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1. Is having a t-shirt business profitable?

How to start a t-shirt business with Shopify + print on demand

Shopify is an excellent option for creatives looking to start selling t-shirts online. With minimal technical skill, you can set up and customize a secure digital t-shirt business that matches your brand’s image and personality. You’ll also be able to accept payments from popular gateways, like PayPal and Stripe (though it’s in disguise as Shopify Payments on the platform).

Best of all, you can partner with a print on demand supplier to help mitigate the biggest risks and roadblocks to opening a t-shirt business on Shopify.

Main takeaways from this article:

  • With an increasing demand for personalized products, opening a print on demand (POD) t-shirt store on Shopify can be a profitable business opportunity. 

  • By leveraging the print on demand business model, you can reduce your start-up costs and offer a wide range of products without holding inventory. Your POD provider will take care of the printing and fulfillment of your t-shirts.

  • Learn how to set up your own t-shirt business on Shopify in our step-by-step guide. We cover everything from choosing a POD provider and designing your t-shirts to setting up your store and promoting your products.

Is having a t-shirt business profitable?

profitable tshirt business

Yes! Starting an online t-shirt business with an ecommerce platform like Shopify helps you maximize profits from selling t-shirts with low startup costs.

Expect to pay monthly or annual fees to host your own online t-shirt business. Still, these are minimal compared to brick-and-mortar expenses like rent and utilities that can seriously eat into your profit margins. Starting an online store is also a relatively straightforward process. You won’t need to look for the perfect location or wait for paperwork to clear: you get instant access to your store when you sign up. That’s valuable time you can put back into your marketing or designs.

When you open your print on demand store, you’ll enter a $4.3 billion market expected to grow over 10% by 2030. Individuals and families are significant drivers of that spending. Corporations are also expanding their use of custom-designed t-shirts to increase brand visibility and make a good impression on potential customers. Think about it: when did you last say “no thanks” to a free, quality t-shirt?

Opening a print on demand t-shirt store with a reputable platform like Shopify is a great way to get your share of the monolithic t-shirt market.

Seven steps to create a t-shirt business: Shopify edition

create tshirt business

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to breakout Shopify stardom, but investing time into the steps below will give your t-shirt store a solid chance of success. Following them in order provides an efficient path that allows you to complete later steps by building on decisions and research from earlier parts of the process (there’s a reason we suggest waiting until Step 6 to create your Shopify store).

1. Determine your target audience and niche

target audience

It bears repeating: the t-shirt sales space is crowded. 

Remember, you’re not just a new t-shirt brand competing with other Shopify t-shirt stores. When you sell t-shirts online, you’re going up against sellers on other platforms, household-name clothing brands, and even brick-and-mortar megastores. You’ll need to enter a niche that differentiates your brand and build from there to succeed.

You’ll pull your niche from a broader target market. Research to identify your ideal market’s demographics (age, gender, marital status, education level, employment, income, and more) is an essential starting point. Focus on finding data to help you zero in on branding and design choices instead of worrying about building a comprehensive buyer profile.

Once you’ve identified a target market, brainstorm possible niches within that group. Your research should guide you: if your target audience is 22-year-old single men, you’ll probably have broader success with sports- or gaming-related niches than, say, crochet. From there, brute-force Google searches can help confirm whether you can fill a demand gap to sell t-shirts within your chosen niche.

2. Select a print on demand service

print on demand service

Creating original t-shirts to sell on Shopify can be profitable, but printing and shipping each order yourself is time-consuming, and sourcing high-quality tees and materials can be costly. Inventory management has headaches, too. If your t-shirts don’t sell, you’ll never earn that money back - and may even need to pay extra for a storage unit.

Working with a print on demand partner for your online t-shirt business mitigates all these risks. You’ll work with your supplier to customize your t-shirt designs, then sell them per order under your Shopify store brand.

When searching for potential print on demand suppliers, consider the following:

  • Pricing: Will you still have a healthy margin after employing their services? Can you easily understand how their costs will impact your bottom line?

