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1. Is it profitable to sell t-shirts online?

How to sell shirts online without inventory: A quick guide [2024]

Updated Jan 15 2024

In the digital world we're living in, it's never been easier or more profitable to create and sell products, goods, and services online.

The beauty of selling online is that you can do it from the comfort of your home or from a smartphone anywhere in the world. Selling apparel without inventory opens the doors for creators and designers to easily showcase their talent and make a profit.

It's all possible with print on demand services, a third party who handles all the printing, fulfilling, and shipping of a company's business.

Main takeaways from this article:

  • You can make a substantial income selling t-shirts online without holding inventory using a reliable print on demand partner.

  • Learn how to promote your business through an online store and using effective marketing methods.

  • Determine which ecommerce platform or marketplace is best for your business model and apparel products.

Is it profitable to sell t-shirts online?

If you've ever thought about selling t-shirts online, now is a great time to start. You may be curious if it's a profitable business venture, and the answer is a resounding YES. But don't take our word for it...

According to Statista, revenue in the t-shirt market is estimated to reach $45.52 billion in 2024. Annually, the market is expected to grow by over 3 percent. These numbers paint a picture of a huge opportunity for creators, graphic designers, photographers, and artists of all kinds to start selling their designs on custom apparel by launching an ecommerce business.

To make a substantial profit selling t-shirts online, there are a few factors that will influence your success. These include the niche you commit to, any unique selling points your brand offers, the quality of the t-shirt material and print quality, how well you market your brand, and more.

Sounds like a lot, right? It is! But here's the good news - we're breaking down everything you need to know about launching an online t-shirt business without inventory and how you can find significant success selling online.

Selling shirts online without inventory using print on demand

selling shirts

Many creators opt to offer print on demand products in their ecommerce shops because it lightens the load they have to manage on their own. Print on demand is a business model where a designer partners with a print company that offers white-label products, like t-shirts, hats, bags, and other unique merchandise, that can be customized with the designer's art, graphics, and logos. In this model, there are no upfront costs to manufacture t-shirts and no minimum on the number of shirts you need to order.

When an order is made, the print on demand provider prints the item, fulfills the order, and ships it. The business selling shirts online is really only responsible for creating designs, marketing the products, and running the online store. Everything after the purchase is handled by the print on demand service.

Holding inventory no longer needs to be the obstacle that hinders entrepreneurs from launching an online t-shirt business. When using a print on demand service, that leg of your business is completely handled by the provider.

How to sell shirts online without inventory in 7 steps

Selling shirts online is a straightforward process and can be easy to begin if you know what to do. Let's explore the 7 steps you'll need to take in order to successfully launch, market, and grow an online t-shirt business.

1. Find your niche and target market

finding niche

All good things should begin with research. When creating a new product, you should have an idea of who you want to sell to and why. This may be something that hits close to home, like a hobby or passion project of your own.

Let's say you are passionate about baseball, and you have a wealth of knowledge of the sport, its famous players, team histories, relevant movies, and popular quotes. Baseball t-shirt designs could be an easy way to get started because you already have tons of inspiration in your head.

Find the Trends

As you search for the right niche and market, lean on valuable resources like social media and Google to determine what's trending, what people are buying, and how you can offer something unique. Google Trends is a handy tool for gaining insight into popular recent search trends in shopping online, which can help you determine a successful niche that you can contribute to.

Utilize Social Media

On Instagram and TikTok, you'll be able to pinpoint what certain demographics are buying in apparel categories. If you already have a social media presence, you can run a poll to your followers or friends and family to see if they are interested in custom t-shirts in whatever niche you are leaning towards.

2. Develop your brand

developing brand

Once your niche and target market has been solidified, it's time to start developing your brand.

Establish your brand voice

When creating and building a brand, establishing a personality and voice is essential. It may be your first-person point of view, or it could be more serious than who you are as a person. Your brand's personality and voice should be in line with your target audience and should speak directly to them, their values, and their interests.

Choose your visual elements

With a personality determined, the visual identity is another crucial element in branding. You'll need to select your font, color scheme, and logo that will become the way future customers recognize your merchandise online. When creating your visual elements, stick to 2 or 3 fonts and colors to ensure harmony and simplicity in your branding.

Name your business

If you haven't already, create a business name that is memorable and aligns with your brand. This will be the name on your t-shirts, your ecommerce store, your social media profiles, and any other business-related items, so make sure it feels right!

3. Select a print on demand service

print on demand service

Arguably the most important step in launching a business without inventory is finding a reliable print on demand service to partner with.

Shop around for print on demand stores

You should consider the cost of each individual shirt, the fabrics and materials they offer, shipping rates, and where they ship from. Some suppliers, like Gelato, offer local production and shipping so the products are produced next to the end customer. Decreasing their carbon footprint and getting sustainable products to customers that much faster.

Make sure to pay attention to a provider's customer service and the accessibility they offer to customers. You may have last-minute questions or issues that arise and need to contact their team for answers, so you'll want a customer service team that is consistently available, helpful, and resourceful as you navigate selling shirts online without inventory.

