How to Start a T-Shirt Business

Written by Dave Lavinsky

start a t-shirt business and online store


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Starting a t-shirt business can be a fun and profitable way to make money. However, it’s important to have a well thought out plan before you get started. This guide will walk you through the steps necessary to start your own t-shirt business.

Importantly, a critical step in starting an t-shirt business is to complete your business plan. To help you out, you should download Growthink’s Ultimate T-Shirt Business Plan Template here.

Start Your Own T-Shirt Business

Follow these steps to launch your own t-shirt business.

1. Make a T-Shirt Business Plan

A t-shirt business plan is a detailed outline of how your business will work. It is a document that you will use to help with everything from choosing a t-shirt business name, to making your own t-shirt designs, and determining how much money you need to get started.

To enhance your planning process, incorporating insights from a sample t-shirt business plan can be beneficial. This can provide you with a clearer perspective on industry standards and effective strategies, helping to solidify your own business approach.

2. Decide On Your Business Model

There are many business models to choose from, including using wholesalers, drop shippers, and/or running your own ecommerce t-shirt website. Wholesalers are businesses that will sell your t-shirts to other retailers for resale to consumers. Drop shippers are businesses that don’t have any t-shirts in stock, but instead sell t-shirts online through a catalog. An online t-shirt business sells its products through its website.

3. Choose The Best T-Shirt Printing Method For Your Business

There are different t-shirt printing options available including silk-screening, screen printing, sublimation, and heat transfer. The printing method that’s right for your business depends on how you plan to sell your t-shirts and how often you will be selling them. 

For example, if you are selling t-shirts through an ecommerce platform, then heat transfers are most likely the best choice since they are easy to use in an ecommerce environment. However, if you’re going to be selling t-shirts at a brick-and-mortar store, then silk-screening, screen printing, or sublimation might be better options because they produce more vibrant colors.

4. Design Your T-Shirts

Your t-shirt designs can make or break your business. It is important to choose t-shirt designs that appeal to the people who will be buying them. Find out what colors and styles your target audience like, and make sure your own t-shirt designs align with their preferences. You should also research fashion trends in order to stay ahead of upcoming trends and take advantage of them when they happen.

5. Find Funding

Once you have finished your business plan, business model, and preferred printing methods, it is time to find funding for your t-shirt printing business. Your funding can come from investors, business loans, credit cards, personal savings or small business grants. Grants are less common but may be available in your region.

6. Register Your T-Shirt Business

Your t-shirt business must be registered with your local government before you begin your business operations. Registration will ensure that you are complying with laws and protecting yourself from lawsuits. Research business regulations in advance and register your business accordingly.

Finish Your Business Plan Today!

If you’d like to quickly and easily complete your business plan, download Growthink’s Ultimate T-Shirt Business Plan Template and complete your plan and financial model in hours.

7. Market Your Business

It’s important to choose marketing tactics that suit your t-shirt business and your t-shirt business designs. There are many t-shirt digital marketing techniques out there, including networking, blogging, social media accounts, and search engine optimization (SEO). Your business should have a great marketing plan to help bring in new customers. Try blogging to help get your t-shirt business noticed. This will also help you sell t-shirts online.

8. Sell Your T-Shirts

There are many different selling options for t-shirt businesses, including brick-and-mortar stores, wholesale, home parties, physical t-shirt catalogs, and ecommerce platforms. Whichever selling method you choose for your t-shirt business, remember that it’s best to have a solid base of repeat customers in order to keep your business running smoothly.

9. Keep Up With New Trends and Technology

It is important that you keep up with what is new in the world of t-shirt businesses. This will help your business stay relevant and help you create and sell shirts that other customers want. In today’s fast-changing world, it is important to make sure your t-shirt business stays on the cutting edge of t-shirt technology – from design software to printing methods.

When your business becomes successful, don’t stop and pat yourself on the back. Instead, try to figure out how you can be better than ever in order to maximize your profit margins and customer satisfaction.

How Big is the T-Shirt Industry?

The t-shirt business is huge. The worldwide t-shirt business currently has annual sales of $3.96 billion and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.7% over the next decade.

Businesses selling t-shirts have been increasing over the past several years and will only continue to do so. This means if you enter the t-shirt business, there’s a good chance you’ll see success.


What are the Key Segments of the T-Shirt Industry?

The t-shirt business can be segmented into the following categories: unisex, male, female, and kids.


Unisex t-shirts are those where design and color can be suitable for both men and women. For unisex tees, the neckline is round. Unisex t-shirts generally have a regular fit and come in all sizes: XS – XXL


Men’s t-shirts can be segmented as follows: slim fit, regular fit, relaxed fit, big and tall, athletic/muscle fit. For males, the neckline can be crew or V-shaped. The sleeves of male t-shirts may vary from long to short sleeves depending on the product type such as polo shirts or athletic wear. Male tees can be available in a wide range of sizes: XS – XXXL.


