How to Start a T-Shirt Design Business


Many creative people wonder about starting a business in the world of fashion. Designing for T-Shirts is one of the more accessible ways to do so. With a portfolio of solid T-Shirt designs, you can start a wholesale or retail business.

Things You'll Need

  • Designs
  • Computer
  • Budget for samples, inventory and sales promotion Materials
  • Business plan

Research the market. Examples are shirts for skateboarders, infants or a specific tourist market. Talk to people in the business and solicit advice as you develop a business plan. Address issues such as whether there will be retail store, an online storefront or a wholesale operation catering to stores in your market niche.

Develop a marketing plan on how you will promote your line of shirts. Create a budget for executing your plan. How do your competitors bring their product to market and promote it? Whether you are planning an online, retail, or wholesale business, become familiar with production, promotion and fixed business costs, and pricing structures for your T-Shirts, with a keen eye toward the bottom line and profitability.

Create T-Shirt designs. You may have some ideas you wish to execute, or you may prefer to hire a designer. Either way, the designs can be executed with traditional art materials or they can be created in illustration programs such as Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, or Draw.

Consider inventory. For the wholesale trade, it is possible to start with samples of your designs and use them as selling tools to retailers. Shirts can be printed as orders come in. For retail or online sales, it will be necessary to start business with an inventory of shirts. It is good to be conservative with initial ordering and budgets; you can always reorder popular designs and you can more easily discontinue slow sellers.

Review your production options. Consider whether to produce your shirts with screen printing or digital imaging, and whether to contract for these services or take the plunge and set up production in house.

Execute your marketing and sales plan. Do not be discouraged by initial lukewarm responses. Promoting T-Shirt designs is an ongoing process that you can learn and fine-tune as you proceed.

Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and take steps to improve your plan and implementation. Create your next batch of designs and begin the process of bringing them to market. Remember to update your business plan as your goals evolve.

Tips & Warnings

  • Whether on inventory, marketing or equipment, do not spend one dollar you don't have to. Most successful selling is done face to face.
  • It typically takes a new business a year or more to reach profitability. Most new businesses close in the first year.

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