4. Create shirt designs

shirt design

You've been doing research on t-shirt designs for years without even realizing it; by shopping for particular styles, designs, and brands, you already have an aesthetic that you love.

Gather inspiration

In 2023, research by McKinsey found that companies skilled in delivering personalized experiences boost their revenue by 5-15% and improve the efficiency of marketing expenditures by 10-30%.

As you develop custom designs, consider the visual elements of your favorite t-shirts and what makes them special. Gain inspiration from the fonts, graphics, and styles that jump out at you, and gather intel from social media, magazines, and other t-shirt companies to see what's on trend and what speaks to you and, more importantly, vibes with your brand.

Be selective with color and fonts

When you create designs, avoid using too many colors, elements, and fonts; this will make your designs look cluttered and over-complicated. When it comes to design ideas, simple is best.

As you select colors, be sure to consider the t-shirt colors that your designs will print on. Choosing color schemes that work with a variety of t-shirt colors, not just black or white, will broaden your audience to those who are looking for bright and vibrant tees.

Create mock-ups

Once you've sketched your designs on paper, create mock-ups of each design using an online graphic design platform like Canva or Adobe Photoshop. If you aren't confident in your own designs yet, you can find a talented designer to get you started.

Order Samples

The designs are complete, and it's time to see the t-shirts in real life! Ordering samples from your print on demand service will not only allow you to do important quality control but can give you a firsthand look at your designs, how the t-shirts feel, determine the shirt colors that you want to sell, and ensure you're happy with the overall product. Ordering samples is also important, so you can take photos of the products to list on your online storefront.

5. Choose a platform for your store

choosing a platform

You've got the final designs, t-shirts, and the print on demand service - now you need an online store to showcase your hard work and share your store inventory with the world. There are quite a few ways you can sell custom shirts online.

Online marketplaces

The first is through a popular online marketplace like Etsy. Marketplaces are ideal for a green t-shirt brand to launch because it's free, simple to get set up and start listing products, and the audience size is significant. Etsy offers many benefits for selling products online, but it does lack a level of customization and branding for shops. Prices are competitive on Etsy and similar marketplaces, so it may take time to start bringing in a high number of sales.

Ecommerce platforms

Another option is to sell on an ecommerce platform like Shopify, which offers a simple setup, great customer service, useful integrations, and helpful tools like email marketing and product reviews. Ecommerce platforms like Shopify require more upfront costs, along with a transaction fee for every sale. For businesses with limited products and a small number of sales, that can significantly impact profit margin and may not be worth the price.

Your own website

Some businesses opt to sell shirts online through a self-hosted website, which gives them complete control over their branding and various processes. It also allows businesses to host a blog and gives them total creative freedom. Building a website requires technical skills, or you'll need to outsource a web designer to build the site for you.

Social media platforms

Social media can be a highly effective platform for selling shirts online. Instagram has created a social commerce environment where users can explore products and make a purchase without ever leaving the app.

Facebook Shop makes it easy for consumers to browse a shop, add products to their cart, and check out. Communication is streamlined within these social platforms' messaging apps, like Facebook Messenger and Instagram DMs, to build connections and brand loyalty.

6. Set up your print on demand shop

setting print shop

It's time to set up shop!

Customize your storefront

First and foremost, choose a domain name after your business so your brand stays consistent across all platforms. Add your logo, custom colors, and visuals, and drop in your brand messaging wherever plausible. When choosing a store template, go with something simple and easy to navigate, so shoppers don't get overwhelmed.

Integrate with the print on demand service

Once the storefront is created, complete the integration with your print on demand service provider so your store is ready for orders. Gelato integrates with ecommerce platforms and marketplaces like Etsy, Shopify, and WooCommerce with just a few clicks, and you're in business.

Create optimized product listings

According to a study by Sellerapp, using high-quality product photos can have a significant impact on user engagement and sales.

Use quality, high-resolution photos in each product listing so customers will have an accurate expectation of the t-shirts. Include product description details like sizing, materials, and fit.

Optimize your product listings by using relevant keywords for each product title and description. In doing so, you can increase your store's visibility when shoppers search for particular items that match your product titles and descriptions.

7. Promote your online store

promoting store

Congratulations, your shop is live! Get busy promoting your online store to get as many eyes on your products as possible.

Use social media

Share images of your t-shirts on your store's social media platforms, including Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and TikTok. Post your designs, give insight into your inspiration and design process, and ask for feedback from followers. If you have the budget, collaborate with influencers to promote your brand and push your social reach even further. Share organic posts and use paid advertising to boost individual posts and increase visits to your profile or website.

Email marketing

Collect email addresses on social media and through a subscription sign-up on your website to create an email list. Once you've got a list, you can implement email marketing strategies to share new designs, launch promotions, offer discount codes, and share freebies with your subscribers.

It's simple to sell online without inventory

With reliable, quality print on demand services, selling t-shirts online without inventory is an easy way to create a substantial income. With minimal upfront costs and no budget required for storing inventory, you can start making a profit from your first sale.

Get started today selling your custom apparel using Gelato's sustainable print on demand services. We have printing partners in 32 countries and can handle the entire fulfillment process for you. Start selling here.


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