There are two different types of female t-shirts: regular fit and maternity fit. For female tees, the neckline can be round or curve-shaped. The sleeve length can vary from short to long sleeves depending on the product type such as polo shirts or athletic wear. Female tees can also come in a variety of sizes: XS-XXXL for regular fit and S – XXL for maternity fit clothing items.


Tees made specifically for children include infants, toddlers, children’s tee, boys’ tee, girls’ tee, and baby gift sets. Depending on whether it is considered a gift item or not, these items can come in different sizes ranging from newborn to youth.

If you’d like to quickly and easily complete your business plan, download Growthink’s Ultimate T-Shirt Business Plan Template and complete your business plan and financial model in hours.

What External Factors Affect the T-Shirt Market?

Since the t-shirt business has been around for a long while, there are numerous factors that have affected it. This includes government policy changes in manufacturing or importation of t-shirts, natural elements such as seasons and weather, industrialization which caused mass production of clothes among other factors.

Manufacturing and Import Policies

Government policies can affect the t-shirt market because it determines how many shirts to import or produce domestically. For instance, if there are government policies that favor the local t-shirt manufacturers over t-shirt importers, then you will not see many products imported into the country instead produced domestically. This is because of reduced competition between importers and manufacturers forcing them to reduce prices significantly to stay competitive with each other.

On the other hand, if there are government policies that favor imports rather than domestic manufacturing or even both, then you will have a lot of competition especially among importers which increases overall volume making it easier for buyers to get what they want at affordable prices. So whenever this happens, you have a thriving t-shirt market in your country.


Since clothing is a major part of our daily lives, you can expect that as we advance and move forward into the future, it will be more industrialized. For example, if there were no industrialization at all, people would not have enough clothes to wear which means selling t-shirts in the market will be difficult. However, this is not the case today because we now live in a highly industrialized society where most manufacturers produce tons of shirts every day putting them up for sale to meet demand. This makes t-shirt prices low especially when they are imported from China or Bangladesh.


Who are the Key Competitors in the T-Shirt Market?

There are a few key competitors in the t-shirt business. Some of the largest t-shirt manufacturers are Gildan, American Apparel, and Hanes. These companies have been in the t-shirt business for many years and have a large market share.


Gildan is known for its premium t-shirts that can be found in many different sizes, colors, and styles. Gildan t-shirts were founded by a couple of brothers who decided to open up a t-shirt manufacturing business out of Canada. Today the company has grown and produces t-shirts all over the world.

The main factor that sets Gildan apart from other t-shirt companies is its use of premium cotton. The cotton is soft and comfortable against your skin allowing you to feel like you’re wearing nothing at all. Selling t-shirts made out of such high-quality material will cost more though; therefore, it’s important that you consider price when choosing the products that you sell on your website.

American Apparel

American Apparel is known for its t-shirt basics—a cut with thicker material, but it doesn’t have any special print designs or anything. You would wear this t-shirt under another shirt because the t-shirt is so thick. A large number of t-shirts sold by American Apparel are white t-shirts.


Hanes is known for its t-shirt basics as well. Hanes t-shirts are typically used as undershirts. They’re made out of soft cotton and fit tightly against your skin. They have t-shirts in many different sizes, colors, and styles which you could mix and match to create an interesting t-shirt store.

The t-shirts that Hanes offers range from t-shirts with a cotton/polyester blend, all the way to t-shirts made of 100% cotton. The price will vary depending on the type of t-shirt material you choose to sell.


What are the Key Customer Segments in the T-Shirt Market?

When starting a t-shirt business, you have to know who your t-shirts are going to be marketed towards. While t-shirts are used by almost everyone at one point or another, t-shirt business owners should know that not every t-shirt is suitable for every customer.

The t-shirt market can best be broken down into three distinct segments:

Youth & Teen Clothing Industry

This industry incorporates those between the ages of 12 and 24. Youth prefer t-shirts with graphic print designs and fads to show off their personality and style. Their favorite motifs include pop culture icons as well as brand names and logos from the latest craze. The youth t-shirt business is the most profitable segment.

Adult Clothing Market

Adults generally prefer t-shirts that reflect their personal interests, including favorite sports teams and artists. Adult t-shirts are available for both men and women in a wide variety of colors, styles, weights, fabrics, necklines, and lengths. While t-shirts aren’t as popular with adults as they are with teens, t-shirt sales account for approximately 40 percent of the overall dress t-shirt market.

