In this post, you will learn how to start a tshirt business from complete scratch for less than $3 with a viable marketing strategy that requires no upfront costs.
Because I teach a course on how to sell online, I’m often asked why I don’t launch more ecommerce stores and make infinite amounts of money:)
In fact, I never planned on starting another ecommerce store until both my 9 and 11 year old kids expressed an interest in starting their own tshirt business.
In case you don’t have kids of your own, having your children appreciate what you do for a living and wanting to follow in your footsteps is the best feeling in the world.
So of course I jumped at the opportunity!
Anyway, my kids and I have documented the entire process of how to start a tshirt business from the ground up and how they made their first $500 online.
I also want to be clear that this is their business venture and not mine.
- They are using their own money
- They are designing their own tshirts
- They are making their own business decisions with my guidance.
In fact, my goal with this project is to act as their guide and mentor. By documenting this journey, I also want to show you how to start your own tshirt business as well.
After all, if a 9 and 11 year old can do it with their allowance money, then so can you!
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How To Start A TShirt Business – A Video Overview
Why Start A Tshirt Business?
The main reason to sell tshirts online is that you can literally start a tshirt business for less than $3. In fact, starting a tshirt business is a great way to dip your toes in the entrepreneurship waters with very little upfront risk.
Here’s the reason why my kids decided to start theirs:)
How Much It Costs To Start A Tshirt Business
Starting a tshirt business will cost you anywhere from $0 – $5000 depending on whether you use a print on demand company or print your own tshirts in-house.
If you decide to print your own tshirts, you will need to purchase blank shirts, a printer, a cutter, and a heat press.
Can You Start A Tshirt Business With No Money?
You can start a tshirt business with no money if you use a print on demand company to dropship for you.
You only pay the print on demand company after you’ve collected money from your customer and you don’t have to worry about inventory or fulfillment.
What Machine Is Best For Tshirt Printing?
The best overall tshirt printing machine is the F2C 5-in-1 Heat Press.
The F2C is sturdy, easy to use and has a full range pressure adjustment system to press even the thickest tshirt designs.
The best overall direct to garment tshirt printer is the DTG G4. The print quality is excellent, it’s easy to use and most importantly, it’s low maintenance.
If you do not wish to invest in a DTG printer, you can simply use inkjet transfer paper and print your designs using an ordinary inkjet printer.
How Much Can You Make Selling Tshirts?
The average of cost of a tshirt including custom printing is between $7 to $12. The recommended retail price for a tshirt is between $20 to $30.
As a result, if you sell your tshirts for $20, you can make a profit of between $8 to $13 per shirt.
Most creators sell their shirts at margins of between 25%-50%.
Things To Consider When Starting A Tshirt Business
Because selling tshirts online is so competitive, you must have a sound strategy in place in order to succeed.
Here are 3 critical elements that you need to consider BEFORE you start a tshirt business
You Must Know Your Target Customer
Every tshirt you design must have a theme that resonates with your audience. As a result, you have to carefully consider the exact customer you are targeting.
- How old are they?
- Where do they hangout?
- Are you targeting women or men?
- How much money do they make?
- How educated are they?
- Are they married with kids?
- What do they do for a living?
- What is their ethnic background?
You Must Create Tshirt Designs That Resonate With Your Target Customer
Most people who purchase tshirts are looking for designs and sayings that resonate with them and reflect their own opinions and/or personalities.
Therefore, you have to be as specific as possible and create a tshirt design that ONLY speaks to your target audience and no one else.
Most new entrepreneurs find this concept counter-intuitive. But when it comes to running a successful tshirt business, the less people you target, the more tshirts you will sell.
If you design a tshirt that applies to everyone, you will not sell to anyone.
You Need A Backstory
People don’t necessarily buy tshirts for the graphics and design. Often times, they’ll buy your tshirts because they resonate with your story and want to support your brand.
Whenever I make a purchase from a small business, it’s almost always because I either like the brand story, the founder or both.
