How To Start And Fund A T-Shirt Business
In the world of fashion, trends come and go, but a few select pieces stand the test of time. One piece of clothing that’s found in almost any wardrobe is the t-shirt. From comfy shirts made for the gym to shirts with trendy designs worn for a night out with friends, t-shirts are a staple for men, women, and children.
T-shirts are here to stay, so why not capitalize on this fashion staple? Whether you have a degree in fashion design or you just want to become an entrepreneur, starting your own t-shirt business could be the opportunity you’ve been looking for.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at what it takes to get your own t-shirt business off the ground. We’ll start with basics such as designing and printing your shirts. We’ll discuss the importance of registering your business. Then, we’ll look at startup costs, as well as how you can get the capital you need to start your business and keep it operating. Finally, we’ll look at ways you can advertise your business to bring in customers and revenue.
Ready to take the leap into entrepreneurship? Read on to find more.
Table of Contents
- Design Your Shirts
- Decide How To Print Your Shirts
- Decide How To Sell Your Shirts
- Calculate Startup Costs
- Register Your Business
- Seek Business Funding
- Choose Business Software
- Advertise Your Business
- Final Thoughts
Design Your Shirts
Before you begin selling t-shirts to the masses, you have to create designs that people want to buy. The first step is identifying your target market. Are you going to sell t-shirts to men, women, children, or a combination of the three? Are your t-shirts going to be more fashionable, or are they better suited for lounging around the house or hitting up the gym?
Once you’ve identified your target market, it’s time to think about the designs you’ll use. Let’s say that your t-shirts are aimed at the active man or woman. Your designs should incorporate fitness or motivational graphics. You can also determine other features of your shirts based on your target audience, such as the type of material used. If your shirts are designed for the fitness-minded consumer, for example, select a moisture-wicking fabric.
Your t-shirt designs don’t have to be overcomplicated as long as they appeal to your target audience. The key, though, is to make sure your designs are completely original. Not only does ripping off other designs make you look like a copycat, but you could face some serious legal issues if you use the artwork or designs of others without permission.
It’s also important to remember that sometimes a design may be a complete flop. Even the most well-known fashion designers in the world have released items that weren’t a hit with their devoted fans. If one design isn’t doing the job, try something else until you find what works best for your target audience.
Also, it doesn’t matter whether or not you have any design experience. As long as you have some ideas, you can hire a designer to bring your visions to life.
Decide How To Print Your Shirts
Once you have your designs, it’s time to think about how you’re going to bring the design from your computer or tablet screen to the front of a t-shirt. In other words, you need to decide how to print your shirts.
First, you’ll need to determine the method you’ll use to print your shirts. Screen printing is one option; it is a tried-and-true method that allows you to add long-lasting graphics to t-shirts. Screen printing is best for creating large batches of shirts since the initial setup is so time-consuming. Printing smaller batches is not cost-efficient with this method.
Another thing to note is that screen printing is best for very simple designs. Complex designs or multiple colors in one design can be problematic. If you have a more complicated design or pattern, consider direct-to-garment printing.
Direct-to-garment printing works similar to your color printer at home or at the office. The DTG printer prints directly on the t-shirt. With this method, you can use multiple colors and print complicated designs and patterns. Shirts printed with a DTG printer can be extremely detailed.
Setting up a DTG printer isn’t difficult or time-consuming. However, the actual printing process does take some time, so this method is best for smaller batches of t-shirts.
Another option to consider for printing your t-shirts is using a heat transfer machine. These machines transfer designs from heat transfer paper to the t-shirt. Full-color images can be printed using the heat transfer method, and you can easily print shirts on-demand. However, the quality is often lower and the design far less durable than using the other printing methods.
Regardless of which method you choose, there are two ways you can go about printing your shirts. You can use a third-party printing service or you can purchase the equipment and do it yourself. Let’s review the benefits and drawbacks of each.
Hiring A Third-Party Printer
Many t-shirt businesses do not do the printing themselves. Instead, these businesses hire a third-party service to handle the printing for them. There are a few benefits to hiring a third party to print your shirts. The first is that you won’t have to make an upfront investment in expensive printing equipment. You also won’t have to learn how to use the equipment or spend time running it.
However, there are some drawbacks to using a third party. You’ll have to shop around to find a printing company that provides high-quality workmanship. You don’t want your customers receiving t-shirts with graphics that fade or crack or that fall apart after the first wash. Many companies offer low-cost samples so you can check the quality before placing a larger order.