Employee & Corporate Wear Market

Companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on printed or brand t-shirts to allow employees to show off pride in their work or boost morale during events like company picnics or holiday parties. While t-shirts are largely used as a promotional tool for businesses, sales only account for three percent of the industry’s overall revenue.

Finish Your Business Plan Today!

If you’d like to quickly and easily complete your business plan, download Growthink’s Ultimate T-shirt Business Plan Template and complete your plan and financial model in hours.

What are the Typical Startup Costs for a New T-Shirt Business?

When starting a t-shirt business, there are a few things you’ll need to invest in. In addition to the cost of shirts and printing, you’ll need to factor in the cost of marketing, website development, and more. You should also have some money saved up for unexpected costs. Here’s a breakdown of some of the typical startup costs for a startup t-shirt store:
Inventory: You’ll need to purchase shirts in bulk, so your startup costs will be relatively high.

Marketing and Advertising: You’ll need to invest in digital marketing and advertising to get the word out about your t-shirt business.

Website: A professional website can be expensive, but it’s essential for any successful t-shirt business.

Printing Equipment: You’ll need a t-shirt printer or other equipment depending on your chosen method to produce the shirts you sell.

Office/Manufacturing Location: You’ll need a space in which to conduct your business operations.

There are many other costs you may incur when starting a t-shirt business, so make sure you do your research before diving in.

Is Owning a T-Shirt Business Profitable?

Yes, owning a t-shirt business is extremely profitable. To improve the success and profitability of your t-shirt business, make sure you keep the following tips in mind:

  • Follow Trends: You can find out what’s popular by checking out best-selling shirts on sites like Amazon and eBay. Once you identify a trend, try to come up with a shirt design that incorporates it. While following trends can be risky, if you get it right, your sales could skyrocket.
  • Market Your T-Shirts: You can reach potential customers by setting up a website, maintaining social media profiles, taking out ads on Facebook and Google, and more.
  • Invest in Quality Shirts: Shirts that are made with high-quality fabric will last longer than those with cheaper material. It’s also important to make sure your shirts are high-quality if you plan to sell them online.

    What are the Keys to Launching a T-Shirt Business?

    Starting a t-shirt business is a lot of work. It requires a great product, appealing t-shirt designs, and high-quality t-shirts. However, there’s more to it than that! To ensure the t-shirt business’ success, make sure you know how to start a t-shirt business by keeping these keys in mind:

    Business Plan

    First and foremost, you need to have a great t-shirt business plan. This document will outline your business goals, strategies, and how you plan on achieving them. Without a solid plan, it will be very difficult to make your t-shirt business successful.

    Legal Documentation

    In any business, you will need a business license, permit, or other legal documentation that allows you to do business in your area. You also need to get the proper insurance that covers your shirt inventory and printing equipment (if applicable).


    Another legal requirement for t-shirt businesses is insurance. If your shirts are damaged or lost while in the possession of a customer, you will be liable for those losses and need business insurance to cover them. You will also have insurance to cover any lawsuits you may be sued for in connection with the shirts that you will sell. If your business involves printing, you will also likely need business liability insurance. This type of insurance provides protection against claims that may arise from someone being injured by one of your products.

    Supplies & Inventory

    You’ll need t-shirts (obviously), but depending on how you plan on selling them, you may also need packaging supplies, display stands, and clothing racks. This is just another reason why having a great t-shirt business plan is vital—it will tell you what supplies are needed before launching your business.

    Shipping Materials

    If you plan on shipping your products, you will need shipping boxes and packaging materials. It’s important to pack shirts in shipping boxes when sending them to different places. T-shirt packages are heavy in bulk, so be sure to protect your shirts in transit by wrapping them with packaging material before they go in the shipping box.

    Online Presence

    Don’t forget to create a business website and social media pages. Selling t-shirts online will help potential customers learn more about your t-shirt business before making a decision to buy from you or not. 

    Social media is another way to reach customers. For example, Facebook allows anyone to set up a page for their company, product, or service for free, so if your t-shirt business doesn’t have its own Facebook fan page yet, create one.

    You can also use Pinterest as a visual billboard for your t-shirt line by creating boards that showcase the styles and sayings you offer.

    Customer Service & Outreach

    Once your shirts are in stock, you’ll need to promote your business so that customers will know about it. Your t-shirt business plan should outline how you plan on reaching potential customers and turning them into loyal fans.


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    How to Start a T-Shirt Business FAQs

    A t-shirt business can be profitable, but it will take some work.

    It can be hard to make a t-shirt business into a profitable business, but there are several things you can do to increase your chances of success.

    You should always try to push yourself out of your comfort zone and use all the resources available to t-shirt designers.

