Starting a T-Shirt Business
How to Start a T-Shirt Business For Free – & Make Your First Sales
Starting a t-shirt business used to mean you would have to buy some type of t shirt screen printer or invest in paintbrushes and paint, buy huge bulk inventory orders of shirts in different sizes and store them somewhere with all these huge up front costs you had to pay and you weren’t even guaranteed to sell all your inventory or make your money back.
My mom when my age actually made her living as an artist literally painting t shirts by hand and selling them in local stores, to friends and family, and at art shows. She even had one of her designs featured in a Chicago contemporary art museum exhibit. She also met my dad at an art show. She had her table and he was apparently there to pick up girls, but that is another story that definitely doesn’t fit in this video haha.
This was 30 years ago and she had to buy tons of t shirt and other inventory like bags in advance, and tons of painitng supplies that she would use to paint custom orders, and then she would have to take a guess and risk and paint sizes and designs she thought would sell in advance and then bring them to stores and art shows to sell. Looking back she told me it was always hard to tell if it was profitable due to all the upfront costs involved and something she did because she loved it.
She also owned her own fitness consulting business where she trademarked the term fitness consulting and taught fitness classes and made income from that to support her lifestyle as well.
Having a side hustle when you’re a t-shirt seller seems common because it is difficult to make enough from selling t shirts alone to support your lifestyle unless you’re able to build a strong brand, have a big audience already or hit a really profitable niche that doesn’t have tons of competition yet. Some people are able to do it however, especially when you put in the grind to put out as many designs as you can a day – You can listen to my Her.CEO Entrepreneur podcast episode with Michael Essek who makes a full time living as a t shirt seller.
Today however especially when compared to 30 years ago when my mom was hand-painting and selling tshirts it is easier than ever to start a t shirt business for free with no costs or risks and just make money every time one of your shirts sells.
I’ll explain to you what tools I use to create my designs and what platforms I post them on so they get views and sales.
At my peak I’ve had several $2K plus profit months and currently make a few hundred a month from t shirt sales so I do know what I’m talking about.
This also means I know how competitive the space is especially since it has no cost to get started these days, and how hard you have to hustle to get enough designs up to get to the point where you’re actually making money. It is possible if you’re willing to put in the work and there are a few tricks to help you get there.
You can do this as a hustle and grind where you’re daily putting out designs, and you can also treat it as passive income where you put up a handful of designs and then make the money without touching anything as orders come in.
How to Sell T-Shirts Online
The two platforms I focus my sales efforts on are Amazon mMerch and Etsy. Amazon merch is an amazing platform. To sell there you have to apply for an account by going to amazonmerch.com and filling out a short form. There is usually a waitlist and it can take a few months to get approved. Once you’re approved, all you have to do is create a design that fits their dimensions which is 4500X5400 pixels for a t shirt, and also differs for hoodies and different apparel types.
Then you upload that design to the merch platform and choose the types of apparel you want it to show on. The you create a title and description and hit publish. It takes 24-48 hours for them to review your design and make sure it doesn’t violate any copyright rules or any of their inappropriate or unlawful rules.
They don’t want you making designs about terrible events or violating copyright and you can read their exact rules which they post in your account and publicly online if you want to make sure you’re not violating any of their terms of service. If you do get a violation they email you and take your design down and if you get too many they will terminate your account which I’ve seen happen to others before so it is important to follow the rules.
Once your design is approved and live, you’ll be able to see that design on amazon, and if you did a good job with keyword research and are lucky you’ll be able to search and see your design on the amazon platform. Then once you make a sale, amazon prints the shirt, they ship it to the customer, they handle any customer service and returns and you don’t have to lift a finger.
You’re licensing your design for amazon to use and You get a royalty payout per sale. The royalty payout is around $4 per sale depending on what you set your shirt prices at. They tend to lower this over time as when I started a few years ago the average royalty per sale was $7.
