How to start a T-shirt business

Your simple, step-by-step guide to setting up a successful online tee business.

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Thinking of starting your own online T-shirt business? Tees are an essential item in any wardrobe and they can be easily customised. Plus, it's now easier than ever before to peddle your wares online.

We've put together a guide to help you find your place in the market, source quality products and navigate the ins and outs of running an ecommerce venture.

What is a T-shirt business?

A T-shirt business sells custom-designed tees online through an ecommerce store.

There are a few different business models available when selling T-shirts. The main options are:

  • Print on demand. This service outsources the middleman. As soon as your website receives an order, the printing service will print the T-shirt and send it on to the customer. You will still need to design the shirts and market your products using an ecommerce website.
  • Dropshipping. By choosing a pre-designed T-shirt from a supplier and adding them to your store, you don't have to worry about designing tees or posting them out to customers. Your primary focus will be on creating and marketing a successful ecommerce store. Find out more about how dropshipping works in our dropshipping guide.
  • Full cycle. This is one of the most involved types of T-shirt businesses out there. You will need to design, print and market your shirts, as well as set up an ecommerce platform to sell them.

woman printing a shirt

How to start a T-shirt business

Here are the simple steps to get your new business up and running:

  1. Choose your business model. Most online T-shirt businesses use a print-on-demand service (such as Printful) or a dropshipping model because they're simple and affordable to set up.
  2. Choose your business structure. Many T-shirt businesses are run by Sole Traders, but you may also want to consider other ownership structures such as a Partnership or Company. You can find out about the pros and cons of each option further down the page.
  3. Choose your business name. Make sure there are no other businesses with the same name or a similar moniker. Check that the name hasn't already been trademarked or registered as a domain name too – you can check name availability through the Business Registration Service. You'll also need to apply for an Australian Business Number (ABN).
  4. Find your niche. Now it's time to research the market and work out what niche you're going to target. The online T-shirt market is crowded and competitive, so narrowing down to a specific audience will help you stand out from the crowd.
  5. Find a supplier. The next step is to source your product. Consider the quality of the T-shirts, the cost, and the supplier's performance in terms of shipping and customer satisfaction. We also recommend ordering T-shirt samples from multiple suppliers before making your final decision.
  6. Put together a business plan. While you may be keen to push ahead with the practical aspects of setting up your business, it's a good idea to create a business plan first. This will outline your strategies and goals, and help you form a clearer picture of exactly how you'll make a profit.
  7. Create your T-shirt designs. Now it's time to create unique, eye-catching designs that will hopefully sell like hot cakes. You can do this yourself or outsource it to a freelance graphic designer.
  8. Choose an ecommerce platform. Choosing the platform for your online store is a crucial step in setting up your business. Shopify is a popular and easy option, but Wix, BigCommerce and WooCommerce are a few well-known alternatives.
  9. Calculate pricing. When pricing your T-shirts, you need to consider all your costs, including sourcing and marketing products, as well as how much customers are willing to pay. Do plenty of market research to find out what your competitors are charging for similar products.
  10. Build your online store and brand. The next step is to set up your online store. Some print-on-demand T-shirt companies offer apps that can be easily integrated with your online store, while you'll also need to focus on building brand awareness through your logo, website and social media presence.
  11. Consider legal and tax requirements. Before you can launch into the world of ecommerce, you'll need to make sure you comply with all relevant laws and regulations. This can include everything from registering for goods and services tax (GST) to creative privacy and cookie policies for your website, so you may want to seek advice from a business lawyer.
  12. Market your business. The final step is to go live and start selling T-shirts. Online advertising, email marketing and even tapping into your network of personal contacts can all help grow your business and attract more customers.

What do I need to start a T-shirt business?

Certain skills, equipment and resources can help make starting a T-shirt business a whole lot easier. Let's take a closer look at some of the boxes you'll need to tick to boost your chances of success.

Skills and knowledge

No matter what type of business model you go for, whether it be Sole Trader, Partnership or Company, all three require a well-structured website to sell your products. If you have the right skills, you can build your website yourself. Alternatively, you can hire someone to do it for you.

