How to start a t-shirt design and supply business.

If you have a passion for fashion and you’re a creative person with an eye for design then starting your own T-shirt business could be for you. With advancements in technology making printing and production ever easier, this is a popular business among new entrepreneurs and, although the market is ultra competitive, there is money to be made. This is especially so in the niche clothing market, which tends to be less saturated than the mainstream fashion market.

Why start a T-shirt design and supply business?

T-shirts are worn by almost everyone, so the market is huge. There is also a big demand for T-shirts produced by innovative niche designers as people increasingly look to seek out alternatives to the main high street fashion brands. Aside from individual consumers, there is also the opportunity to supply sports teams, schools and companies with kit, and there is scope for expansion beyond T-shirts – you could also print and supply sweaters, hoodies and sleeveless tops, for example. Finally, advancements in technology and the rise in popularity of direct-to-garment printers has made entering the market easier and more affordable.

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What skills will I need?

You’ll need to be a creative person who is good at graphics design. You will enjoy thinking outside the box and using your imagination to create innovative designs that stand out from the crowd. A general interest in fashion and clothing also helps too, especially if you have some previous knowledge of the clothing and printing industries and/or have trade contacts. Remember, this is an ultra competitive market so you will need to be focused on marketing and branding and if you wish to get your range into shops then you must be a good communicator who passionately believes in your products.

Start-up costs

By using a print-on-demand service such as CafePress it is possible to start this business on a low budget without needing to invest in expensive printing equipment. Over the long-term however the per-unit cost can work out expensive and it can be somewhat limiting to expanding your business. If you want to bring production in-house, however, then remember that professional printing equipment can be costly to purchase and keep running, however costs have decreased in recent years. Other costs include purchasing professional graphics design software, commercial property rent and funding for branding and marketing campaigns. You may also want to set up an online store to enable you to sell products directly to your customers.

What are the keys to success in this business?

Branding is hugely important. You will need to establish a strong coherent brand that makes your t-shirt designs instantly recognisable. It is also important to adapt your designs and constantly keep abreast of the latest fashion trends. Things change very quickly in the world of fashion and what was popular and fashionable three months ago may not be today. It is also important to have a specific target market. Just because t-shirts are worn by almost anyone it is a mistake to think that you can target everyone, so make sure that you have a specific consumer in mind. Finally, keeping an eye on costs is extremely important because the market is so competitive. This is especially the case if you want to less to retailers who will expect to purchase at a very low wholesale price.

Your next steps

Taking a fashion design or graphics design course may be a good starting point, especially if you have little or no experience of it. As with any business, market research is absolutely essential. Spend some time investigating the market and establish a clear strategy for your business. You will need to find your niche and decide whether you will be selling through the internet, distributing your goods via shops or both.