
You need to be proud of your printed t-shirts and always deliver on company promises. That means using high-quality inks and materials if the t-shirts are to stand out. Better quality products result in positive feedback and fewer returns. These things help you to gain an excellent reputation.
First-rate ordering process
An online custom t-shirt service should be flawless if you have one. Some businesses allow customers to upload personal designs. Such a service should still have no more than three ordering steps, i.e.
- Choose a quality t-shirt from the collection
- Choose a printed t-shirt design or upload custom artwork
- Confirm order details and checkout
#5 Brainstorm Design Ideas
Ideas come and go at a rapid pace when starting any new business. It’s frustrating to forget something you failed to take down. You can keep physical notes, save stuff on a computer, or voice record your ideas on a smartphone. It doesn’t matter what method you use. The important thing here is to grab thoughts as they materialize so that you can brainstorm them later.
A lot of thoughts can look quite different when you refer to them later. Most ‘good ideas at the time’ may even appear silly, and that’s okay. The point is to let nothing slip you by as there are likely to be some nuggets amid all those notes. Most early brainstorming sessions are about elimination. Eventually, you—and your team if you have one—are looking at a workable plan.
Superior products mean nothing if nobody knows about you. Too many folks rely on free social media (SM) posts to promote their t-shirt business. That should be a part of it, but you may need a broader marketing strategy. Expect to invest some cash into online advertising to get the word out. Facebook ad templates, cinemagraphs ads, and t-shirt mockup generators are all excellent marketing tools.
Successful marketing is all about exposing your t-shirt designs to a target audience:
- Identify your niche and buyer
- Fulfill the needs of potential buyers through the ads
- Find a way to stand out above the rivals
Remember, there’s never a second chance to make a first impression. Your presence online should be visually appealing. And your response to potential customers must be prompt and friendly. Anyone can build an e-commerce website today. But it needs to be right, functional, and trustworthy to succeed. Brainstorm marketing ideas and research how successful t-shirt companies promote their products.
Think Creatively (outside the box)
You may be familiar with the name Tom Cridland. He markets t-shirts based on issues people are passionate about. The brand uses a sustainable, ethical, fashion statement. The products are all handmade and eco-friendly. These are 30-year t-shirts that keep their T shape and last a lifetime. The products check a lot of buyer boxes and sell well as a result.
#6 Validate your Designs
The reason so many wannabe t-shirt businesses fail is because the owners make it personal. By that I mean they offer products they like assuming everyone else will love them equally. That’s a bad mistake. The products should be about what the customer wants, not what you think they want. It’s crucial to know your target audience so that you can deliver on their needs and expectations.
Get unbiased feedback for your shirt designs, preferably from strangers. Discussion forums can be a great place to start. I did this with my first-ever website. Skilled web builders slammed it and found so many faults. I didn’t expect that and it devastated me, but they were right. I hadn’t done any research. I put together something I liked assuming everyone else would like it too. I was wrong.
#7 Embrace Constructive Criticism
You need to be open to constructive criticism and listen to the opinions of others. Honest feedback from strangers now is better than complaints from customers later. Online platforms like Facebook groups and Reddit are excellent places for discussing your designs. People will tell you if something is wrong and the reasons why. Likewise, folks will also say if they like a thing and why that is.
We can’t see our products how others may see them, and that’s why feedback is so vital. The secret to exploiting criticism is to have the right attitude. Don’t be on the defensive or prepare to slam anyone who knocks your precious designs. If someone doesn’t like a thing, you need to know their reasons. Be polite and thank everyone for taking the time to leave comments, good or bad.
Real-world feedback is an invaluable process that no new t-shirt entrepreneur should skip.
Thoughts into Actions
Little things can make the biggest differences so always pay attention to details. Now, your rough 7-point business plan should look similar to this:
- You know your business model, i.e., real world, online only, both
- You have a target audience in mind to aim your niche products at
- You’re ready to work on some sample t-shirt designs based on the niche
- You’ve decided on a quality fabric and printing technique
- You’re going to produce a few sample designs and experience the products
- You’re open to constructive, unbiased feedback online and off
- You’re ready to build the brand with all the above boxed checked
By now you should have plenty to think about and try not to let any of it overwhelm you. Address each section one at a time to stay focused and composed. There’s a lot of competition out there, but don’t let that deter you. There’s still plenty of room for new t-shirt businesses that offer something unique.