The T-shirt printing industry is huge, so helping your shirts stand out from the crowd is a major challenge. Do some market research to find out what's already out there, what's popular and what's not, and identify your target audience.

Once you have your website up and running, you'll need to be able to deal with the back end of the business. This includes managing your finances, deciding how to market and promote your business, and being able to maintain clear communication with suppliers and customers.

Courses and qualifications

One of the advantages of opening a T-shirt business online is that you don't necessarily need any qualifications. But if you're worried about opening a business without any former knowledge, you can enrol in an online course that will teach you the basics.

Udemy lists a wide range of T-shirt business courses that show you how to set up your business and how to market it to ensure steady traffic to your website. Major ecommerce platforms like Shopify and Etsy also offer plenty of educational materials to guide you through setting up your store and reaching your target audience.

Of course, if you want to design the T-shirts you sell yourself, it's always good to have a background in illustration, graphic design or another creative niche. Doing so will give you the skills and expertise to create eye-catching designs that appeal to your audience and that can't be found elsewhere on the Internet. If you're not a designer, you can hire a freelancer on a platform like Upwork or Fiverr.

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    Equipment and software

    Ecommerce stores take care of most of their business online, so you won't need to worry about investing in expensive equipment. Where you will need to spend money is in creative software, web hosting and other helpful platforms.

    To set up your online store, you'll need some or all of the following:

    • An ecommerce platform (such as Shopify or WooCommerce)
    • Web host
    • Adobe Photoshop or other graphic design software to create T-shirt designs
    • Email campaign software (such as Constant Contact or HubSpot) to help market your T-shirt business
    • Dropshipping software (such as Oberlo) to manage orders and deliveries
    • Accounting software to manage your finances and keep tax records

    If you choose a dropshipping or print-on-demand business model, you won't need a warehouse or large amount of storage space to hold all your inventory. However, you will need some basic home office equipment, including:

    How to structure your T-shirt business

    Choosing the right business structure is critical as it determines who will make vital decisions in your business and how you'll pay tax. While your business is in its infancy, you'll typically benefit the most from a Sole Trader or Partnership structure.

    However, be aware that there are a few different ways you can set up your T-shirt business. The right option for you could vary depending on factors like the size of your business and how much money you're investing.

    A breakdown of business structures:

    Sole Trader

    This is the simplest option and one that many online businesses use. It's easy to set up and it ensures that you're legally responsible for all business operations.

    Partnership

    If you're going into business with a friend or family member, you may want to set up a Partnership. Under a Partnership arrangement, you and one or more other people share business income and debt between yourselves.

    Company

    If you choose to establish a Company, it's treated as a separate legal entity to you and any other founders. However, setting up a Company is a more expensive and complex option, so it's not suitable for everyone.

    You can find out more about structuring your business in our how to start a business in Australia guide.

    Just like any other online business, you'll need to make sure your T-shirt business satisfies all legal requirements. Not only will you need to get to know Australian Consumer Law, but you'll also need to create a few important legal documents and policies.

    Here are a few helpful documents to consider:

    • Website Terms and Conditions. Including a Terms and Conditions page on your ecommerce website sets out the rules for people using your website. It explains what someone can and can't use your site for and limits your liability.
    • Click-Wrap Agreement. A Click-Wrap Agreement allows you to obtain a user's consent to the Terms and Conditions of your website.
    • Privacy Policy. Australian law states that you must include a Privacy Policy on your website if it collects personal data from its customers. This covers everything from first names to credit card details.
    • Shipping Policy. Keep your customers in the know with a detailed Shipping Policy that outlines delivery costs, methods and estimated times.
    • Cookie Policy. Under the Privacy Act, a Cookie Policy is a requirement for many website owners. It's used to inform users about cookies on your website that collect personal information.

    You can seek legal advice to help you put these together or use online legal templates.

