Ecommerce Marketing

How To Sell T-Shirts Online: The Best Ways To Actually Make a Profitable Shirt Business

/ 16 min read
sell t-shirts online

How To Sell T-Shirts Online: The Best Ways To Actually Make a Profitable Shirt Business

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People love t-shirts. They can make your entire outfit pop, help you make a statement, or be a conversation starter.

According to Statista, ecommerce sales amounted to $504.6 billion in 2018.

This number is projected to surpass $735 billion in 2023. And apparel and accessories alone should generate over $138.7 billion by 2022.

sell t-shirts online retail ecommerce

This once again proves that the fashion industry has secured a stable place in ecommerce and it isn’t going anywhere.

Now anybody can launch a t-shirt store online and cash in.

You don’t require product knowledge or modern technology to get started – you just need the right tools at your fingertips that can automate the entire process.

How to Start Selling T-shirts Online

The idea of running your own t-shirt store is an exciting one, but before you get to see the sales coming in, you’ll have to roll up your sleeves a work a little.

There are 4 essential steps you’ll have to take in order to start a successful t-shirt business.

1. Find your target audience and niche.

While you might be the first one in your circle to design and sell t-shirts online, in the wide world of ecommerce, there are a bunch of other merchants chasing the same dream. So before you get to designing and setting up your store, you need to answer one question: who is going to buy your t-shirts?

If your answer is “everyone,” you’re entering a danger zone.

Targeting everyone under the sun is like tilting at windmills.

By making your target too broad, you’ll end up targeting no one.

Doing so will also cost you not only money but also time. And who wants that?

Since you’ve already decided to sell t-shirts, you now are part of the fashion and apparel industry.

While this is a good start, you can probably agree that it doesn’t really help you define your target audience – everyone can wear a t-shirt!

That said, you need to narrow down your audience even more to find a product niche. And here’s how you can do it.

Define your passions and interests.

Nobody else but you will have to run your t-shirt business (at least at the beginning).

So in order to be successful, you need to find a niche that you understand and can market to.

Think of what you are passionate about and what are the interests of people that are around you.

Knowing the desires and pain-points of these people is your biggest advantage – you can now generate product ideas that this particular niche will love.

Do your research.

Now it’s time to research your interests and passion on a deeper level.

Find out who are your competitors, what are their strengths and weaknesses to get a better picture of how you could position yourself in the same market.

Scout the web to learn what are local (or global) trends among online shoppers to find a gap in the market for your niche product.

A couple of tools that can help you on this journey are Google Trends, Alexa, and Ahrefs.

Identify a problem you can solve with your product.

You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again – every product has to solve a problem no matter how big or small it is.

Think beyond beautiful t-shirt design and fast shipping.

Will your t-shirt provide psychological support, help someone express their beliefs to the world, or make them feel part of a community?

2. Set up an online store.

Once you have defined your target market and discovered a product niche, it’s time to set up the real estate of your store.

BigCommerce is one of the most popular ecommerce platforms out there that lets you launch a store in a matter of a few minutes.

Once you create your account, hit “Store setup” in your dashboard that will guide you through important steps of getting your store up. That includes going over:

  • Storefront settings.
  • Currencies.
  • Payments.
  • Tax.
  • Shipping.
  • Accounting.

3. Add products to your store.

BigCommerce offers a number of integrations you can use to source products for your online store, so explore your options.

Probably the easiest way to get started is partnering up with a print-on-demand drop shipper – a third-party service that fulfills and ships your products.

Since all of your products are printed only when the order comes in, you don’t need to worry about any upfront costs.

This also gives more freedom to introduce new products, or discontinue those that are not selling.

4. Fail, try again, fail, and keep trying.

Let’s be real, you probably won’t have hundreds of thousand orders coming in just after the launch of your store, but don’t let it put you back.

Being an online store owner requires resilience and creative problem-solving.

While your research has suggested what design will drive sales, your predictions might not match the actual needs of your target audience at this point in time.

That’s why it’s important to give your customers a voice.

Let them decide what products and designs are most attractive to them.

If one design isn’t popular, try something entirely different. And if customers don’t react to the new design, create another one.

Listen to the feedback and keep trying! You’ll get there eventually.

Want more insights like this?

