It’s very easy to start a t-shirt business. I started mine by accident. True story. My first t-shirt business was with CafePress. CafePress is a print-on-demand company that provides a storefront and a marketplace for people to sell their art on a variety of products.
How I Started a T-Shirt Business by Accident
My roommate had a PC when I lived in Australia and he brought home HTML for Idiots or similar book one day. I went through it on his PC in the evenings and learned a little bit about CSS. It was slow going but fun. It was about 12 years ago and his tired old second-hand PC was struggling with Windows ME. The regular crashes and the 48K modem on dial-up didn’t deter me from learning though. About 2 years after I came to Japan my friend sold me his old PC for about $300 and helped set it up for me. I used it mainly for downloading and watching old TV shows through eDonkey. I started to learn HTML and CSS again.
I created a website called deadhippo.com (currently my much-neglected personal website) and just started experimenting. It eventually became a site about Yokohama, a site that I had big plans for. I was going to make it the best English language website for Yokohama. (I got distracted by money along the way and it never became a reality.) I did get to create a nice looking site inspired by the CSS Zen Garden. At that time I loved to go to events and locations with my camera and then posting those photos on deadhippo.com. One day I came across CafePress and thought that setting up a shop featuring my photos on items might drive traffic to my website.
It all started with CafePress
I spent a bit of time designing my CafePress store so that it looked like it was a part of deadhippo.com and started adding my photos to various products such as mugs, stickers, posters etc. Because I was using photos I didn’t really add them to t-shirts but one day I messed around with an image of the Buddha and edited it so that it didn’t just look like a photo on a t-shirt. It started to sell. Not a lot and it was just before Christmas and the markup was decent enough that it paid for my store fees and then some.
I had lots of photos on products at CafePress but it was this one that was selling. (It still sells today.) So after the Christmas sales I made some designs for Valentine’s Day that sold, then Saint Patrick’s Day and they sold. Suddenly I was making enough per month to cover my mortgage payments which were about $500 dollars a month. And while I sold products other than t-shirts, the biggest mark-up and therefore most of my income was from t-shirts. That was how I started a t-shirt business by accident.
How to start a t-shirt business the easy way!
No, this post was not just about how I did it. I am going to tell you how to start a t-shirt business as well. And yes, I am talking about CafePress and other similar sites such as Zazzle, Spreadshirt and RedBubble. Check out my up-to-date list of Print-on-Demand (POD) companies with storefronts:
Before PODs you needed quite a bit of investment of time and money to start a t-shirt business. But using a POD means you can avoid so many of the more tedious aspects of running a t-shirt business.
Before PODs you had to invest a lot of money at the start. You had to buy blank tees, packaging, printing equipment and supplies. With a POD you can open a store for free.
You had to invest in a website capable of online retail or more expensive yet, a physical location. The PODs provide online stores for free.
DTG printers were prohibitively expensive (and mostly still are) so that ruled out print-on-demand for most people. Of course people tried iron-on prints, heat presses and even screenprinting to order but they all have their issues. Iron-on and heat press t-shirts don’t really produce nice looking prints and screenprinting to order is a lot of work. PODs manage all the printing.
When you print your tee, you then had to pack it and go to the post office and ship it. You might need to stock various packing envelopes. You had to deal with varying shipping prices and decide where you would ship to. PODs arrange packing and shipping.
No Customer Service
You had to deal with tons of questions from potential customers and also with customer complaints and returned items. PODs deal with customers.
You could open stores with text only designs so in a way the only design you would need to think about it choosing a font and positioning the text on the t-shirt. It’s probably not the best option but it is an option.
What do you have to do?
Well, you have to be creative. Think of a design (or slogan), create it and upload it. You usually have to tag/categorize them and add titles and descriptions. The choose a commission. Pretty simple really. If you use CafePress or Zazzle you don’t even really need to market them as they will do the work for you. In fact, with CafePress anyway, some people find creating their own websites and spending time on SEO was pretty much a waste of time. (It’s easy to compare marketplace sales to sales generated from your own shop front.)
Of course there are more things to consider before starting your own t-shirt business with a POD such as which POD to choose, what kind of designs to make and how you intend to market them but don’t worry I will talk about them soon. But I hope I have given you something to think about. If you have any questions feel free to use the comment form and be sure to subscribe to the Tee Reviewer RSS feed in order not to miss out on the next steps in setting up your own t-shirt business.