  • Product range and quality: What kind of fabrics does the supplier offer? Can they fulfill orders in a wide range of styles, colors, and sizes?

  • Technology: What t-shirt printing process do they use? Do they offer a Shopify integration?

  • Shipping locations: Where will your t-shirts be produced? If they have to travel a long way to reach your customers, how will that impact your prices or margins?

  • Customer service: Will they help you resolve issues quickly to keep your customers happy?

Gelato is a premier partner for print on demand Shopify t-shirt stores. They offer men’s, women’s, and kids’ t-shirt designs made from premium and organic materials. Sellers who partner with Gelato can even offer customizations right in their storefronts. Their hyper-local production and delivery model keeps t-shirt shipping costs manageable. Gelato also offers native Shopify integration.

3. Choose your t-shirt

choose tshirt

Not all t-shirts are created alike! Once you’ve picked your partner, look through their inventory to determine which of their t-shirts best fits your online t-shirt business. Focus on these three elements to make the right choice.


Most t-shirt sellers select cotton, polyester, or a blend of both for their material base. Cotton is soft, comfortable, and durable but prone to shrinkage and fading with repeated washings. 

Polyester is better at retaining its size and color over time but tends to pill and hold odors. Because it’s not as breathable as natural fabrics, it can make wearers uncomfortable in hot weather.

Blended fabrics combine the benefits of both materials but are often more expensive to source. Blended materials can also make quality control a challenge and may require special care to keep them in good shape.


T-shirts generally fall into one of three weights, as determined by the thickness of the shirt’s fabric. Lightweight shirts are thin and soft with good ventilation. They’re a popular choice for summer and outdoor activities. Midweight shirts are suitable for interseason wear, offering a good balance of durability and comfort at a wide range of temperatures. Heavyweight shirts are best suited for late fall and winter temperatures, especially when layered with other items.


Retailers often describe t-shirts as a slim, regular, or relaxed fit. Slim-fit t-shirts are generally form-fitting and tend to be popular with younger buyers. Regular-fit t-shirts have a classic feel that’s suitable for a variety of body types. Relaxed-fit t-shirts offer more room in the chest and waist area. They’re preferred by older buyers most concerned with comfort.

4. Design your custom t-shirts

design custom tshirts

Now comes the fun part: designing your t-shirt!

Get inspired

Draw inspiration from whatever gets your imagination flowing: movies, magazines, album covers - even other t-shirts are fair game. Think about which aspects of the design or aesthetic catch your eye. Are you drawn to the font, color, style, or a particular portion of the image? 

Think about what fabric color might go best with your own t-shirt designs and whether you’ll want to have any lettering on it. If so, simple font choices are often best. Your selections should prioritize readability until you’ve got enough experience with the rules of good t-shirt design to know when to break them.

Research consumer trends

You can also search hashtags on social media to see what’s trending and position your t-shirt design as a response to that trend. Another popular approach is to use Google Trends. This tool analyzes your query and serves up stats on search volume, regional popularity, and related terms to help you figure out whether your t-shirt design ideas are ahead of the curve or playing catch-up.

Create your design

Once you’ve got some ideas, sketch them out on paper or use the Gelato Design Editor to see your graphic on hundreds of digital mock-ups. Upload a vector image or PNG to get an idea of how your design looks on a shirt and how the appearance might change on models with various body types. 

If designing t-shirts isn’t your strong suit, that’s okay - contract qualified t-shirt designers who can help you bring your ideas to life. 

Order product samples

Once you’re happy with your design, it’s time to order samples from your chosen print on demand supplier to see how it looks in the real world. This is your chance to make sure you’re happy with all the design elements of your shirt. If everything looks good, use your sample to take some photos for your store. 

Take high-quality product photos

Don’t settle for blurry, potato-quality photos. These pictures will be one of the most significant factors in whether people buy your t-shirts, so hire a professional if you need to. Your bottom line will thank you.