Don’t forget to formulate a story behind your brand and products!
You Must Have A Content Strategy In Place To Humanize Your Brand
When it comes to selling into a saturated niche like tshirts, you have to build a following in order to succeed.
You must create an email list of rabid fans.
You must have a content strategy in place to bring customers in the door and discover your products.
The content you create can be in the form of text, video, audio or all 3.
How To Start A Tshirt Business Step By Step
Starting a tshirt business requires 7 basic steps.
- You must decide on a niche
- You must find an audience for your designs
- You must choose a printing method
- You must choose an ecommerce platform
- You must decide on a marketing strategy
- You must create content
- You must use retain your customers
Here are the exact steps that my kids and I took to start their online tshirt business over at Kid In Charge.
I’m really proud of what they’ve created and they managed to launch their online store for less than $200 of their own money.
Step 1: Decide On A Niche
When it comes to running a successful tshirt company, your niche is probably the MOST important aspect. After all, creating and manufacturing your tshirts is the easy part.
The hard part is creating a design that resonates with your customer base.
For KidInCharge.com, my kids and I decided to target wealthy parents who want to encourage their kids to start their own businesses.
Our ideal customer is an entrepreneurial parent who understands that a college degree does not guarantee financial success.
Our ideal customer wants their kids to take charge of their lives and learn how to make money at a young age.
Our ideal customer is looking for young and incredibly cute role models for their kids to follow:)
As a result, my kids came up with the following mission statement for their company.
Step 2: Validate Your Designs
Because starting a tshirt company is so cheap and requires no cost of goods (if you decide to use a print on demand company), you can quickly validate your niche without risking any money.
I would start by finding various Facebook groups in your target demographic and ask them for an opinion on your designs.
For example, if I were selling fishing related tshirts, I would do a search for fishing enthusiast Facebook groups and start posting my designs in the group.
However, I would not mention my intention to sell tshirts at all. Instead, I would simply post pictures of my clever designs and gauge the response.
Whatever you do, do you not try to sell your tshirts within the Facebook group! Simply ask for an opinion and be gracious and thankful.
You can also use a service called PickFu to quickly solicit feedback on your design from real humans in less than 15 minutes.
Here’s an example poll that I created for one of my kid’s t-shirt designs.
The best part about PickFu is that you can solicit real feedback from customers within your demographic.
For this poll, I targeted female parents making over 100K in income.
Not only is launching a poll quick and easy but it’s reasonably priced as well. In fact, I’ve negotiated a 50% discount off PickFu for MyWifeQuitHerJob.com readers.
Step 3: Decide How You Want To Manufacture Your Tshirts
When it comes to manufacturing your tshirt designs, you can either make your own shirts in-house or you can use a print on demand company.
The cheapest and easiest way to create your tshirts is to use a print on demand(POD) company.
Here’s how a print on demand company works.
- You upload your design to the print on demand company.
- You take an order on your ecommerce store and collect the money.
- The order information is electronically transmitted to the print on demand company’s servers through your shopping cart.
- The print on demand company charges you for the wholesale cost of the tshirt and ships it to the end customer on your behalf
- You keep the difference in profit
You do not have to carry and inventory. There is zero upfront cost and you bear no monetary risk whatsoever.
Here are my favorite tshirt print on demand companies.
Note: Print on demand companies are essentially dropshippers. If you want to learn more about dropshipping, then check out my post on Dropshipping – Does It Really Work And Can You Make Money? Also, if you are deciding between Printful vs Printify, read this review.
Gelato is a print on demand provider that connects your online store to over 130 production hubs in 33 countries. They can print any design on a tshirt but they also print on posters, mugs, bags, stationery, calendars and more!
Gelato is one of the largest, most established print on demand companies in the world and they offer support for most popular shopping carts out of the box.
I like Gelato because…
- They have a huge global network – Their network is so large that you’re likely to find a printer near your target customer. This can drastically reduce shipping times and save on costs.
