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Starting a T-Shirt Business: A Simple 5 Step Guide

Updated on July 10, 2017

The one fashion staple that will never go out of style is the basic t-shirt. T-Shirts come in a variety of styles, colors, cuts, fits and every year fashion companies find ways to reinvent the basic tee to make it even more fashionable.

Not only are t-shirts a staple in every closet, but they're also a great big blank canvas for starving artists and business savvy entrepreneurs. Combining the two has become a popular business choice. Custom tees are a great way to market your designs, as well as make a profit while doing so. Starting a t-shirt business can be inexpensive and a great way to get your designs and brand out there in the world.

Starting a t-shirt business can be a little tough because there are already a lot of t-shirt companies competing for the same customers. To make sure you get off on the right foot, here are 5 steps to successfully help you create and launch a t-shirt start-up business.

1. Have an Original Idea

First things first, you need to have the ability to stand out from your competition. Originality is a great way to stand out from the crowd. One of the best ways to make sure you’ll be able to stand out from the rest is to pick and focus on a specific niche.

A niche is a small, specialized section of the population. For example, say you want to start making shirts with funny puns and catchphrase. That, in itself, is a very broad category in the t-shirt world. Narrow it down to something more specific like funny puns and catchphrases related to dogs – now that would be your niche.


Once you pick your niche, you can then do some research and see who are your competitors and what have they produced in the past. By seeing what successful companies have done in the past, you can add that to your business plan as well! Having a niche market in mind will definitely help you focus on creating the right designs that your customer like.

Make sure that your design is something you don’t see in a catalog or at the mall. The design does not have to be anything complex (unless that’s what you’re aiming for). Simplicity can sometimes be the key to a great design. Most graphic shirts are simple but make sure you connect with your audience while standing out from the competition.

2. Purchasing Blank T-shirts

Find a company where you can purchase blank t-shirts from at wholesale or close to wholesale price to expend your budget. Most companies offer sample purchases, so you can try out a few brands and see which one you like best. Don’t forget to ask for bulk pricing if you’re planning on ordering more than 100+ shirts! Most companies offer special discounts or pricing for those ordering more than 100 shirts at a time.

Types of Fabrics:

  • 100% cotton/ringspun cotton - The most popular material being used for clothing lines are usually made of 100% cotton. Keep in mind that although it may be the most used, it is NOT the best quality. Some shirts are also made of 100% ringspun cotton. Ringspun cotton is smoother and goes through a spinning process that softens and straightens each fiber which results in a more refined fiber (source).
  • 50/50 blends - A common blend that’s available is a 50/50 blend, which is usually 50% cotton and 50% polyester. This blend is a bit softer than 100% cotton shirts, but the color can sometimes be heathered.
  • Tri-blend - This is another type of blend which is made up of 50/25/25 polyester, cotton and rayon. These shirts are much softer and have a stretch feel to them. A popular brand that is known for their tri-blend shirts is American Apparel.
  • 100% polyester - If you're looking to create durable active wear tees, polyester fabric can do just that. Most sportswear or performance tees are made with polyester. The fabric is stain and wrinkle resistant, quick drying, and does not shrink. The only bad side to polyester is that it's really hard to print on. Most screen printing companies charge more that usually because screen printing on polyester can cause dye migration. What is dye migration, you say? It's just as it sounds; small dye particles can move from one place (the fabric) to another (the ink) which can cause unwanted color change (source).

3. Finding a Screen Printer

Screen printing is a cost effective imprint method when starting a t-shirt business. Some may start their own t-shirt business because they love screen printing and already have the means and equipment to start their own business. If not, do not fret! There are TONS of screen printers that are willing and able to help you out! Just do a quick google search to find local screen printers, call them and schedule an appointment to meet with them. That way, you can see if they are the right fit for you and your business plan.

If none of your local screen printers tickle your fancy, then you can also outsource your screen printing to a bigger screen printing company. A great way to cut costs is to find a retailer that can supply your blank shirts AND screen prints your designs for you. There are many companies that offer blank t-shirts and screen printing services at a low competitive cost.

4. Pricing Your T-shirts

After receiving your finished products, the next step is to calculate how much you plan on selling your custom tees! The price of your shirt will depend on the following:

  • The price of the blank tee used
  • Screen printing costs
  • Shipping fees (if you've outsourced)
  • Hangtags and/or labels

Set a cost that will be able to cover the cost of making the shirt, as well as make a profit.

5. Selling Your T-Shirt

After figuring our product pricing, now it’s time to set up shop! There are many ways you can sell your shirt – retail (selling the shirt yourself) or wholesale (selling it to store to sell in their store)

Selling Online

A great way to start is by setting up a store online. There are many platforms online that offer entrepreneurs to sell their stuff online. When setting up shop online, make sure your product looks marketable by having high-quality photos of your tees. Pictures of models (or your friends and family) wearing your shirts can also help customers visualize how it will look on themselves before making a purchase.

Selling to Big Retailers

Target stores that sell to your niche market. You can call the store and ask to speak to the buyer. Many store like supporting local businesses, so it may be best to start with stores within your area.

There are many other places you can try to sell your custom tees, such as: flea markets, fundraisers, street fairs, coffee shops, or any other big local events.

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    • profile image

      Khadijah Y 5 months ago

      Thank you I really needed this information

    • sparkleyfinger profile image

      Lynsey Harte 10 months ago from Glasgow

      Even if you don't want to add it in as an extra (so that you can save the title) You could always just combine with step 5, and mention marketing costs when pricing the item. Covers it on both steps, without too much upheaval. You're welcome, glad I could help.

    • profile image

      Kimberly Santos 10 months ago

      @sparkleyfinger -- I was thinking about adding a section on marketing since it is a big part of starting your own business! Thank you for your suggestion, I think I may add it in as an extra step.

    • sparkleyfinger profile image

      Lynsey Harte 10 months ago from Glasgow

      I like the way you have broken down the steps, however I notice there wasn't anything mentioned for marketing. Most businesses need advertising and marketing to spread the word, and this should also be considered in the price point, especially if it is outsourced. Just a thought! Keep up the good work.