A good t-shirt can be iconic. Just look at the ‘I heart New York’ tee, developed as a sketch on a napkin by renowned graphic designer Milton Glaser – after, he was commissioned to help with a marketing campaign for the New York state back in 1977. Fast forward thirty years and the logo is still going strong with t-shirts emblazoned with the design, flying off shelves just as fast now as they did then.
You could have something equally ground shaking up your sleeve! We’ve put together a quick guide that looks into how you can start your own t-shirt business and get that great idea out there:
First, you need a good story…
These days, people buy into the brand, just as much as they buy the clothes because they like them. Jesse Joeckel, the founder of a surf inspired t-shirt brand, Whalebone, says on his website, “My grandfather passed right before I began my business endeavor and I chose the name Whalebone to remind me of where I come from and the attention to detail everything you care about should have.”
Ask yourself, where has your inspiration to start a t-shirt brand come from? Develop this idea and make it your motivation to deliver outstanding products. On the Marketing Week blog, their article, ‘Why brand storytelling should be the foundation of a growth strategy’ reads; “The way companies can tell their stories has changed. No longer is it purely through advertising or journalists producing articles. Today, a brand’s narrative can be told just as effectively through social media and crowd-sourced content.” To make the best use of this new platform for story telling, you need to find a good way to share it. It’s up to you how you reveal your story to the outside world, but whether it’s written, a cartoon or a video, just make sure it’s memorable.
Find your demographic
Take what you’ve learned from finding the story behind your brand and from here work out the sort of people who are going to be buying your merchandise and then decide upon a design that suits that niche and stick to it.
Pull funds together
Although starting a t-shirt company isn’t one of the most expensive business ventures on the planet, you’re still going to need some capital to get things off the ground. Work out your costs on a spreadsheet and remember to include postage, printing, the t-shirts themselves, designers, buying a website domain and storage if you don’t have the room in your home for the supply of t-shirts. If you’re struggling to get things off the ground, you may want to look into gathering money through a crowd funding campaign.
In the UK, we’re also supported by start-up loans, which are essentially a leg-up from the government. They are designed to help new businesses off the ground and you can raise up to £25,000 per business partner with a maximum of £100,000 per business. You will have to deal with a fixed interest rate of 6% per annum and all going well, start-up loans need to be in a repayment scheme that lasts just five years.
Build a website
You may already have a blog about your journey but now you need a website specifically for selling. There are plenty of options online where you can pay to have a professional website built that sells your products and tells visitors a little bit about you. Most of these sites – such as Wix, Shopify and WordPress – have plenty of free templates for you to choose from so you can still put your own mark on and make unique.
Before you can build a website you need to secure yourself a domain name. That’s the bit in the middle, usually the name of your brand. If you want to get really technical, you can bulk buy the majority of the domains that include a version of your name, just to make sure that people make it to your site and no one poaches your brand name. Once you have a domain secured, you need a server to host your site. As you’re just starting out as a smaller business, you won’t need to pay out a fortune for this, most sites recommend using a website builder such as Wix or Weebly (there are plenty of others.)
Draw up your designs
If you’re no professional on Photoshop or InDesign, you may need to hire a professional designer for this next bit. There are lots of freelance designers out there on sites such as Remote and Freelancer who would be able to help you complete designs so that they look professional.
If you aren’t already a whiz on graphic design, give yourself a crash course in the basics. Online, you can find plenty of Youtube tutorials on channels such as PHLEARN where you will find a huge array of videos from ‘Photoshop Basics Series’ to ‘How to Color an Illustration in Photoshop,’ all essential as a graphic designer for t-shirts.
Run some test prints
Before you commit your entire funds to one design, ask for some samples. There’s no telling how your design will come out, so make sure that you run test prints for each individual design to check that it’s printing well, the t-shirts wash without ruining the design and that they’re a good fit. Once you’re happy you have designed a t-shirt that you would personally buy, you can be confident enough to get the rest printed and get selling. Look for companies that offer Fulfilment API, this means you can keep track of availability and orders in real time so you’ll never have problems with stock levels.
Once you have established a printer that can print to the quality you need, it’s important to keep a healthy relationship with them. Depending on your designs, you will need a specialist printing company to replicate the graphic designs you have spent time producing. It’s best to trust reviews and big producers who can cope with very small and very large orders.
With selling comes pricing, and you don’t want to price yourself out of the market, nor do you want to undervalue your product. You will have to take into account your market and what on average are these people earning? You also need to take into account the cost of the product to you; most companies add a 15% mark-up. Other important things to consider include; quality, originality, your position in the market, direct or indirect sales and competition. Direct or indirect means are you selling the t-shirts directly from your own site or are you paying someone else to host them on their website. Usually, for indirect sales you will have to consider all of the middlemen and price your product accordingly.
Remember that your brand won’t take off immediately, and not everyone will like your t-shirts but you just have to brush off that criticism. Stick with it, make changes as you learn and always remain true to your core beliefs until you’ve sold every last t-shirt!