- There’s no minimum purchase – You can order as few shirts as you want and prices are reduced when you order more.
- There’s no inventory – Gelato handles everything for you at one reasonable cost.
- They allow you to use your own brand – You can use your own logo on your packaging and invoices to make it seem like the order is being shipped from your company.
Printful is a print on demand dropshipper for many different items. Not only will they print your design on a tshirt but they can also make hats, posters, pillows, mugs, bags…you name it.
Out of all of the print on demand dropshipping companies, Printful is the largest and offers support for the most shopping carts out of the box.
Personally, I like Printful because…
- There’s no minimum purchase – You can order as little as a single item at a time. However, it is cheaper if you order in bulk.
- There’s no inventory – Printful handles everything for you at one reasonable cost.
- They ship and fulfill your orders for you – For around 5 dollars, they’ll ship your tshirt within 3 days.
- They allow you to use your own brand – You can use your own logo on your packaging and invoices to make it seem like the order is being shipped from your company.
The only downside to Printful is that they are slightly more expensive than competing dropshippers.
Custom Cat is a print on demand dropshipper that is very similar to Printful. And they can print your designs on a variety of items like shirts, bags, jackets and hats.
Overall, they have a much smaller selection than Printful. For example, CustomCat doesn’t print on mugs, socks or phone cases but the big advantage is that they are cheaper.
For example, the cheapest printed tshirt costs $7 dollars on CustomCat whereas it costs $9 on Printful.
However, the savings comes at a cost. The CustomCat interface is little clunkier than Printful but it works just fine when you get used it.
The cost savings alone makes CustomCat highly recommended.
Other Tshirt Print On Demand Companies
In addition to Gelato, Printful and CustomCat, there are many other companies like TeeSpring and Amazon Merch that allow you to print your designs and have them fulfilled on demand.
However the main downside with these companies is that they will not dropship on your behalf.
Instead of driving traffic to a website that you own and run, you have to send visitors to their site to complete the sale.
As a result, it’s very difficult to create a strong brand when you use a service like TeeSpring and Amazon Merch.
Ultimately, your end goal should be to create a business that you own and control.
Make Your Own Tshirts
If you decide to print your own tshirts, you may need to purchase the following equipment.
- Heat Press
- Heat transfer paper
- Direct to garment printer
- Digital cutting machine
- Blank shirts
In the beginning, my kids decided to manufacture their own tshirts.
Here’s a video of their tshirt making process.
Step 4: Choose A Shopping Cart Platform
Once you have your niche and tshirt designs ready to go, it’s time to build out your online store.
Now there are many ecommerce platforms to choose from but the best print on demand dropshippers only support the mainstream shopping cart platforms.
As a result, here are your top 3 choices.
- Shopify – Almost every POD provider supports Shopify out of the box. What’s nice about Shopify is that they will handle everything for you and it’s the easiest way to get started. However, Shopify is probably the most expensive solution of the bunch. Click here to sign up for Shopify for free
- BigCommerce – BigCommerce is also a very robust platform that is very easy to setup. While it’s less popular than Shopify, you get more bang for your buck and the support is excellent. Click here to sign up for BigCommerce and get 1 month free
- WooCommerce – WooCommerce is easily the cheapest of the 3 platforms and you can literally get started for less than $3 per month. The downside is that you have to signup and host your own website. Click here to install WooCommerce for less than $3
Because my kids were on a major budget, they ultimately chose to go with WooCommerce.
In addition, their entire marketing strategy is predicated on their blog and YouTube channel which made going with an ecommerce platform based on WordPress a logical choice.
But don’t listen to me, here’s a video they created to explain their shopping cart decision:)
For more information about the various shopping cart platforms mentioned above, please check out the following posts.
- BigCommerce Vs Shopify – Which Cart Is Cheaper And Better?
