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How to Start a T-Shirt Business

Screen printing a t-shirt

T-shirt businesses are fairly common nowadays, but don't be fooled: starting your own t-shirt business won't be easy and won't produce a steady source of income overnight. To make your business successful, you'll need to do plenty of research and design high-quality merchandise people will actually be interested in buying.

Planning and Research

Identify your target market

Since the t-shirt market is already so developed, your own business won't survive long if you try to compete with every other t-shirt business. Instead, focus on one target market or niche.

Make your target market specific without becoming too obscure. For example, "funny graphic shirts" would be a bad market since it's too broad. A better choice would be something like "funny graphic shirts about cooking and baking" since that addresses a focused yet widespread target group.

Study the competition

Learn about other t-shirt sellers who share a similar niche. You'll need to be able to compete with them on all levels so that customers will be willing to choose your product over theirs.

Pay attention to your competitors' product quality, design variety, pricing, and customer service. Also note how they promote their products.

Studying the competition isn't as hard as you might initially believe it to be. Follow the brands on their blogs and social media pages, and sign up for their free digital newsletters.

Find partners and hire employees

Even if you're starting the business on your own, you'll probably need to hire help and delegate tasks to other people. Focus your efforts on the business aspects that come naturally to you, then find partners to help you with the rest.

A successful t-shirt business needs skilled designers and printers, but it also needs people who can make websites, manage people, and market the product. Moreover, if you struggle to manage your finances, you might also need to hire an accountant or someone else to do that for you.

Even if you have some skill in each area, you will probably need to find partners as your business grows simply to keep up with the demand.

Choose the best print method for your business

There are three main print methods used by t-shirt businesses: screen printing, heat transfer, and direct-to-garment. Each option has pros and cons, so you'll need to figure out which one is right for your intended business model.

Screen printing is cost-effective for large batches, but it can be expensive if you want to offer multiple colors. It also works best with simple designs, and the quality can start decreasing once designs become too complex.

Heat transfers make it easier to print shirts on demand. The designs need to be professionally printed on high-quality heat transfer paper, but you'll need to invest in a heat press machine and transfer the design to each shirt yourself. The overall quality is less durable than screen printing and direct-to-garment printing, too.

Direct-to-garment printing creates high-quality images and makes it easier to produce small orders in a wide range of colors. The designs themselves can also be very detailed without a drop in quality. It won't be very cost effective for large production runs, though.

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