How to Start a Successful Online T-Shirt Business

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T-shirts are a staple part of wardrobes across the globe. Furthermore, the global market for the custom T-shirt printing industry is expected to cross 10 billion USD by 2025.

Clever entrepreneurs, like yourself, have identified the popularity of this product and have started thinking about beginning their own T-shirt businesses. Starting an online T-shirt business is a popular choice for both beginner and veteran ecommerce entrepreneurs. As an ecommerce store, T-shirts are cheap to source, have universal appeal, and are relatively simple to customize.

If you’ve been thinking about starting your own online T-shirt business, it’s important that you’re aware that it’s a competitive field in ecommerce. If you want to succeed, you’ll need to make sure that your store stands out from the rest. To ensure this, it’s important that you source high-quality products, have your own T-shirt designs, and learn how to brand.

This may sound like a daunting process, especially if it’s your first time starting an ecommerce business, but don’t worry — we’re here to help you. 

Let’s get started.

Starting Your Online T-Shirt Business

If you’re looking to start your ecommerce journey and you’ve been looking into opening your own online T-shirt business, you may have noticed that it’s actually relatively cheap and simple to get your store up and running. In fact, we’ve already written an article explaining how ecommerce entrepreneurs can launch their own online stores in less than 30 minutes using Shopify. 

Starting your own T-Shirt business with Shopify is a simple process. You’ll also have continuous support from Shopify, both when starting your store and during the process of selling t-shirts online. It’s the ideal solution for ecommerce entrepreneurs.

Is an Online T-Shirt Business Profitable?

As we mentioned earlier, everyone owns at least one T-shirt regardless of age, gender, and so on, which is exactly why a T-shirt business can become profitable in a very short amount of time. What’s more is it can have low startup costs if you plan your business model correctly. Bootstrapping your t-shirt business can be a great first step in getting the business off the ground. You can choose to take the dropshipping route or start a print on demand business.

Watch this webinar to know everything there is to know about starting a profitable print on demand business.  And this Wholesale Ted collaboration to learn about the differences between dropshipping and print on demand. For this article, we’ll go with dropshipping since it’s easier to implement for a t-shirt business.

How to Start an Online T-Shirt Business

Here are a few steps that you can follow to start an online T-shirt business now:

1. Find a Niche for Your Online T-Shirt Business

As an ecommerce entrepreneur who is looking to start a successful online T-shirt business, it may be useful to find a niche for your store. If you create a T-shirt store that is truly unique, either in terms of brand image or the products that are available, your chances for success will be considerably higher.

Take your time, and do your research if you decide to create a niche store. Look through other online stores that you like, and use them to brainstorm T-shirt ideas for your own business. Jot down anything that you think is impressive, and then take some time to think about how you can make your online T-shirt business even better. Ultimately, you can target any niche that interests you. If you think that there is an untapped market, take advantage of it. It’s easier to stand out when there’s little competition, and it’ll be much cheaper, too!

2. Design Your Own T-Shirt

design your own t-shirts

When you’re trying to launch a successful online T-shirt business, your design ideas are critical. If your T-shirts have great designs, you’re already ahead of the game. Your products will act as a strong foundation for your store’s success.

It’s much easier to market great products, so try to nail this part. Be creative. Don’t be afraid of thinking outside the box. Try out various T-shirt design ideas that relate to your brand, and see which ones fit best with your audience. If you want to try making your own T-shirt designs, there are many design websites out there. We explore some of these in our T-shirt templates for your online store article.

If you don’t feel confident in your own ability to design awesome products for your online T-shirt business, seek help from others. You can contact local designers for their services. You can also take advantage of online freelance platforms, like Upwork and Fiverr, that you can use to liaise with freelance designers. There are a variety of ways that you can source high-quality design work at an affordable price point.

3. Validate Your T-Shirt Designs

Once you’ve assembled a few solid design ideas for your online T-shirt business, you’ll need to seek validation from others. You may think that the designs that you’ve come up with are ready for printing, but others may point out some vital improvements that will help your products in the long run. It’s also important that the feedback you receive for your designs is unbiased. You can achieve this by posting your designs on some forums (make sure that you watermark your designs so nobody can steal them). You can also receive some professional feedback by getting in contact with some local consultants – they will provide you with professional, unbiased opinions.

Online discussion platforms, like Reddit, can prove to be a vital tool when you’re gauging the success of your T-shirt business’ designs. You can create T-shirt mockups and post your prospective designs onto the relevant sub-reddits, and you’ll receive honest feedback from people who are interested in your products. If you receive positive reactions from your post, you’ve already armed yourself with some potential customers who you can reach out to when you launch your products.

4. Source Your Products

When you’ve validated the designs for your online T-shirt business, you’ll need to take some time to consider where you’ll be sourcing your T-shirts from. It is better to source high-quality T-shirts for your store’s inventory because it’ll make for a superior customer experience that will rival your competition.