We’re on a mission to provide businesses like yours marketing and sales tips, tricks and industry leading knowledge to build the next house-hold name brand. Don’t miss a post. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

How to Create a T-shirt Design

T-shirts are one of the most popular apparel items out there that are worn by both men and women.

As a rule of thumb, the more popular the product is, the bigger the competition it has in the market.

That’s why to break through the noise, you’ll have to create t-shirt designs that tell a story or make a statement people believe in.

1. Find design ideas.

Start by jotting down the key themes, beliefs, and styles you want your brand to be known for. Then, take some time polishing these ideas to come up with more concrete design concepts.

Define your business goal.

Ask yourself whether you’re looking for a one-time success or something that will pay your bills and take you on vacations for years to come.

Now, there’s no good or bad answer here, but being honest with yourself at this very moment can help you make the design search a lot easier.

If you’re looking for ideas that are evergreen, concentrate on topics and themes that don’t go out of fashion or are relevant all year round among your target audience. For example, a t-shirt that says “weekend vibes” or “holy guacamole”.

But if starting an online store is your way of testing the waters of ecommerce, make seasonal themes and trending topics the epicenter of your designs. Is there a popular meme or saying that’s taking the world by the storm? This might be your chance of monetizing the moment.

And in case you’re looking for a little bit of both, mix up your evergreen product offering with designs that support a social movement that’s currently being talked about.

Just make sure it resonates with your personal and business values.

Hijacking random news events can work against you if won’t put much thought to it.

Explore different design elements.

Your t-shirt design can come in multiple shapes and forms.

You can use typography, line drawings, shapes, illustrations, or photographs as your design base. But if you think that using one type of element is too restricting, mix and match different elements to create a one-of-a-kind t-shirt design.

Just remember, even the smallest detail in your design can tell a thousand words, so for the best outcome, stick to clear shapes and forms that are easy to recognize or read both up-close and from a distance.

Choose your color palette strategically.

For most people, including you future customers, visuals matter the most.

That said, every color you use can affect how people see your brand and products.

That’s why you need to think not only about the colors of your design, but also about the colors of the t-shirts your design will be on.

Your ultimate goal is making sure that the two compliment each other.

Learning the basics of color theory, or color psychology can come in handy when making such decisions.

But you also have to keep some of the technical aspects in mind. For example, selling white tees with text in black will look sleek, but having the same text in pale pink might make the design difficult to read.

Find the right t-shirt type.

The crew neck, the V neck, and polo are just a few types of t-shirts out there for you choose.

When deciding which t-shirt will make the best canvas for your designs, think about your target audience and envisioned goal for your brand.

It’s simple. Polo shirts probably won’t be the best choice for a store that has an urban feel and targets streetwear shoppers.

Baggy or cropped tees, on the other hand, might be just perfect.

Decide on the print method.

When looking for t-shirt design ideas, you also need to keep printing technique in mind.

Some printing methods are more flexible than others, so it’s better to know what you’re working with right off the bat while you still have time to make adjustments to your designs.

Let’s take a look at the 3 most popular printing methods for t-shirts.

Direct-to-garment directly applies the ink onto the product. It’s sort of like printing on paper, except on a t-shirt. DTG printing allows extensive color options in designs and offers great precision in details. However, design placement can sometimes be limiting.

Screen printing involves pushing ink through a woven mesh stencil onto fabric. What’s important to know, is that with screen printing only one color can be applied at a time. So the more colors your design has, the longer it will take to print it, and the more expensive the whole thing will be.

Sublimation printing infuses a layer of ink directly onto the fabric, which means that the t-shirt print area is significantly bigger. This type of printing works best with patterns, photographs (especially landscapes), and abstract designs.

2. Create the designs.

Once you crystallized your ideas, it’s time to create the actual design. There are several ways you can go about it.

Do it yourself

If you have skills and time, take on the challenge of creating t-shirt designs yourself. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing your idea come to life right in front of your eyes.

Creating designs doesn’t have to be difficult, you just need to know what tools are out there that can help visualize your idea.

If it’s your first time creating something digitally, it’s fair to say that professional software like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator might not be the best choice not only because of the price, but also because of the learning curve.

