How To Sell Your Tee Shirts Online In 5 Easy Steps (And What Not To Do)

how to sell your tee shirts online
May 25, 2019 Jordan Meola 10 Comments

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read My Disclosure for more info.

 

Hey guys! So for any regular readers of Young Retiree, you know that one of the main business ventures that my wife and I do online is selling tee shirts (and other merch) for money.

 

Tee shirts are actually a booming business! A lot of people wear tees, and that doesn’t look like it’s changing any time soon.

 

If you have creative, or artistic ideas that would look good on a coffee mug, shirt, hoodie, blanket, or just about anything you can think of then there’s a good chance you can make money from it. Creativity is a lucrative gift!

 

As most entrepreneurs find out, though, starting is the hardest part. Maybe you have some great ideas, but have no idea how to get started. Are you wondering how to sell your tee shirts online? My wife Renee is an artist, and we started our own business selling merch, landing over $500 in sales within 10 hours of launching our store! Here are 5 easy steps based on our experience, and a few things to NOT do along the way.

 

Check it out!

 

 

Step #1: How To MAKE Your T-Shirts!

 

Obviously, if you want to sell your own tee shirts online you have to actually have tee shirts with your artwork on it to sell. Maybe you’ve already got this figured out, or you have some awesome printing press in your secret Bat Cave just waiting for you to start your business.

 

In most cases, though, it’s a daunting first step figuring out where to get your merchandise made.

 

Here are a few ideas which have worked for us:

 

a. use a print-on-demand marketplace like RedBubble, TeeSpring, or Threadless. These are TOTALLY FREE TO USE! No subscriptions, buying inventory, or paying for a webstore. You simply upload digital files of your artwork, and then you can put it on whatever these websites have available. Tee shirts, hoodies, tapestries, stickers, mugs, and a hundred other things – you can print your artwork on to all of it.

 

These items are made to order, so they are created on-demand whenever you make a sale on the site. They have their own set prices, and you simply set your profit margins above the base price. Pretty simple, right?

 

This process has it’s pros and cons (like all of the options), but more on that later.

 

b. Using an independent print-on-demand company that integrates with your own Shopify store, or Etsy. Another viable option is selling through your own webstore. This is the higher risk, higher reward option. There are a bunch of print-on-demand companies that make high quality merchandise which you can integrate to Etsy or your own Shopify store (we do both).

 

I have used many of these, and my 5 favorites are Printful, Teelaunch, Printify, Printy6, and SKYOU. Here is a post of more detailed reviews on these companies! They each have their own specialties.

 

These companies will all print merchandise for you with your artwork, and you only pay for the products when you make sales on your store. Some of them are better for tee shirts (like Printful), some are better for phone cases and coffee mugs (like Teelaunch), pop sockets (like Printy6), custom, highly stylized merch (SKYOU), boots and sneakers (Printify)…. you get the idea. It’s good to use a mixture of these different POD companies for different products.

 

c. The third option is to make your own shirts yourself, physically. The downside is that getting your own printing press is an expensive undertaking. The upside is that it gives you 2 great things: better profit margins in the long run, and more creative control over how your products look.

 

You can get started with some simple cut-and-iron on options by using a Cricut machine, with an iron or press. Using a Cricut Maker you can upload your artwork, and it will cut a stencil to iron onto shirts.

 

If you want to go with a more advanced, sublimated look, you’ll have to invest in a sublimation printer, and a press. This could run you around $500 easily, so please make sure you’re committed before pursuing this one, guys!

 

 

Step #2: Start With The Marketplaces, Then Expand To Your Own Store

 

So if you’re staring at those different options I just gave you, scratching your head, and wondering which to choose… let me me recommend that you do the OPPOSITE of what we did.

 

My wife and I (mostly me, being way over zealous) ambitiously decided to start off with our webstore. Even though the independence of having your own store is amazing, it’s NOT the way I would recommend starting. You have to drive all of your own traffic to your store, or no one will find it. This means you either need a fantastic social media following, or a budget to pay for ads. A Shopify store is a great option, but at $29/month it’s a better option for a more established artist.

 

So if you’re just starting out, I highly recommend you start with Redbubble, TeeSpring, or Threadless. Actually, it’s more of an AND thing, than an OR thing. You should put your artwork up on ALL of them. What can it hurt? They don’t have any costs for listing, and the more exposure the better.

 

The reason this is a good place to start is because it has extremely minimal upfront costs, and being on a marketplace can help you get exposure.

 

As you become more independent, and more aware of your goals, you can branch onto Etsy or Merch By Amazon (though the latter requires you to apply for approval first). Etsy is the biggest hub for artists, and as long as you’re using the right strategies you can become very successful on Etsy.

 

Unfortunately, there are a number of cons to selling on a marketplace. While you can help buyers find your products by using good, searchable keywords, you’ll always have to deal with competition. Buyers are viewing your products amidst a wall of competitors. Even if you have unique products, with really good pictures, it can be hard to stand out.