One way to stand out from your competitors is by sourcing the highest quality products that your business can afford. If your customers find that your T-shirts are shrinking or ripping after a couple of wears, it’ll build a bad reputation for your ecommerce store. This will dramatically decrease the chances of these customers purchasing from your store again, which is clearly something you want to avoid. If your online T-shirt business is stocked with high-quality products that are built to last, then your store will gain a great reputation that will help your business grow. 

5. Print Your Designs

Having high-quality prints on your products is essential for a successful online T-shirt business. If your customers find that your designs are cracking or fading after a few washes, this will leave them with a bad impression of your business.

There are various options that you can take advantage of to print your designs. You can get in contact with local printing businesses, which will allow you to check the quality of your prints before you ship them to customers. However, this may be an expensive process, especially when your ecommerce business grows, and the demand for more prints increases. 

One way to keep costs low to order shirts in bulk. You would be surprised how much you can save by bumping an order from 10 to 20 pieces. In fact, you may end up with more pieces than you intended to buy for just a few dollars more than you planned to spend.

6. Set a Price

Another important aspect of starting a t-shirt business is determining the pricing of your products. You’ll need to factor in your purchase price plus the cost you incur in printing the designs. Assuming you want to sell at a 50% margin, you can multiply the overall cost by 2 to determine your unit price. 

Let’s say you buy 50 t-shirts for $300, and it costs $500 to print a one-color design. In this case, you paid $6 for one shirt and $10 to get the design printed on it. Your per-unit cost would be $16 ($10+$6). So it would be ideal to sell the t-shirt at $32 (16x2). You can even charge $5-$10 more if you’re selling a retail quality t-shirt (people are often willing to pay more for better-fitting and super soft material).

7. Choose Your Business Model

If using a local printing business is too costly, then dropshipping could be your solution. It’s simple, cheap, and you can run it from anywhere in the world. Connect an app like Modalyst with your Shopify store to import products, communicate with suppliers to print your T-shirt designs, and start dropshipping with ease. Refer to our Shopify dropshipping guide for a detailed explanation on how to perform these steps. 

8. Set Up Your Online Presence

Finally, you need to start thinking about where you want to sell and market your product. For a T-shirt business, it is super important to know your audience, as T-shirts can be versatile, all inclusive, or very niche. At this stage, you will have decided on your design and have an idea of your audience, but what about your competitors? Have you looked them up and found out where they are selling and marketing their tees? 

Taking the time to do market research will help you to define your audience before you start selling. It will also ensure that you are present on the right platforms for your audience to find your products easily. 

It could be the case that your target market is active on Instagram and Snapchat, and they don’t spend time searching for T-shirts through Google Search. This means that influencer marketing and advertising are your best options for success, instead of spending a lot of time and resources on search engine optimization.

Once you have mapped where your competitors are and where your ideal customers like to hang out online, you can start to set up and build your online brand presence. You are now ready to start selling T-shirts online!

Considerations When Designing Your Own T-Shirts

There are many ways to print designs on T-shirts and other clothing. It is important for you to understand them before you create your own online T-shirt store. Understanding them will ensure you are making the right decision for your business. Below are three of the most common T-shirt printing options to consider for their quality and process.

  • Screen Printing

Screen printing is a great option for designs that are darker or have a high level of vibrancy. Using stencils or screens, printers apply layers of ink on a T-shirt, using different stencils for different colored inks. Screen printing is ideal for bulk printing of five or fewer colors due to its labor-intensive setup.

  • Heat Transfer

With heat transfer, an image is placed on heat transfer paper, cut from the paper and then placed on a T-shirt. Like a huge iron, heated to high temperatures, the Heat Transfer paper melts into the fibers of the clothing, making it part of the shirt without disturbing the top image. Heat transfers can produce color images onto T-shirts relatively easily and quickly.

  • Direct to Garment

With Direct to Garment printing, ink is applied directly onto a T-shirt through an inkjet printer.  Using specialist water-based ink, T-shirt designs are downloaded to a computer and, with a specialist printer, they are directly transferred onto a physical T-shirt. This is the cheapest print option, as there is relatively no setup cost. It does take some time to print each T-shirt, so this is a good option for small print orders.

How to Sell T-Shirts Online

Here are the main things to keep in mind before starting your own online venture dropshipping T-shirts:

1. Decide Your Market

Before starting your online T-shirt business, it’s important to know the niche that you’ll be focusing on. The T-shirt industry is oversaturated, and to be successful, you need to know what your goals are.

2. Design Your T-Shirt

You’ll have a hard time convincing people to buy your T-shirts if the designs aren’t good. So, pay extra attention to what goes on to the T-shirts that you’d like to dropship. Utilize T-shirt design websites to ensure that the artwork on your products is high-quality and not trademarked.

3. Choose a Quality Dropship Supplier

Make sure you meet quality standards when it comes to T-shirts. It can be tricky to know which T-shirts are high quality when you’re dropshipping. Order a few samples from your suppliers just to test them out. You can discover that the design is not what you like or the material is not to your liking.