Luckily, there are great free alternatives out there that offer basic functions needed to create a print file for your t-shirts. Let’s go over a few open-source vector graphic editors that you can start using today:

  • Canva has everything you need to develop your first designs – a simple drag-and-drop editor, access to over 8,000 free templates, folders to organize your designs and the ability to upload your own images.
  • Photopea has a bunch of pre-made templates for different projects, this software is a friendly tool for both graphic design beginners and veterans.
  • GIMP is a graphics editor that will let you retouch the images you want to use for your t-shirt designs, or add a few free-form drawings to it.
  • Inkscape can be used to create or edit vector graphics. While it’s a versatile tool you can use to work with illustrations, lines, or complex paintings, it has a learning curve.

Pro Tip

If you want your design to look the best it can when printed, carefully follow basic graphics requirements provided by the printer of your choice.

In most cases you’ll have to take in consideration the size of a print area, file resolution, and accepted print file formats.

Hire a designer.

Not everyone is blessed with an eye for great designs or have all the necessary skills to create them, and that’s completely fine. If you don’t feel comfortable creating t-shirt designs yourself, hand this task over to a professional.

If you’ve never hired a freelance designer before, don’t worry, you won’t need to move mountains to find one.

There are numerous platforms out there that will connect you with a talented designer who has the skills to turn your vision into a print file for your t-shirt store.

Let’s take a look at a few options:

  • 99designs. This platform connects freelance designers with clients who are on the lookout for custom designs, let it be logos, business cards, or you guessed it – t-shirt designs. If you have a clear vision of what your t-shirt design should look like, simply browse through the pool of designers to find a person whose style you enjoy. The hit that “Invite to work” button and start your conversation. However, if your idea for design is vague and you’re open to creative interpretations, start a contest that is open to the entire designer community on 99designs. It’s simple: you describe your idea, set the budget and let different designers submit their versions of your design. You get to pick and pay for the one which meets your aesthetic taste and design needs best.
  • Dribble. Graphic designers and agencies use Dribble to showcase their portfolios and network with fellow creatives who are on the lookout for new opportunities. To find your designer on Dribble, take time browsing through portfolios until you find someone whose work you enjoy. If that particular designer is open to hire, you’ll see a “Hire me” button on their profile. You can also post a job ad on Dribble if you had no luck discovering talent on your own.
  • Upwork, Fiverr, Guru. These global freelancing platforms let independent professionals with clients who are looking for help connect and collaborate remotely. In the pool of freelancers, you can also find graphic designers who can help you with your t-shirt design idea realization. Browse these platforms to find the freelancer yourself or post a job inviting anyone who’s interested send you their proposal.

Pro Tip

When speaking with designers, let them know how you’re planning to use the design.

Don’t hesitate to share your store idea, print file guidelines, and some of the design no-nos.

The more information you share with them, the easier it will be for them to create the design you love.

Use your printer’s product generators

Most printers out there have product generators that let you create designs in one go.

So, if you don’t want to worry about finding the right design software and getting your print file quality and size just right, this might be the right choice for you.

If you’re not ready to commit to any printer yet, but would love to test your creativity first, head to Printful’s mockup generator.

This free tool will let you create designs with custom-drawn smileys, shapes, and fonts, and showcase them on the actual product.

The sky (and the maximum print area) is your limit, so don’t hold yourself back.

Top 3 Ways to Print, and Ship Your T-shirts

Every store owner is different, therefore the way you choose to print and ship your products is entirely up to you. But of course, it’s good to know your options.

1. Do it yourself.

If you like being in control, you can print and ship t-shirts on your own.

Since you’re the one doing all the printing, you can guarantee the quality of your products.

Besides, you can customize the packages by adding a personal touch to each order that comes in.

But all of this freedom comes at a price.

You’ll have to invest in a printer and inks, or find a reliable local printer who’d take care of the printing for you.

You’ll also need to keep the stock of the t-shirts as well as your packaging materials.

All of this will require not only the physical space to do all the work, but your time too.

2. Use third-party fulfillment partners.

Another option is to partner with a print-on-demand dropshippers like PrintAura, Printful, or TeeSpring.

These third-party services print and ship your products in your stead.

So, if you don’t want to worry about keeping your printers in top shape, bulk-printing the stock, and making endless visits to the post office, this option might be right for you.

Working with third-party fulfillment partners gives you the freedom to experiment without losing any money.

You can add new variants of the same t-shirt or introduce new styles or designs. If sales of a certain item aren’t going well, discontinue it and try something else.

But just like with everything in life, there are some downsides too.