- Shopify Alternatives – Cheaper Solutions That Are As Good If Not Better
- WooCommerce Pricing – Is It Really Free And How Much Does It Cost
Meanwhile, here’s a video that walks you through the entire WooCommerce installation process step by step.
Note: I’ve negotiated a 63% discount off of Bluehost for MyWifeQuitHerJob.com readers. Click Here To Signup For Bluehost To Save 63%
Step 5: Decide On Your Marketing Strategy
The best way to create a successful tshirt business is by building an audience with content.
Because starting a tshirt business has low barriers to entry, it’s highly competitive. As a result, you have to approach your business expecting that it will be saturated and easily copied.
First off, tshirt related keywords on Google are super competitive and expensive. As a result, your chances of ranking in Google search or running profitable Google ads will be difficult.
For certain tshirt designs, you may be able to rank for long tail keywords but overall, product related SEO will not be a huge contributor to traffic.
Facebook ads may also be a viable option for marketing but the low revenue per sale of a tshirt will make achieving profitability a challenge.
Overall, the most effective way to market your tshirt designs is by creating content and building an email list of interested buyers.
Step 6: Choose A Medium For Your Content
Here are 3 different ways to produce and distribute content online.
- Start A Blog – You can start a blog and rank your articles in search
- Start A Podcast – You can attract listeners by putting out consistent audio content
- Start A YouTube Channel – You can build an audience by creating videos
All 3 options above have their pros and cons.
Blogging and content marketing is an excellent way to build an audience if you are a good writer.
And if you are very deliberate with the keywords that you target, you can eventually rank in search and attract endless free traffic through Google.
The main downside to blogging is that it can be difficult to express your personality through the written word.
Posts are generally less memorable than a podcast or video.
For more information about blogging, check out these posts.
- How To Start A WordPress Blog On A Shopify Or BigCommerce Store And Should It Be On A Subdomain?
- Income Report: How Much Money I Make Blogging Vs Selling Online And Which Business Model Is Better
Podcasting is an excellent way to build a loyal audience. Because the average podcast lasts 20 minutes or more, your audience will be exposed to your voice for an extended period which allows you to easily create raving fans.
The downside to podcasting is that it’s extremely difficult to get your podcast discovered. Unlike blogging and YouTube, there is no good search engine for podcast content.
Like podcasting, a YouTube channel is a great way to build a loyal audience as well. Because visitors can see and hear you speak, it is much easier to create a connection with your raving fans.
The main downside to producing videos is that it requires a certain personality to get in front of the camera:)
For KidInCharge.com, we ultimately decided to start a YouTube channel because my kids are great on camera and they have awesome on screen personas:)
Step 7: Retain Your Audience
Putting out consistent content is a great traffic strategy but you must also find a way to retain your customers.
The average conversion rate is only 2% for ecommerce stores which means that 98% of your visitors will not make a purchase.
As a result, you need a way to bring a customer back repeatedly until they are ready to buy.
Right now, the best way to do this is through email marketing.
For KidInCharge, we are using Klaviyo as our primary email marketing provider because it is the best!
Right now, we have 5 automated email marketing sequences in place that should generate sales on autopilot.
Editor’s Note: For more information on these exact flows, check out my post on 7 Email Autoresponders That Make Money On Autopilot For Your Online Store
To collect emails, we are currently using a free tool called Privy to manage all of our email capture forms.
Here’s a popup that we’re currently running on the site that is responsible for most of our signups.
What’s cool is that Privy makes it so easy to create complex email signup forms with their intuitive graphical user interface.
In fact, my kids have had no problems at all with using Privy to design their email forms.
Best of all, Privy is free to use.
Currently, KidInCharge is only using email marketing because my kids are on a budget. But going forward, we plan on utilizing push notifications and Facebook Messenger marketing as well.
For more information, check out the following posts on my blog.
