How to Start a Home Based T-Shirt Business

8 Steps to Creating and Selling T-Shirts for Profit

Start a Home Based T-Shirt Business
Start a Home Based T-Shirt Business. Martin Pinker | Getty Images

In the late 1980s, Bert and John Jacob were driving up and down the east coast, trying to sell their t-shirts to college students and not having much success. During one of their long drives, in between deciding if they should get real jobs, they had a discussion about the media’s focus on negative stories. From this discussion, Jake, the character donning Life Is Good (TM) t-shirts was born, along with a $100 million dollar business.

Legend has it that after graduating from college, Catesby Jones maxed out his credit cards to start a t-shirt company depicting a frog with international flag designs known as Peace Frogs (TM).

Today, with the Internet and digital printing resources, starting a t-shirt business is easier than ever. Even so, building a million dollar t-shirt empire isn’t a given. Creating a t-shirt that speaks to the masses and selling it still requires a plan.  Here are tips and resources to starting your own successful t-shirt business from home.

1. Design your t-shirt. The Jacob brothers struggled with their t-shirts until they finally hit on a basic premise (Life is good) and the character of Jake. Jones chose the frog because it is a symbol of peace and good luck. It can be difficult to know what sort of design or saying will resonate with the public, so you may need to test different ideas. Further, you need to make sure you don’t use copyrighted or trademarked material on your t-shirts.

2. Write a business plan. Although selling t-shirts sounds straightforward, like all businesses, without a plan, you’ll waste time and money. Your business plan outlines your product, the ideal market, your financial projections and sales goals.

3. Create a business name. You can create and start selling t-shirts online in a matter of minutes, but if you plan to make a living at it, you should create an official business, which starts by coming up with a business name.

Your name should reflect your t-shirt, but not limit your ability to expand on your t-shirt line.

4. Make your business legal. Along with a business name, you need to determine your business structure (i.e. sole proprietor or LLC) and obtain needed licenses and permits. Business licenses are issued by your local city or county business office. If you’re using an online t-shirt service and sell your shirt through its online portal, you may not need a sales tax permit. However, if you’ll be selling your shirts through your own website or in-person (i.e. fairs or markets), then you may need to apply for a sales tax permit through your state’s comptroller’s office.

5. Protect your design. Just as you don’t want to infringe on another company’s copyright or trademark, you don’t want others profiting off your design either. Look into protecting your design, logo and/or slogan through copyright or trademark.

6. Price your t-shirt. Review all the different t-shirt creation options (i.e. online resources and local t-shirt printers) to find the price you can afford.  The price you pay will depend on the size and number of colors of the design, the type of printing you choose and the quality of t-shirt you select.

Based on your cost, price your t-shirt so that you can cover you costs (not just t-shirt expenses, but other business costs such as marketing and other overhead).

7. Select a printer. At the end of this article you’ll find a list of resources that will print your t-shirt . Many offer online store from which to sell your shirt as well.

8. Market your t-shirt. There are many ways to market your new t-shirt, but they all start with knowing the best buyer for your t-shirt (age, gender, etc), where you can find him/her, and putting your t-shirt in front of them. If you’re target t-shirt buyer is a zombie-loving high school student, market your t-shirt where zombie-loving high school student’s hang out online and off.

T-Shirt Printing Resources

CafePress

Fabrily (Europe)

Skreened

Spread Shirt

Teespring

Teezilly

Zazzle