You also need to shop around and compare the pricing of different t-shirt printing companies. Some companies only fill bulk orders, which could put you at a disadvantage if you want smaller batches.
If you plan to only sell your designs online, you can work with an on-demand dropshipper. Once an order is placed on your website, the dropshipper will print and ship out the order to your customer. Before choosing a dropshipper, it’s necessary to place your own order to check out the quality of the shirts. You also need to evaluate pricing to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. The major disadvantage to using a dropshipper is that if an order is wrong, slow to ship, or not printed correctly, the blame will fall on your shoulders, even if you don’t have control over any of these issues.
Purchasing Your Own Equipment
The alternative is to purchase equipment and print your own t-shirts. The advantage of this is that you have total control over both the quality and the number of shirts that are printed.
The major drawback, of course, is that t-shirt printing equipment is very expensive. Expect to spend at least a few hundred dollars for a heat transfer machine. If you want a DTG printer, expect to pay tens of thousands of dollars. You will have to pay for ink and maintenance of your machine. In some instances, you may be able to lease equipment to save on upfront costs.
You also have to take the time to learn how to properly use the equipment or train someone else to take on the job.
Decide How To Sell Your Shirts
Now that you’re closer to getting your shirts designed and printed, it’s time to decide how you plan to sell your items. You can set up an online shop, open your own brick-and-mortar store, or bring your designs to local stores in your area. You may also maximize profits by combining these selling tactics.
One of the easiest sales methods is to open an online shop. Customers can browse your designs and make their purchases directly online. You can ship out the orders yourself, or you can work with a dropshipper to make t-shirts on-demand when an order is placed. This option has low startup and overhead costs.
You can also open your own brick-and-mortar store. While you’ll be able to reach customers in your local area, this option has much higher startup and operating costs. Expenses may include rent for your commercial property, utilities, fees for business licenses and permits, and equipment. You’ll also have to purchase inventory to keep in stock. If you go this route, make sure to consider your local area. For example, if you live in a remote area, you may not have a large customer base. However, if you live in a thriving city or popular tourist destination, opening your own brick-and-mortar store may be a profitable venture.
The third option is to print out smaller batches of your t-shirts and network with local boutique and business owners in your area. With this method, you won’t have to pay for your own commercial space, but you will have to give the business owner a cut of your profits.
To determine what is right for your business, keep a few things in mind. Is this going to be your full-time job, or are you just trying to make a little extra money on the side? If you don’t plan on devoting yourself full time to your t-shirt business, stick to an online shop or sell your t-shirts through other businesses and boutiques.
Calculate Startup Costs
Once you have an idea of the direction you want your t-shirt business to take, you can start thinking about startup costs. The route you’ve chosen with your business will determine how much your startup costs will be.
If you plan to open a brick-and-mortar business, you’ll have expenses including a rent or lease payment, equipment and furnishings, utilities, a point-of-sale system, and inventory. Unless you plan to do all of the work yourself, you also have to hire employees. If your business will be based solely online, your costs will be much lower — think shipping costs, plus the price of a website, software, and ecommerce platform subscription fees.
Startup costs vary significantly based on the goals of your business. You can start big with a brick-and-mortar shop and may pay tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of dollars to launch your business. Start a smaller online shop, and you can get started for as little as a few hundred dollars to launch your website and register your business.
Register Your Business
You’ve started laying the groundwork for your t-shirt business, and now it’s time to make everything legal. The first step is to determine what type of business structure you will form. The business structure you select will determine how much you pay in taxes, as well as whether or not you will be personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business.
Sole proprietorships have one owner. These are the fastest and most inexpensive business entities to form and do not require registering with the state. The drawback is that sole proprietorships are not separate legal entities, so you will be personally responsible for the liabilities of the business. It may also be difficult to obtain a loan or raise capital as a sole proprietor.
A partnership has two or more owners. A general partnership is the simplest form and does not require registration. General partners will be held liable for the debts, obligations, and liabilities of the business.
You may also consider starting a limited partnership, which has a general partner and limited partners. Limited partners are not responsible for the liabilities of the business.
Finally, you may choose a limited liability partnership, where all partners are limited partners and are not responsible for the liabilities of the business.
A corporation is the most complex business structure. As a corporation, you will pay taxes at the corporate rate. Shareholders also pay taxes on dividends, resulting in double taxation. Corporations have ongoing requirements, such as electing a board of directors and holding annual meetings.
While a corporation is more expensive and complicated to form, this is the best structure if you see a large expansion in your future. As a corporation, you can sell stock to shareholders to raise large amounts of capital.