 

Secondly, when you sell on a marketplace you’re largely at their mercy. They may demand commissions out of your earnings (like Amazon), charge you small fees to list items (like the $0.20 charged by Etsy), have your reviews wiped, or even have your store shut down because of random grievances by the company. Many people have had their livelihood turned upside down by their stores being suddenly shutdown.

 

As you become more established, you will want to move to your own store through Shopify. [A WooCommerce store through a WordPress is also an easy, and cheaper choice, but it doesn’t have the same print-on-demand options of a Shopify site]. You will need to promote yourself on social media, create Facebook ads, and generally drive traffic to your own store when you own an independent Shopify art store.

 

The beauty of owning your own Shopify store (where we made $507 within 10 hours of launching our store), is that you are in control. You’ll still rely on your print-on-demand providers, but you won’t be at the mercy of a marketplace, or told what to do. The only products that your store visitors will see are yours. If you’re confident in the strength of your business, the $29/month of a Shopify store is more than worth it.

 

 

Step #3: Define Your Brand, and Make It Personal

 

Increasingly, in today’s market, buyers want to buy from brands that they feel a personal connection to. Brands that have stories, faces, and a lively social media presence will always perform better than the businesses that don’t.

 

This is even MORE important as an artist or a tee shirt seller. Your buyers won’t want to buy from some faceless, corporate feeling brand. They want to know you a bit, and adding your personal flair to your shirts and other merch should reflect you. Your store and social media should reflect you even more! That’s how you’re going to stand out.

 

You may not be an artist, and that’s totally ok. A lot of shirt sellers purchase their designs from artists for cheap on Fiverr! If you’re not an artist, I highly recommend you do this. Even this, though, does NOT prevent you from creating your own brand.

 

Branding is a bit of an art in of itself (which you can read about right HERE), and it requires consistent vision on your part. Choose colors, images, vibes, a logo, even a personal tone of voice that goes into your branding – are you sassy? Sarcastic? Cheerful and kind? Whimsical and weird? Political? Dark?

 

It may help you to gain an especially strong audience base by centering your brand around a specific interest, like cats, dinosaurs, ice cream, or anything else that you love. This leads me to my next point…

 

 

Step #4: Find Your Audiences On Social Media + Center Your Product Around Them

 

… Its 2019, so social media is absolute must when it comes to selling tee shirts to make money. You need to connect with your buyers somewhere, and the best place to do this is on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Your social media presence is where you establish your brand image, post updates, show off your products, and just about everything else that keeps your business going, and your sales flowing (intentional rhyming, I confess ;D).

 

Just as important as building an audience, though, social media is also a resource for product development. When you’re trying to sell tee shirts, you need to center them around a certain group of enthusiasts. Center your product around a group of people. By searching groups on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, you can often find small groups of nerds, fans, and enthusiasts who are obsessed with some specific.

 

These groups are how you figure out what to put on your tee shirts. Even if you’re an artist, with your own special style, you can find groups that your designs will fit with. If you base your products around an already existing audience, your products will be on FIRE when it comes time to sell! By finding a group of enthusiasts, you already know who to show your products to! Example: dinosaur lovers obviously want to see nerdy, awesome dinosaur related shirts. So put together about a dozen dino tee shirts, and show them! Relevant advertising is the only worthwhile advertising. It’s efficient, it’s targeted, and it works.

 

 

Step #5: Publish New Work Often!

 

As you grow your audience, you will also want to make sure you’re consistently posting new work. It takes work to crank out a lot of new designs, or if you’re buying designs on Fiverr it can add up costs, but you need to stay consistent.

 

Set a goal for yourself: a dozen designs a month, maybe even a dozen designs per week… whatever you feel like you can do! It will often take quite a few designs before you find one that really lands well with buyers. It may even take a hundred tries before you have something go viral. But once you do, you’ll start to make money!

 

The more designs you put out, you’ll not only increase your chances of getting viral products, but you’ll also get to know your audience better. As you see buyer’s reactions to different products, through social media comments, reviews, clicks, and all the other metrics, you’ll see what types of shirts they like better. Putting out a steady volume of work will help to test out more designs, until you find the perfect recipe.

 

 

Ask Your Questions!

 

Do you have questions about how this all works? Let me know in the comments below, and I will answer to the best of my ability. Do you have tips or comments to share? We’re always looking for new ideas on how to succeed selling merch online.

 

If you’re ready to start your own store on Redbubble, Etsy, or Shopify join through those links on the left! <== I’ll get a small bonus for some of them (at no extra cost to you).

 

Thanks for reading!

 

 

10 People reacted on this

  1. While selling shirts isn’t my end goal, I can definitely see how I can incorporate this into my own business and I really appreciate that you included what NOT to do when trying to sell shirts online. 

    Do you think creating shirts from Canva photos would be a big hit for a business like this? Or is this the kind of business where it’s best to come up with your own designs and photos to sell?

    1. Hey there! That sounds really cool! I think adding a merch element to a brand is always very cool.

      As long as it’s unique, and speaks to your brand, I don’t see why Canva designs couldn’t make good t-shirts. Or even sweaters and mugs. If you don’t have design experience, and you want some special designs of your own, you can get some made for you pretty affordably on Fiverr. 

