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1. T-shirt business starter kit: Nine must-haves for success

T-shirt business starter kit: 9 Must-haves

Starting your own custom t-shirt printing business can be a fun, profitable way to earn extra cash on your own schedule. As of 2023, the t-shirt industry was worth $44.56 billion, a number that's only expected to rise in the coming years.

But how do you go about starting a shirt business without spending hundreds of dollars on a heat press machine, the screens needed for screen printing, or an assortment of other pricey tools? You'll come to the right place to find out.

We'll walk you through what you need to know to start your own custom shirt company, with or without investing in printing machines. You'll learn valuable tips on how to stand out from the competition and find out how the print on demand business model can save you a great deal of money.

Main takeaways from this article:

  • While launching a t-shirt business can be profitable, it's important to cover all the right bases before getting started.

  • We'll provide you with an overview of what you need to know to start a successful custom t-shirt business online.

  • You'll also learn about the different approaches to order fulfillment and delivery to help you decide which is right for you.

T-shirt business starter kit: Nine must-haves for success

Believe it or not, a shirt printing starter package doesn't necessarily have to include a pricey printer, transfer paper, and a heat press that costs more than your mortgage payment. While some creators choose to go this route, you'll soon discover that others use business models that cut out the need to own such machines entirely.

But for now, the important thing to understand is that actually printing shirts is only a small part of launching a successful shirt business. Unlike other starter packages that focus exclusively on tools and machines, ours will fill you in on the skills you need to start a successful online apparel store.

1. Viable niche

Viable niche

Before you even print your first shirt, start by selecting a viable niche you want to focus on. A niche market is simply a specific market made up of customers who are the most likely to buy certain items.

Niches tend to be made up of a target audience of people who share a set of characteristics, demographics, or interests. Finding the right niche for you can be as easy as focusing on a group you identify with yourself, such as pet owners, parents, gamers, or sports enthusiasts.

In addition to choosing a niche you relate to, make sure you select one that's viable, which means that it generates plenty of demand. Focusing on sports shirts, for example, is going to be a lot more viable than creating shirts that celebrate the prowess of one particular athlete that few people have ever heard of.

Whether you choose to focus on printing shirts with funny slogans or adorable dog images, use tools like social media and Google Trends to see what's trending in your niche. Use your research to come up with ideas that fill any unique gaps in your market by putting your own unique spin on popular trends.

2. Business plan

Now that you have a better idea of what type of business you want to operate, it can be incredibly helpful to start drawing up a business plan. HubSpot has a great business plan template that you can download for free, as does Shopify.

Which you choose isn't as important as taking the time to think about how to fill in each page with details about everything from your marketing strategies to the financial aspects of your project. Throughout the following tips, we'll discuss some of the categories you'll likely come across when you're ready to start your business plan.

3. Memorable brand identity

As you get ready to set up shop, you'll need to consider what type of brand identity you want to create in order to help your business stand out. Here are several tips to consider to help you get started:

  • Select a catchy business name that's memorable and relevant to your target market.

  • Think about your brand's mission and what you want it to achieve.

  • Choose a color scheme of 2-3 different colors to associate with your brand.

  • Create a sleek, easily-identifiable logo. You can either hire a graphic designer or create one for free using software like Gelato’s design editor.

  • Think about the type of brand voice or personality you want to use. What type of feelings do you want people to associate with your brand?

4. Printing equipment or POD partner

One of the biggest decisions you'll face is deciding which business model to use for your business. When it comes to creating and selling custom t-shirts or other apparel, there are two main approaches.

Invest in your own equipment

If you decide to use the heat transfer method, it may be best to invest in a heat press starter package, as you'll quickly discover you'll need more than just a heat press to create high-quality products. Many heat press packages come with tools like a cutter, transfer paper and tape, ink, and other accessories.

Some people start t-shirt businesses using screen printing equipment, such as screens, transfers, dryers, and other tools. If you want to get into screen printing, it's possible to find starter packages that can save you a great deal of money with everything you need to get started.

Partner with a print on demand supplier

Print on Demand (POD) suppliers like Gelato make it possible to start a t-shirt business without ever having to buy your own equipment. A far more cost-effective option, using a POD provider, allows anyone to sign up for a free account, upload their designs to shirts or other products, and offer them for sale in their online store.

Simply connect your POD account to your ecommerce store, and when a customer places an order, we'll take care of everything from printing your design to the product to delivering it right to your customer. We provide transparent pricing that you can factor into our overhead and never require you to purchase anything that hasn't already sold.