Limited Liability Company
A limited liability company, or LLC, combines benefits of different business entities. Like a corporation, business owners in an LLC are not personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business. However, LLCs do not have to pay corporate tax rates or face double taxation. LLCs also do not have ongoing requirements like corporations.
The type of business structure you select ultimately depends on the needs of your business and your future plans for growth. If you want to build a clothing brand that’s known around the world, choose a corporation or LLC structure. If you just want a smaller online shop that helps pay your bills, a sole proprietorship may be the way to go.
Once you’ve determined your business structure, you may be required to register with your state. Sole proprietorships and partnerships may file for a DBA (“doing business as”) under a fictitious name known as a trade name.
Depending on the type of t-shirt business you plan to operate, you may be required to obtain business licenses and/or permits from state and local agencies. Fees and requirements vary by state. You can contact local agencies including your City Clerk, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and state Department of Revenue to learn more about the business licenses and permits required for your business.
Finally, you also need to register for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service. This is required if you plan to hire employees now or in the future. Many business lenders may also require an EIN when you apply for funding. If you’re a sole proprietor, you may opt to use your Social Security Number in lieu of an EIN.
Seek Business Funding
“It takes money to make money,” as the old saying goes. As the owner of a t-shirt business, the amount of money you need to start and operate your business will vary according to your business model. If you have a small online shop, for example, your funding needs won’t be as great as if you’re operating a brick-and-mortar store.
Even if you have startup costs covered, there may come a time when you need additional capital for emergencies or operating expenses. If you can’t fund these costs out-of-pocket, it’s time to apply for small business funding. Whether you turn to someone you know or apply with an online lender, there are several financing options available for your business.
Friends & Family
Know a friend, family member, or colleague looking to invest in a new business? Pitch them your business idea. Prepare your presentation carefully to let them know why your idea is a winner. In general, you have two options for getting funded by someone you know. The first is to take out a loan. Your friend or family member provides you with a set sum of money that is repaid over a period of time — along with interest. This is known as debt financing.
The next option is a strategy known as equity financing. With equity financing, an investor provides you with the capital you need to cover startup costs or operational expenses. In exchange, the investor receives ownership in your business. While you may not be required to immediately pay back the investor’s capital, they will be able to take a portion of the profits over time. They may also have some level of control when it comes to important business decisions.
No matter which route you take, always make sure everything is in writing and signed by all parties. Then, uphold your end of the bargain. Nothing can make a good relationship go south faster than a business deal gone wrong.
Small Business Loans
With a small business loan, you can receive a lump sum of money that you repay over time. In addition to repaying your principal loan balance, you’ll also pay the lender interest and/or fees. You’ll make regular payments to the lender, which may be daily, weekly, monthly, or on another schedule.
Small business loans can be used for any business purpose, including funding an expansion, purchasing equipment for your business, or for use as working capital.
Recommended Option: LoanBuilder
You can fully customize your small business loan when you work with LoanBuilder. The LoanBuilder Configurator allows you to adjust your repayment terms and borrowing amount to create the right loan for your business.
Through LoanBuilder, you may be eligible to borrow up to $500,000. All loans come with one single fixed fee of 2.9% to 18.72% of the borrowing amount. Your fee is determined by the performance of your business and your credit history. Loans are repaid weekly over terms of 13 to 52 weeks.
To qualify for a LoanBuilder loan, you must meet the following requirements:
- Time in business of at least 9 months
- At least $42,000 in annual revenue
- Personal credit score of 550 or above
As you build your t-shirt business, you’ll establish relationships with vendors and suppliers. In an ideal world, you’d always have money in your bank account to cover the costs of your inventory and supplies. However, this isn’t always the case. An emergency expense that depleted your account, a seasonal uptick in sales, or some other challenge may leave you struggling to pay your vendors upfront.
Many vendors do not offer their own credit programs, but there are lenders that offer vendor financing. With vendor financing, your vendors will be paid the full amount for their products or services while you’re able to pay off the expense over time. This prevents you from having to pay the full cost out-of-pocket for the inventory, supplies, and services you need to keep your business running smoothly.
Recommended Option: Behalf
Behalf provides vendor financing of up to $50,000 to qualified borrowers. You can repay your loan on a weekly or monthly schedule for up to 6 months.
Behalf charges a monthly fee for its service. Fees start at 1% and are based on the creditworthiness of the borrower. There are no additional fees to receive financing through Behalf.