    You'll also need to consider your tax obligations. If you're a Sole Trader, you can use your individual tax file number (TFN), but Partnerships, Trusts and Companies will require a new TFN.

    If your business has a turnover of $75,000 or more, you'll also need to register for goods and services tax (GST). Also, if you can run an efficient record-keeping system, you'll find it a lot easier to meet all your reporting obligations at tax time.

    Name Product What's offered? Starting price to become a member Annual Fee from Free legal documents available?
    Lawpath
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    $79 per month
    Essentials: $288, legal advice: $828
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    Choose an annual plan from just $288 and get unlimited revisions to your legal or business documents. Plus, unlock exclusive partner offers.
    LawDepot
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    $4.99 per month
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    Customise and download legal documents in as little as five minutes. Plus, LawDepot offers peace of mind with two service guarantees.
    Legal123
    Legal documents and templates, Legal guides
    Varies per template
    N/A
    No
    Legal123 offers a range of individual templates or document packages for consultants, app developers, personal trainers and more.
    LegalVision
    Legal documents and templates, Legal guides, Legal advice
    $49 + GST per week
    $2,548 + GST
    No
    Your business can take advantage of unlimited lawyer consultations, fast turnaround times and free legal templates with LegalVision.
    Law Central
    Legal documents and templates, Legal guides
    Free for the Silver membership
    Gold: $99
    You can view samples and create your own document for free with the Silver membership.
    Law Central offers a large number of legal templates for super, trusts, estate planning, employment and commercial uses.
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    How to find customers

    With a T-shirt business, it's essential to have a target market in mind. These will be the people that will buy your product, and finding a niche market will affect how you choose to market your T-shirt business and its products.

    For example, is your target audience likely to use Facebook or Instagram? If they are, then paid advertising on these platforms could be beneficial. If not, you may want to look at targeted email campaigns and other online advertising options.

    Another way to expand your audience is by taking advantage of different selling platforms. As well as your own ecommerce store, you might want to consider utilising eBay, Etsy or launching a Facebook store.

    Search engine optimisation (SEO) is also crucial. Through the use of popular keywords and common search terms, you can boost the search engine visibility of your online store.

    How to calculate pricing

    Figuring out how much to charge your customers depends on the quality of the product that you're selling. Firstly, you'll need to budget your expenses. You can do this by looking at your overheads, including the cost of the T-shirt itself and your website costs. This will give you a general idea of how much you need to charge to cover your expenses.

    Secondly, you'll need to research the market to check the prices of other stores. Selling T-shirts online is a competitive business, so you'll need to find a price point that will still make your business profitable while still representing good value for money to customers.

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    Frequently asked questions

    How do I choose a T-shirt supplier?

    There are several factors to consider when sourcing T-shirts for your business. Price and delivery speed are obviously important, but so too is the quality of the shirts. Consider factors like sizing, durability, material and fit. Look for reviews and recommendations from other customers, and order samples from multiple suppliers before making your final decision.

    Is an online T-shirt business profitable?

    There's no guarantee that any online business will be a profitable venture. While there's always going to be market demand for tees, the custom T-shirt industry is a very competitive space.

    However, a strong marketing plan can help your business stand out from the crowd. T-shirt businesses tend to rely on large numbers of orders as profit margins aren't huge. This means you'll need to attract lots of traffic to your website in order to be successful.

    How can I start a T-shirt business with no money?

    Starting a T-shirt business doesn't require a huge amount of capital investment, especially if you choose dropshipping. To start a dropshipping business, you'll simply need to set up an ecommerce website and spend time marketing your products.

    How do I start a print-on-demand T-shirt business?

    To start a print-on-demand T-shirt business, you'll need to have a series of shirt designs ready and a viable website to sell them through. You'll also need to choose a printing provider who will print your T-shirts and ship them to your customers.

    Can I design my own T-shirts?

    Yes, if you're a creative type and you have the necessary software, you can start creating your own T-shirt designs. There are also many online templates you can use to get started. If you need help with this part of the process, you may want to hire a graphic designer.

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