    It is important that t-shirts are manufactured to a high standard. To succeed in the industry you have to consider the following when choosing t-shirts for printing:

    • Material - This is the main fabric that creates t-shirts and will determine whether you can wash and dry them without them shrinking. Cotton t-shirts are well known for their durability and versatility.
    • Stitching - Bad stitching will lead to t-shirts with loose stitches that can wear holes in them or break after a few washes. Get t-shirts with taped seams to avoid this problem.
    • Labeling - Unlike most other clothing items, t-shirts don't usually have labels actually stitched into the side seam. If the t-shirt has a label printed onto the fabric, make sure it's securely sewn onto the shirt - otherwise, it could peel off after a few washes.
    • Color - T-shirts come in different colors that vary in their ability to hide stains and last through the laundry. White shirts get dirty easily, while other t-shirt colors like black and navy blue stay looking good longer.
    • Fit - Your t-shirts should be comfortable and not too tight or too baggy; find the right fit for your target customers.

    You can get t-shirts printed using many different printing methods, but the costs of these methods vary greatly. If you're just starting out in your t-shirt business, it's best to stick with direct screen printing or digital printing because they cost significantly less than other types of t-shirt printing, like embroidery or transfers. These lower-cost options make it easier for you to make a profit especially when you sell custom t-shirts.

    If you're using someone else's copyrighted work for your t-shirt business without permission, you could be liable for copyright infringement. If your t-shirt designs are based on someone else's copyrighted work, you'll need to get written consent from the copyright owner before you can sell them.

    To protect yourself legally, use only designs based on original works that you've created or for which you have permission to use. You can also seek out t-shirt design contests where the designers retain all rights to their work, allowing you to reproduce it as a t-shirt design.

    There are a few different things to consider when looking for the best printer for your t-shirt business. The most important factors are the quality of the prints and how quickly the printer can produce them. Some printers can produce high-quality prints very quickly, while others may be a bit slower but offer better quality. You'll also want to consider the price and whether or not the printer offers any design software that makes it easy to create your designs.

    Most t-shirt printing businesses focus on printing shirts in bulk, rather than one at a time like screen printers. The major benefit to this is that you'll be able to print shirts much more quickly. This will save you money and allow you to grow your business faster. You also won't have the high costs of buying or maintaining an expensive printer, although these can cost more upfront it may end up saving you money over the long run if you're printing shirts for lots of different purposes (promotions, company shirts, etc.).

    If the printer only prints one t-shirt at a time, then transfer paper should be used. This is a special shirt that makes it much easier to place t-shirts on the printer bed. If you just use t-shirts, even if they're blank shirts, then it can be very hard to get the shirt onto the bed of the printer correctly. Using shirt transfer paper makes this process much simpler.

    A t-shirt business prices shirts depending on where they are sold or what brand they are associated with. You can typically find shirts for as little as $5 and as high as $200+ for designer shirts. The t-shirt's base fabric type typically dictates the t-shirt price; for example, many businesses sell shirts from $5 -$10 apiece because they're made with polyester, rayon, or cotton fabrics. 

    Other factors include the shirts' color, print, and type of print process – screen printing or digital printing – also matter in determining what a t-shirt's final selling price might be.

    There are a few different places you can buy wholesale shirts for your t-shirt company. You can find t-shirts at wholesale prices on websites like Alibaba, or you can buy them from suppliers in your local area. Be sure to compare prices and quality before making a purchase, and always ask for a sample t-shirt to ensure that you're happy with the quality of the product.

    One great way to promote your t-shirt business online is by setting up a website for your business. Your website can be your online t-shirt store. This will give customers a place to learn more about your t-shirts, see your designs, and place orders. 

    You can also use social media marketing on platforms like Facebook and Twitter to promote your t-shirts, and you can even post photos of people wearing your t-shirts on Instagram. Use hashtags to make it easier for people to find your business online. You can also take advantage of online marketing tools like Google AdWords to reach more people.

    You'll want to use fabrics that are high quality and durable. Cotton is a good choice as it is comfortable and breathable. Polyester is another popular fabric choice as it is strong and wrinkle-resistant. Depending on what the shirts are being used for, linen can also be an affordable and breathable alternative to cotton shirts.

    You can download our t-shirt business plan PDF template here. This is a business plan template you can use in PDF format.


    Helpful Videos

    How to Start a T-Shirt Business at Home | Key Things to Know!

    How I Started My T-Shirt Business and What I Wish I Knew If I Had to Start Over

    The Print On Demand Company I Use For My Online T-Shirt Business


    Additional Resources

    Printing United Alliance

    Other Helpful Business Plan Articles & Templates