There are no minimum credit scores, annual revenues, or time in business requirements, although a soft inquiry will be performed when you apply. You must have a U.S.-based business and a U.S. business bank account to qualify. Funds from Behalf can’t be used to fund existing debt, such as credit card bills or payroll.
Lines Of Credit
A line of credit is a flexible financing option that allows you to access capital on demand. Instead of receiving one lump sum, a lender sets a credit limit. You can initiate multiple draws up to and including this credit limit. Once a draw is initiated, the lender will transfer the funds to your business bank account. Then, you will repay the money over time, along with any fees and/or interest charged by the lender.
Since a line of credit is a revolving form of credit, funds will be replenished as you pay off your balance. This allows you to have continuous access to capital when it’s needed. A line of credit can be used for any business purpose, including funding emergency expenses, purchasing inventory, or using as working capital.
Recommended Option: Lendio
Lendio is a loan aggregator that gives you access to over 75 small business lenders with just one application. One of the financing options available through Lendio is a business line of credit.
Through Lendio, you may qualify for a line of credit from $1,000 to $500,000. Rates range from 8% to 24%. You could receive funds in as little as one week after you submit your application.
To qualify for a line of credit, you must meet these requirements:
- Time in business of at least 6 months
- At least $50,000 in annual revenue
- Personal credit score of 560 or above
If a line of credit isn’t what you’re looking for, Lendio offers additional financing options, including:
- Short-Term Loans
- Equipment Financing
- Business Credit Cards
- Commercial Mortgages
- Merchant Cash Advances
- Startup Loans
If you need working capital and you use a service like PayPal to receive your payments, you may qualify for merchant financing.
Merchant financing is a short-term loan option for ecommerce businesses. Typically, qualifying is based on the performance of your business. The lender will provide you with a loan that is repaid over time with interest and/or fees.
Funds can be used for nearly any business purpose, from covering an emergency expense to buying more inventory or using as working capital.
Recommended Option: PayPal Working Capital
If you accept payments through PayPal, you may qualify for the PayPal Working Capital program. Through this program, you can receive up to 35% of your annual PayPal sales as a loan. Your first loan can be up to $125,000.
PayPal Working Capital charges one set fee based on your sales history, the repayment percentage of your choice, and the loan amount. On days when no sales are made, no payments will be deducted. However, you must pay at least 5% to 10% of your total loan amount every 90 days.
To qualify for PayPal Working Capital, you must meet these requirements:
- Have a PayPal Business or Premier account for at least 3 months
- At least $20,000 in annual PayPal sales for Premier accounts or at least $15,000 in annual PayPal sales for Business accounts
- No more than $20 million in annual PayPal sales
Business Credit Cards
Business credit cards work exactly like personal credit cards. The lender provides you with a set credit limit. You can use your card anywhere credit cards are accepted up to and including the credit limit.
The lender charges interest and fees on your balance until it is paid off. You do not have to pay off your balance in order to continue using the card provided you haven’t met your credit limit. A business credit card is a revolving form of credit, so as you pay down your balance, funds become available to use again.
Business credit cards give you on-demand access to capital whenever you need it. You can use business credit cards to pay for an emergency, purchase inventory, or buy equipment. You can also use your credit card to pay for recurring expenses, such as utility bills or software subscription fees.
Recommended Option: American Express SimplyCash Plus
SimplyCash Plus Business Credit Card from American Express
14.49% - 21.49%, Variable
The American Express SimplyCash Plus card puts a new spin on credit cards. This is because this card allows you to spend over your credit limit without any fees. You can also receive cash back on all purchases – even if you’re over your limit.
The amount you can spend over your credit limit is based on your usage of the card, payment history, credit profile, and other factors. If you go over your limit, you simply need to pay the amount over the credit limit each month as part of your minimum payment. There are no fees for exceeding your credit limit.
With the SimplyCash Plus card, you can receive up to 5% cash back on your purchases. Wireless phone services and office supply store purchases yield 5% cash back on the first $50,000 spent each calendar year. You can also choose one category to receive 3% cash back on, such as advertising, shipping, hardware, or software purchases for the first $50,000 spent each calendar year. All other purchases receive 1% cash back.
There is no annual fee associated with this card. You’ll also receive a 0% introductory rate for the first 9 months. After that, variable APRs range from 14.49% to 24.19% and are based on creditworthiness.
To qualify for the American Express SimplyCash Plus card, you must have excellent credit.
Recommended Option: Spark Classic For Business
Spark Classic From Capital One
Don’t have perfect credit? Consider applying for Capital One’s Spark Classic for Business credit card. This rewards card gives you unlimited 1% cash back on all of your business purchases. There is no annual fee, and the card has a variable APR of 25.24%.