5. Test your t-shirt designs

tshirt designs

If you’re on the fence about your t-shirt design, it’s a good idea to solicit honest feedback from friends and family. You can wear your t-shirt to a gathering or event - if people ask where you bought it, you know you’re onto something. 

Social media is another good way to gather feedback. Run a poll or post your pictures to see how people react to your design - just be sure to watermark anything you post so that your t-shirt design is copyright-protected!

6. Set up your Shopify store

set up shopify store

You’ve identified your market, finalized your t-shirt design(s), and taken some stellar photos. It’s finally time to set up your own online ecommerce business with Shopify!

Create your Shopify account

If you haven’t already, create a Shopify account and look through their plans to find one that fits your t-shirt store's needs and budget. If you’re still unsure whether Shopify is the right platform for your online t-shirt business, Shopify’s free 14-day trial can help you decide.

Choose a theme for your store

Once you’ve made an account, choose a theme for your t-shirt store. There are many free and paid themes to choose from in Shopify’s theme store. Then, use Shopify's theme editor to align your store's layout, colors, and fonts with your brand, niche, and aesthetic. 

Name your online store

Give your online t-shirt business a catchy, on-brand name, then prepare your t-shirts for sale by uploading your high-quality photos and creating detailed, search-optimized product descriptions. And no, saying, “It’s a t-shirt.” doesn’t count! Talk about your color choices and inspiration: keyword-rich descriptions give your online t-shirt business a better chance of surfacing in search results.

Finalize payment details and launch your store

Once that’s all done, configure your shipping and payment options through Shopify's settings. If you chose a print on demand service with Shopify integration, now is the time to add that.

Finally, open your online t-shirt store and take a moment to celebrate the accomplishment of launching your own business - and officially entering the t-shirt industry!

7. Promote your t-shirt store

Don’t rest too long, though: those t-shirts aren’t going to sell themselves! Okay - they sort of will, but they’ll sell much better once you start promoting your online t-shirt business. 

Get social

Leverage your social media accounts to showcase photos and videos of your t-shirts. If you solicited design feedback from your friends and followers, this is an excellent opportunity to post the final design with a link to your store or tease limited edition t-shirts.

Build your email list

You’ll also want to build an email list using customer contact information from past purchases in your online store as well as intake forms on your site. Review privacy laws for your region, and let customers know how and why you’re collecting their data.

Create engaging content

Develop timely, relevant content about your graphic tees to share with followers and your email lists. You can also use these channels to promote giveaways, share discount codes, or announce sales that drive traffic to your t-shirt store.

Start selling t-shirts online with Shopify and Gelato

Selling printables on Etsy can become quite a streamlined and profitable process if you take the right steps to set up your business. When you are ready to get started, remember to follow the steps outlined above, including selecting a niche, signing up for an Etsy storefront, designing your printables, and promoting your business to help get your business out there.

If you’re ready to take your Etsy printables business to the next level, consider partnering with a print on demand (POD) provider to create physical printed products from your digital designs. Gelato offers an excellent selection for those selling printables on Etsy — including calendars, wall art, photo books, and stationery.

POD services are a cost-effective solution; you only pay for what you sell. When your customer places an order, Gelato will handle the entirety of the order fulfillment process, from creating the product to shipping it to customers. Even better, Gelato POD services offer simple Etsy store integration to ensure every order is quickly processed and placed into production as soon as possible. 

In addition to a vast product selection, many consumers also prefer to work with print on demand providers that follow a sustainable business model. Unlike the traditional POD model, which centralizes production and delivery, Gelato leverages a global network of production partners and entrepreneurs. This allows us to generate your products in locations closest to your customers, streamline delivery, and reduce carbon emissions on every product we produce!

To learn more about how Gelato can elevate your Etsy printable business to the next level, connect your Etsy store today and check out just how easy order fulfillment can be.


Next steps

Sell your custom t-shirts with Gelato.