Merch truly fits the “passive income’ definition in the sense all you touch ever is your design upload and amazon does all the heavy lifting and all the work for you, making it an incredible platform for designers’ and t shirt sellers.
Amazon obviously has a huge user base and tons of traffic which is why they are able to drive so many merch sales. This makes it a great platform to post designs on and a great way to get sales and profit selling t shirts. I love merch because You have no upfront costs and you simply get to sit there and rake in profits while amazon does all the work.
The other platform that has a large audience and drives traffic and sales for my designs is etsy. Etsy works a bit differently than merch because not only do you have to upload your designs to etsy, you have to create your own mockups to show people what they look like and you have to choose a t shirt print provider, and you have to handle returns, customer service and the business and shipping side of things.
Best T-Shirt Listing Platforms
You can experiment and list on the following platforms which will help you get sales.
Best Print on Demand Platforms to Use
Print on demand platforms physically print your shirts, and some also help you get sales, here are some of the best:
- Custom Cat
- Amazon Merch
It is still very hands off because you can choose one of the many print on demand providers which include printful, printify, custom cat, spod, and many others that allow you to upload a design to their online platform choose your size and color and then send a one-off design to your customer. Print on demand means you can print any shirt quantity one at a time and send it to customers one at a time, which is what makes selling t shirts online these days so easy with no startup cost.
Merch listings are free, but Etsy you have to pay $.20 per listing and Etsy takes 5% revenue from every sale. You can actually easily make more profit per sale on Etsy because you do take home the majority of the revenue whereas on amazon merch amazon takes the majority of the revenue.
You can actually list on amazon using a print on demand provider directly on amazon not thorugh merch, and then you have to pay amazon 15% per sale and $40 a month to list your designs, or use the free account nad pay them $.99 per sale and 15% per sale. Listing directly on amazon as a seller is tricky and it is hard to rank at first without running ads so I wouldn’t recommend this option to anyone starting out until you start gettingmore traction.
There are many other t shirt licensing platforms you can list on that wrok similarly to amazon merch where all you do is upload a design and then the platform drives traffic and sales and pays you a royalty per sale. Some other popular licensing platofrms incljde teepublic and redbubble and you can search google for more if you’re interested in using them.
I’ve had a handful of sales from redbubble but nothing to write home about and I currently only post new designs on merch and etsy, although I haven’t posted on merch in a while.
How to Create & Post your Designs
Creating and posting your designs is actually pretty easy and I’ll explain the tools I use to do this and how you can do the same.
My mom draws our designs and takes a photo of them and sends them to me. Then I upload the photo into adobe illustrator and use live trace on the image to smooth it out. Then I upload the smoothed out version into photoshop and add color and delete the background of the image.
Then I upload the colored version into a free canva.com account and add free commercial use font text that canva offers. Then I download the canva design and upload it into illustrator for another live trace to smooth it out make it vector quality so it doesn’t look grainy on a t shirt. Canva designs are low resolution so if you use canva to place text on your design you’ll likely need to increase the resolution somehow after you download it.
What I do and explained above is a little complex especially for those of you who may not know how to use photoshop or illustrator or don’t want to pay for an adobe license. Also, you may not know how to draw well and you may not know anyone who can draw you designs for your shirts, but there is still a way to make designs without doing all the steps I take each time.
Here’s what you can do if this sounds like you:
You can actually get a free or paid canva account, create a 4500X5400px design template, and then use their royalty free designs and font to create your design, colors, text and layout, then use their software to remove the background on your image. Then you can download that and upload it directly to amazon merch and boom you’ve got your merch listing up and running. To get it on etsy you upload it to printful.com, use their mockup generator, upload yuour images and listing to etsy, and then hit publish and boom you’ve got your esty listing up and running
There is no need to complicate things when starting out and it really is easy to get design up and published on both amazon merch and etsy with no need to pay for inventory or ongoing costs simply uploading designs and getting paid when they sell.
Comment below if you are thinking about starting a merch or etsy shop? Which do you think sounds better, merch or etsy? I’ll join the discussion below.