Additional benefits of Spark Classic for Business include free employee cards, fraud coverage, and extended warranty protection. This card also allows you to build your business credit so you can qualify for additional financing options in the future.
Applicants must have a fair credit score to qualify for the Spark Classic for Business card.
Choose Business Software
You’re one step closer to launching your business. Now, it’s time to choose the software you need to run your business effectively and efficiently. Some of the business software programs you may need for your t-shirt business include:
Bookkeeping software allows you to keep an eye on the financials of your business. With this software, you can easily track your business expenses, accounts receivable, and payroll. Many bookkeeping programs also allow you to track other aspects of your business, such as inventory.
With bookkeeping software, you’ll always know where your business stands financially. You’ll be able to run and print reports as needed, which may be required when you apply for business financing. Having all transactions reported in bookkeeping software can also help you prevent headaches when tax time rolls around.
No accounting experience? No problem! Check out The Beginner’s Guide to Accounting.
Payment Processing Software
If you plan to accept credit cards or other methods of payment, you will need payment processing software. Your payment processor will act as the communicator between your bank and the bank of your customers, allowing you to process credit cards, debit cards, and other forms of payment.
If you want a more sophisticated way to manage your sales, you’ll need a point-of-sale (POS) system. A POS system not only includes credit card processing, but it also offers additional features including barcode scanning, inventory tracking, printing receipts, and reports and analytics.
Mobile POS systems allow you to use your app or smartphone to accept payments and keep your business running efficiently. There are also more advanced systems that include hardware such as monitors, keyboards, printers, cash drawers, and scanners.
Advertise Your Business
You’re almost to the finish line and ready to open your doors … or your online business. Before you launch, though, it’s time to think about advertising. After all, if no one knows about your t-shirt business, how are you going to make any sales? Don’t wait until after you launch to spread the word about your business — start right now with these advertising tactics.
From middle schoolers to your own grandparents, it seems like everyone is on social media these days. Use this to your advantage to let potential customers know about your t-shirt business.
The great thing about social media is that setting up your profiles is absolutely free. You can also get started in just minutes. Set up pages for your business on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and/or Pinterest. Include critical information about your business on each profile including your contact information, website and/or online shop link, and photos of your t-shirts. Later, you can use your profile to share news about your business and new products, advertise sales, or host giveaways.
You can also look into advertising on social media. You can purchase ads for any budget and customize your target audience to get your name out to potential customers.
Another option to consider is talking to social media influencers. Social media influencers recommend products to thousands of followers, helping companies drum up new business. If an influencer wears your shirt and links to your website, you could see an influx of customers.
Some businesses will send a free sample of their products to social media influencers. While this does mean some out-of-pocket costs for you, the exposure you could receive could be well worth the small expense.
Want to learn how to take your social media marketing to the next level? Learn more in our Guide to Social Media Marketing.
Build Your Website
In addition to your social media profiles, you also need a website to build your web presence. Website builders make it easier than ever for you to create your own professional website. You can also easily build an online shop with today’s modern ecommerce platforms.
When you build your website, make sure that it is designed to appeal to your target audience. Don’t forget to include information on your website such as contact info, details on your products, and clear photos of what your business offers. As you build up your website, you can include additional information and features such as online chat options, FAQs, news and updates, and reviews and testimonials.
Word Of Mouth
Never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth advertising. The trick to this one is simple: provide high-quality products and exceptional customer service. If someone buys one of your t-shirts and is pleased with the quality, they’ll be proud to wear it and tell others about your business. If the shirt was poorly made or customer service was lacking, they’ll also tell others.
Word of mouth advertising is an easy and free way to get the word out about your new business. And don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. If someone gave a great review, share it on social media and your website. Don’t be afraid to ask customers to give their feedback, but don’t be pushy. Also, learn to accept criticism. Not all of your reviews and feedback will be glowing. Instead of taking offense, learn from it. Where is your business lacking? How can you make sure that each customer that purchases your t-shirts is fully satisfied? Never stop trying to improve your business, and always provide the best products and customer service to keep your customers coming back for more.
Owning and operating your own t-shirt business can be fun, exciting, and lucrative, but don’t be fooled … a lot of hard work is necessary to make your business a success. Don’t rush the process. Instead, take the time to plan out your business, create unique designs, and provide high-quality products and service that will draw customers to your business.
Want to learn more about starting your own business? Download our small business guides for the information and tips you need to launch your business venture.