- The Best Way To Use Facebook Messenger Bots To Sell Online With ManyChat
- 3 Ways To Use Dynamic Push Notifications To Increase Sales For Your Online Store
Instagram, Facebook and TikTok are also great ways to build an audience.
- Click Here To Follow Me On Instagram
- Click Here To Follow Me On Facebook
- Click Here To Follow Me On TikTok
3 Different Ways To Print Your Tshirts
When it comes to printing your tshirts, there are 3 main methods, screen printing, heat transfer and direct to garment, which each have their own pros and cons.
Depending on your volume, you need to understand when to use each method for your business
Screen printing works by producing a mesh stencil (or screen) for every color that needs to be printed on your tshirt.
The ink is then pushed through the screens one color at a time onto the apparel and then dried to cure the ink.
Out of all of the 3 printing methods, screen printing is the most labor intensive to setup. And if you have a design that uses many colors, it can be extremely expensive as well.
Overall, screen printing only makes sense if you are mass producing a large batch of a single design. In addition, screen printing tends to work better with simpler tshirt designs with fewer colors.
Heat transfer involves using a heat press to apply heat and pressure to imprint a design directly onto fabric.
Heat transfer is the current technique that my kids are using to create their tshirt designs.
With a laptop computer and a silhouette cutter, you can easily print your designs from home and transfer them onto a blank tshirt with an iron or tshirt press.
The downside to the heat transfer process is that it’s extremely labor intensive and expensive to produce.
For example, it takes my kids roughly 20 minutes to produce a single tshirt.
The heat transfer vinyl is also quite expensive unless you buy in bulk.
Direct To Garment Printing
Direct to garment printing or DTG is when a design is directly printed onto an article of clothing much like an ink jet printer.
DTG printing is extremely high quality and you can print very intricate designs onto a tshirt or other apparel. In addition, there are no setup costs or manual labor involved other than loading the printer itself.
The biggest downside to DTG printing is that there is very little cost advantage to producing designs in bulk. But most print on demand firms like Printful use DTG because of its flexibility.
How To Be Successful Selling Tshirts
Starting a successful tshirt business requires time and consistent effort. You must create content on a regular basis and build up an email list of fans and buyers.
In addition to producing content, you must also consistently produce new tshirt designs.
Here’s how our design process currently works.
My son and daughter first create a hand drawn mockup of the shirt they want to create.
We then convert their drawing into digital form.
Finally, we tweak the mockup until it’s exactly the design that my kids are looking for.
By standardizing your design processes, you can quickly pump out new designs and launch them on your online store.
Related Posts In Dropshipping
- Is TeePublic Legit And Safe? Read This Review Before You Buy
- Printful Vs Printify – Which POD Company Is Better For You?
- How To Dropship On Amazon In 4 Easy Steps [Updated For 2023]
- Ebay Dropshipping – Tips, Tricks And The Common Mistakes
- Dropshipping Vs Carrying Inventory – An Inside Look At The Financials Of Two Live Online Shops
Steve Chou is a highly recognized influencer in the ecommerce space and has taught thousands of students how to effectively sell physical products online over at ProfitableOnlineStore.com.
His blog, MyWifeQuitHerJob.com, has been featured in Forbes, Inc, The New York Times, Entrepreneur and MSNBC.
He's also a contributing author for BigCommerce, Klaviyo, ManyChat, Printful, Privy, CXL, Ecommerce Fuel, GlockApps, Privy, Social Media Examiner, Web Designer Depot, Sumo and other leading business publications.
In addition, he runs a popular ecommerce podcast, My Wife Quit Her Job, which is a top 25 marketing show on all of Apple Podcasts.
To stay up to date with all of the latest ecommerce trends, Steve runs a 7 figure ecommerce store, BumblebeeLinens.com, with his wife and puts on an annual ecommerce conference called The Sellers Summit.
Steve carries both a bachelors and a masters degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University. Despite majoring in electrical engineering, he spent a good portion of his graduate education studying entrepreneurship and the mechanics of running small businesses.