5. High-quality t-shirts

High-quality t-shirts

Deciding which business model to go with will also play a key role in determining how you source the t-shirts you plan to customize. It's essential not to skimp on quality in an effort to save money and carefully consider everything from the weight, fabric, and fit of your t-shirts when making your selection.

If you choose to source your own shirts, then your best bet is to go with a high-quality wholesale garment supplier. The upside of working with a POD supplier like Gelato is that we not only take care of customizing your shirts, we even supply the shirts themselves.

Simply choose which of our wide range of high-quality shirts you'd like to offer your designs on, from the Premium Unisex Crewneck T-shirt to the Organic Unisex Crewneck T-shirt. We even offer kids' and baby shirts to ensure we can cover the needs of any clothing line.

At Gelato, we use sustainable and responsibly sourced products, as well as a global network of over 130 local producers. This ensures that we can get your product fulfilled and shipped quickly and in the most sustainable way possible.

When working with a POD provider, it's always a good idea to order a sample of each of your finished products to ensure you're happy with them in person. You can also use your samples to take high-resolution photos to feature in your online store.

6. Effective t-shirt designs

Whether you've decided to print shirts with the help of a POD service or master the art of the heat press, coming up with great designs will be a big part of your job! Make sure you come up with unique designs that can help your shirts stand out from the competition while keeping best design practices in mind.

For example, avoid using too many colors and fonts to prevent your t-shirt designs from appearing crowded. Be sure you also consider how each of the colors you use will look against the background color of the shirt itself.

If you're not super confident in your own designs, you can always consider hiring a freelance designer on platforms like Upwork or Fiverr. If possible, ask them to deliver your final product as a vector file, which can maintain its resolution and quality even when scaled.

If you do want to create your own designs, be sure to utilize tools like Gelato's Design Editor. Gelato+ and Gold customers also have access to our Gelato's Mockup Studio, which allows you to create professional, personalized mockups to see how your designs look in "real life" and use them as product photos for your website.

7. Sales channel

Sales channel

Now it's time to decide where you want to offer your t-shirts for sale. If you're planning to sell them online, you can choose from several selling platforms, each of which comes with its own unique pros and cons.

Ecommerce platforms

Ecommerce platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce, and BigCommerce are designed to help you create your own online store or ecommerce website. If you already have a large following, this can be a great way to go because you'll enjoy plenty of unique customization options.

Just be aware that platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce charge monthly subscription fees for their services. While WooCommerce is free, it requires a solid grasp of WordPress.

Online marketplaces

Online marketplaces like Etsy and eBay are sort of like online shopping malls, where different sellers can set up their own shops. While they tend to have much fewer customization options, online marketplaces come with the benefit of exposure to an established audience and generally charge a percentage of your sales rather than subscription fees.

8. Order fulfillment plan

If you choose to work with a POD provider, then you'll never have to worry about order fulfillment, as your orders will be shipped straight to your customers. Creators who produce their own custom shirts will need to consider which type of shipping methods they want to offer and create a plan to keep up with order fulfillment on a consistent basis.

9. Solid marketing strategy

While there's always plenty of demand for custom t-shirts, there's also a great deal of competition. Developing and implementing a solid marketing strategy can make or break any online business, so make sure you have a plan in place to get the word out about your shop.

Create pages for your shop on all the major social media platforms so you can interact with both your customers and other creators. In addition to regular posts, running paid social media ads is a great way to get your products in front of a larger, targeted audience.

It's also a good idea to create an email list so you can stay in touch with customers, gather feedback, and offer promotions or discounts. Get creative when it comes to coming up with fun giveaways or contests to help keep your customers engaged.

It's also worth exploring marketing strategies like search engine optimization (SEO) that can help you rank higher on search engines. If you really want to go all out, you might even consider learning basic marketing analytics skills to track the success of your own campaigns.

Launch a competitive t-shirt business easily

Reporting and analytics

Want to start your own t-shirt business without having to invest thousands of dollars in pricey equipment? Consider using Gelato's print on demand services to offer high-quality, one-of-a-kind t-shirts without breaking the bank.

You come up with the designs and bring in the customers, and we'll handle everything from product fulfillment to delivery. Our direct-to-garment printing method creates beautiful, vibrant, durable designs with a soft finish your customers are sure to love.

T-shirt business FAQs

Is a t-shirt business still profitable?

The t-shirt business is a multi-billion dollar industry that shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. The key to making it profitable is figuring out how to produce high-quality products without spending a fortune on printing equipment and overhead.

When starting a t-shirt business, how many shirts are ideal to start with?

When you work with a POD service, you never have to worry about over or under-ordering inventory. You'll never have to order a product until it's already been purchased by a customer.

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