Your fulfillment partner will charge you the cost of the product and printing. You also won’t have full control of the production process and shipping, which means you won’t be able to customize your packages.

3. Dropship.

Finally, if you can’t be bothered about creating the designs and prefer selling a ready-made product, the dropshipping option is for you.

Find wholesale t-shirt suppliers, select the designs you like and add them to your store. Once orders start flowing in, your supplier will ship them directly to the doorstep of your customer.

Similarly to print-on-demand option, you won’t need to keep the stock or losing money if one of the products isn’t popular among the shoppers.

This means you’ll have more time to grow your store’s brand awareness, run promotions or special offers.

However, dropshipping the t-shirts also means you won’t be selling one-of-a-kind product – multiple other stores might be offering the exact same tee (and maybe for a lower price).

So you’ll have to think how to differentiate yourself from the competition to justify your price and land more sales.

How to Get Your First T-shirt Sale

Having your online store up and running is just the first step in your ecommerce adventure.

What follows next is making that first sale.

So in this section, we’ll take a look at a couple of things you can do to find your first customer faster.

1. Product reviews.

It’s not an industry secret that product reviews can accelerate sales growth. But what if there’s not a single customer who bought your product yet?

If there’s anyone who’s willing to place an order on your store without questioning its legitimacy, it’s your family and friends.

Once they do that, sit down with them to learn what their shopping experience was like, and, of course, ask them to leave a product review.

2. Brand awareness giveaway.

You need to grow your brand awareness in order to land more sales. And what is one of the easiest ways to get people interested in you? Offering something for free.

A good old giveaway can work wonders in getting more eyes on your business and products. And that’s not a myth.

Seattle-based online store Girlfriend Collective launched one product in April 2016 – eco-friendly leggings made from recycled plastics.

To kick things off, the company decided to run a this-is-too-good-to-be-true campaign offering the new generation of activewear just for the cost of shipping.

Yes, you heard it right – free leggings!

The result? 10,000 pairs sold in the first day and over 800 customer emails received asking to confirm that the campaign is not a scam.

3. Social media presence.

In the world of the internet, businesses have to maintain their presence on social media to be taken seriously.

As a new store owner, you need to think beyond weekly promo campaigns.

Try to engage with your audience, participate in conversations outside of your social media accounts feed, follow the trends, and react to the hottest news in real-time.

Most importantly, be consistent and stick to your brand voice.

You want to be recognized not only by what you sell, but also by what you stand for.

Simply put, use brand storytelling to connect with your audience through social media to drive engagement.

4. Social media influencers.

Another option worth exploring is influencer marketing. An honest shout out by an opinion leader can get you in front of a niche audience that you might be struggling to reach yourself.

Now, don’t confuse influencer marketing with easy-to-get ads.

To run a successful campaign you need to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, then find relevant influencers, and agree on collaboration structure.

Pro Tip

Base your partnership around the creation of useful content instead of ads.

Transparency and honesty is what 49% of customers are expecting from their opinion leaders and brands they’re working with.

5. Retargeting ads.

Once more people start visiting your store, you’ll face the inevitable: users will browse your product catalogs, maybe add a product or two to the cart and leave without taking the most important action – buying from you.

How can you get that shopper back? By running retargeting campaigns.

Retargeting ads use cookie-based technology to display custom ads to visitors who have left your online store without placing an order.

In other words, you can bring the users back to your website by showing personalized ad on their Facebook and Instagram feeds, or Google.

Diversify to Survive

In both business and life, change is inevitable.

So in order to be successful, you need to continuously think how to develop your online store further.

1. Experiment with similar niches.

You might found your niche and made quite a few sales. But think, how often do people buy new t-shirts? Once every season? Every year?

In order to keep the orders flowing in, you need to try approaching niches with similar interests or backstories.

If you’re targeting stay-at-home moms, perhaps you can offer something for stay-at-home dads? And if you’re offering products interesting for rock guitarists, it might be worth introducing yourself to drummers too.

2. Market to multiple segments.

Dividing your target audience into different segments is a great way to connect with your customers on a more personal level. And as we all know, personalization drives conversion.

Let’s say your products are aimed at dog lovers and you recently introduced a t-shirt to the store that says “proud dog mama”.