4. Build Reviews and Social Proof

Reaching out to customers and asking them to review your product online is a key aspect of selling T-shirts, due to the importance of social proof in this niche. Customers want to know that they are getting value for money when buying online, and they want to hear from actual customers when making their decisions.

5. Grow Your Brand Awareness

Brand awareness can be the make-or-break part of your new business. The right branding can establish your business as trustworthy and a leader in your space. This also helps immensely with your marketing. A brand tells your customers who you are and what you’re about.

The basic elements of a brand are how you look and your tone of voice. Your logo and website will often be the first thing a new customer sees when browsing for new T-shirts, so these elements of your business need to make a good first impression. Your tone of voice and style of writing also affects everything from sales to engagement. Think about how you want your customers to view you, and establish your tone and style from there. 

6. Outreach to Influencers

Influencers can help you break into new markets or win you more customers in your current demographic. Finding influencers on your top platforms like Instagram or Snapchat can be easier than you think, with the advent of micro-influencers and nano-influencers. These are influencers who may only have a few-hundred followers but are very influential to these people.

Try reaching out to a couple of smaller influencers, offering them free T-shirts in exchange for them sharing images wearing your product. This small act of social proof can incur bonus brand points for your online T-shirt business. If you have a low startup budget for marketing, influencer marketing is your best bet.

7. Use Remarketing to Your Advantage

If you have a lot of people adding T-shirts to their cart and then disappearing from your website, remarketing could be your best weapon to increase your conversion rate. When a customer adds a product to their cart, you can retarget them on various websites through tools like Google Ads or on social media platforms through tools like Facebook Ads. You can lead people back to their cart with discount codes, new offers, or simply just a reminder of their items.

Criteo found that website visitors who are retargeted to are 43 percent more likely to convert compared to those not shown retargeting campaigns. This shows the true power of remarketing for businesses across any niche but especially the T-shirt niche. This is a fast-moving niche that sometimes requires you to remind customers of their abandoned carts.

Dropshipping With Your Online T-Shirt Business

As an entrepreneur running an online T-shirt business, dropshipping is a great business model. If you dropship your T-shirts, you’ll never need to carry any inventory. Forget about having piles of T-shirts littered around your house or having to waste valuable resources renting a storage space. Instead, you’ll simply receive orders from your customers and your suppliers will ship the products straight to them from their warehouse. A dropshipping T-shirt business is streamlined and will allow you to manage your business from anywhere in the world.

If you choose dropshipping for your online T-shirt business, you can take advantage of ecommerce platforms like AliExpress. AliExpress allows you to source high-quality products at an affordable price point. You’ll be instantly connected with a wide network of suppliers that are open to collaboration. You can reach out to individual suppliers on AliExpress that can print your designs directly onto their T-shirts. Then, they can ship said products directly to your customer’s door – it’s as simple as that.

If you decide that AliExpress dropshipping is the best option for your ecommerce business, then we recommend you use DSers. With DSers, you can easily import products directly into your ecommerce store with just a few clicks. You can also manage all your orders easily with DSers. Dsers' basic plan is free, so you can start dropshipping today.

Online T-Shirt Business Success Stories

Many successful ecommerce entrepreneurs created their online T-Shirt businesses with a dropshipping business model. An entrepreneur named Melvin Chee started off his own ecommerce store at 22 as an experiment and ended up making $100K+ in just 3 months.

Melvin decided that he wanted to start an online T-shirt business when he stumbled across dropshipping in a Facebook group. He knew that he would need to find a niche that would enable his ecommerce store to succeed. He settled on a bank of core products, which were basic T-shirts with funny slogans printed onto them. It was these products, incorporated with his marketing efforts, that transformed this experiment into an ecommerce success story. You can check out our full article on Melvin’s story

Online T-Shirt Business FAQs

Is selling t-shirts online profitable?

In a word, yes. Generally, t-shirts sell at a 40%-50% margin, so you can earn a good profit by selling a high volume quickly. Considering that a typical t-shirt seller makes $90,000-$100,000 a year, there’s potential to earn around $45,000-$50,000 in yearly profit. However, you might not be able to make that much initially when getting started. A lot will depend on the niche you’re in, the marketing strategies you apply, and how quickly you can grow your business.  

What type of t-shirt sells best?

 Black t-shirts sell the most with consumers. That’s because they go with everything and put center stage any graphic print, especially those with light text.


Now that you’ve read through this post you’ll know exactly how to start an online T-shirt business and create your own success story. Remember, designing and selling T-shirts online in this niche is competitive, so be sure to make use of the tips we’ve mentioned.

Summary: How to Start an Online T-Shirt Business in 8 Steps

  1. Identify a niche for your t-shirt store.
  2. Design an awesome shirt.
  3. Validate your t-shirt’s design.
  4. Source high-quality shirts.
  5. Print high-quality designs.
  6. Decide how much to charge for a shirt.
  7. Decide on a business model.
  8. Create an online presence for your business.

If you have any further questions about starting an online T-shirt business or ecommerce store in general, then let us know in the comments section – we’re more than happy to help.

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