  2. I’m just starting out to read from your site but this won’t definitely be the last time. Excellent content you have up here. Firstly, I’m amazed at how lucrative this line of business is. Personally I’m a fan favorite of big brands but then reading through this post, I noticed that if well packaged and presented, one might stand a chance of bagging some bucks from this. Interesting tips here too and definitely, I might try out this business. But do you have an idea how much printing machines are sold?

    1. Hello!

      Yes, I would definitely recommend starting up a shirt business if you have the passion and energy to see the business through. It takes a lot of motivation and patience to start, but it can be very rewarding. Like I said, after a few months of building our social media, we bagged over $500 in sales on the day of our official business launch. 

      To get your own printing machine is usually pretty expensive. The higher end ones can easily be $5,000+ USD. The lowest price point for sublimation printers is probably in the $300 range as far as my research has taken me. If you have a lot of viral products it’s a very worthwhile investment because it lets you remove the middle man. But when you’re just starting, print on demand is easier because you don’t have to pay for anything to start except your website, if even that. 

  3. Awesome outline that has answered a lot of my questions. I have two brands that I’d love to print tees for, but I never really knew much of print-on-demand, even though I knew they had to exist somewhere. I definitely liked options A and B, but I’ve heard good things from people when it comes to both Etsy and Shopify. I have other ideas, too, so this is something I can undertake tomorrow when I get some free time. 

    1. Cool! Yes, there are tons of print on demand options for giving your brand some merch. Are you also a designer?

      There are a lot of cool programs where you can even make your own designs on a computer or tablet. Canva is a free and simple one. InkScape is another free option that’s a bit more advanced. If you don’t design stuff yourself, you can easily get it done from a freelancer on Fiverr.com.

      I would definitely encourage adding a merch element to your brand! It’s a cool way to diversify, and it doesn’t cost a penny if you’re using POD.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this post because I just recently read an article about the demand online for t-shirts. You pretty much reinforced what I read.

    What I have found in Canada, is that there is no point in trying to sell any product that you personally have to ship because the postal costs make it impossible. I have written several books that I could easily sell on eBay as people like books that are signed by the author. However, no matter how I packaged the book, the cost was between $12-$13 to ship anywhere in the USA and around $9 in Canada.  If I’m charging $15 for my book, that means the price will almost double if I passed postage costs on to the customer. That killed that idea.

    It would be no different with t-shirts, so I would have to use your other idea of having what basically amounts to a drop-shipper or print-on-demand shipper. In other words, Red Bubble prepares and ships your product on demand for a small cut.

    I’m sure the cut would be a lot less the shipping costs I would have to pay if I tried doing it myself.

    Also, I believe it would be a  great thing to come up with a unique product and then you would sell like crazy. At least at first. It seems to me the market for selling t-shirts must be pretty saturated right now.

    1. Hello! Thanks for sharing your insight. 

      It’s true, that your location in Canada may add an extra challenge to your shipping costs, as a lot of your buyers would likely be in the United States, where you would have to pay premium shipping costs (or your customers would).

      Generally, the way that I would handle shipping costs for my own store would be to simply build them into the cost of the product, and then offer the shipping free. So the customer technically covered the shipping cost, but they did so in the form of paying a bit more for the product, instead of paying the shipping outright. It’s a bit of a psychological trick, but it remains true that the vast majority of consumers would rather pay more for a product with free shipping, than pay less for the product but pay the difference in shipping.

      Dropshipping removes some of the troublesome aspects of shipping and handling, yes. I think that you would ultimately be able to keep a higher profit margin by removing the middle man, but when you’re just starting out, dropshipping is a much safer investment.

      Selling t-shirts is competitive, but if you can target a specific enough niche you can land a viral product. You may be surprised at the power of a couple of viral t-shirts. I’ve seen some t-shirts become massively popular for a couple months, and rake in over a quarter million USD in a month or 2. There is a high earning potential in shirt sales. 

  5. Hi, Jordan.

    This is an informative and well detailed approach to starting your own business. I am not in the t-shirt business but I have been a small business owner for many years now. No business owner will deny that it sure beats working for someone else.

    You have researched your t-shirt business well and offer many suggestions on how to get started.

    What part of the t-shirt business do you find the hardest to maintain?

    I like the “produce-when-you-get-an-order” concept as this doesn’t leave you with a lot unsold inventory.

    How long have you been doing this and what’s the competition like?

    Paul

    1. Hey there, thanks for commenting! 

      That’s awesome that you have your own business. It takes a lot of work, and discipline, to create a thriving business)

      My wife and I started the t-shirt business a little over a year ago. There’s a ton of competition in it, especially if you’re selling on marketplaces (like Threadless), instead of on a Shopify store. You can usually transcend a lot of the competition by targeting a more specific niche, or combing 2 different audiences into 1. In other words, take 2 different things that people love separately, and combine them into one for the ultimate geek out response.

      Beyond that, the biggest challenge is to maintain momentum, and keep putting out products… that and promotion without spending a lot of money. Without ad spending, you have to really rely on building your social media presence, and that takes a lot of consistent work. 

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