Now, not all dog lovers are dog owners. It would make sense to push promotions for this product to a more defined segment of your target audience, for example, women who own dogs.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that people who don’t own a dog won’t be interested in the shirt. They might know someone who does.

Your job is to target multiple segments using copy that resonates with each individual in your target audience.

3. Expand your product line.

Selling shirts is a great start, but it can be limiting after some time. So don’t hold yourself back from introducing other types of apparel and accessories to your store.

If you want to stick to printed products, consider adding hoodies, phone cases, or mugs to your product catalog. Just make sure the new products go well with the entire concept of the store.

Otherwise, you might appear unprofessional.

4. Try offline opportunities.

Even though your business is operating online, there’s a lot you can do offline to grow your brand.

Exhibit your products in trade shows, local fairs, or popup markets.

If you don’t feel comfortable setting up your booth at the events like this, attend them as a visitor. And don’t forget to bring your business card along and wear your t-shirt.

This will help build new partnerships, meet your customers, or simply get your name out there.

But that’s not all.

Get in touch with a local newspaper and share your story. Organize or help to organize an event for your local community. Approach brick-and-mortar stores that are interested in independent brands and introduce them to your products.

In other words, be where other people and preferably where your target audience is.

5. Keep designing.

If you want to grow your online store, you need to introduce new t-shirt designs every now and then. So keep designing.

Think of upcoming ecommerce holidays you can use to build your designs around. Add a seasonal t-shirt, or put together a limited edition collection.

Also, don’t forget to listen to your customers. What is they want to see on your t-shirt store?

How to Start Selling T-Shirts with BigCommerce and Printful in 4 Steps

If you’ve always dreamed of having your own clothing line, don’t wait for that “perfect” moment – start an online business today!

With easy-to-use tools, it’s simpler than ever.

1. Sign up and choose your theme.

To get started, create an account on BigCommerce and set up your store: choose a theme, upload your brand logo, and add contact information.

If you’re confident about your brand name – register a domain name.

You can a purchase custom domain name for your store directly from BigCommerce.

This is the fastest method for applying a domain name to your store and requires the least amount of setup.

2. Add t-shirts to your store.

If you want to launch your online t-shirt store fast and without investing extra money, consider adding products to your store using print-on-demand drop shippers like Printful.

Visit BigCommerce apps and integrations page, search for Printful and hit “get this app”.

You’ll then be taken back to the dashboard of your store and asked to configure the app installation.

Once your BigCommerce and Printful accounts are connected, you can start adding your products.

Select a t-shirt that you like, upload the designs, select product variants, push them to your store, and voila!

3. Set your prices and shipping rates.

You don’t want to under-price or over-price your products.

So, when trying to define the retail price for your t-shirts, consider:

  • market prices.
  • competition.
  • production/fulfillment cost.
  • your revenue goals.

If you’re still not sure about the price tag you should add to your products, check Printful’s profit calculator.

Now let’s take of the shipping settings.

Go to you BigCommerce Shipping Manager.

There, select all the locations to which you want to sell and choose specific shipping methods for each area.

Finally, decide whether you want to offer flat-rate shipping, or weight- or value-based rates.

4. Finalize and launch.

You’re almost there!

Before launching your online store, carefully check if everything is in place and functioning.

You don’t want to start driving traffic to the store that has broken images, grammar errors in product descriptions, or buttons user can’t actually work.

Most importantly, test the checkout process – order something from your store.

Are the checkout steps clear and intuitive? Can you accept the payments? What happens once the order is complete?

Once you have the answers to all of these questions and they don’t alarm you, your online t-shirt store is ready for the grand takeoff!

Conclusion

Today ecommerce is stronger than ever, which also means the competition is stiff.

As a new online t-shirt business owner, you need to seek authenticity to be one step ahead of other merchants. The easiest way to do that is to create designs that speak your truth and resonate with other people too.

Knowing how to automate the tasks of running an online store is important no less.

Choose your ecommerce platform wisely and don’t forget to look into other services that can make your production process easier.

Finally, be resilient. If something didn’t work from the first, fifth, or thirtieth time — stand up and try again.

The only failure is failing to try. And those who made hundreds of thousands selling t-shirts online can only confirm that.

Want more insights like this?

We’re on a mission to provide businesses like yours marketing and sales tips, tricks and industry leading knowledge to build the next house-hold name brand. Don’t miss a post. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

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