So you want to know how to start a tshirt business with no money? Is it even possible to start any sort of business without money these days? After all, there are so many moving parts to a business and they all require some sort of investment, right?
For the most part, making money does require money. However, there are options and starting a tshirt business with no money is most certainly possible.
For obvious reasons we will be starting our new t shirt business online. That immediately eliminates a big expense which is renting a storefront and having to pay staff.
Setting up a brick and mortar store for selling t shirts is ludacris in this day and age. Many aspiring t shirt entrepreneurs look to Nike or Gucci and see how they are selling millions of dollars worth of T shirts.
The reality is that you will probably never be a Nike or a Gucci. The only reason why they can sell a $10 T shirt for $150 is because of the millions they pump into their branding.
While you absolutely can start your t-shirt business with zero money down, having some seed capital will help speed things up – especially when it comes to marketing and getting those all important sales to start flowing.
If we want to start a tee shirt business with zero money then we need a vastly different approach.
We will be leveraging 2 amazing ideas to help us not only start a T-shirt business but also to make it hugely successful.
These 2 ideas are:
1.Print on Demand
1.Print on Demand
Print on demand (POD) allows you to start and run your t shirt business with ZERO inventory. The process is quite simple. With print on demand you connect your online store to a print provider. As you receive orders, the orders are sent straight through to the print provider.
They will then print YOUR customer’s tshirt, and ship it for you.
This allows you to run your tshirt business with very little hassles of keeping inventory. For most stores this is a nightmare. Buying inventory that does not sell can ruin a business.
Not having enough stock of a hit selling t shirt can leave you missing out.
Print on demand solves all these problems. It really is as good as it sounds. There are a number of really good print on demand providers that you can use with complete confidence.
These days you can also choose from a big catalogue of t shirt types. Anything from basic Gildan cotton shirts to sports shirts and tank tops.
Your POD supplier or app will provide you with digital mockups of the T shirts that look incredibly realistic. This gives you “product images” that you can use on your store and in your marketing.
This gives us everything we need to start our store – for free. No need to buy blank shirts, no need to print anything and no need to splash out a lot of money on inventory.
Niche marketing is by far the most effective way to start a t shirt business online. Niche marketing is when you laser target a small segment of a bigger market. For instance, golf is not a niche. Night golf is a niche market. gold moms is a niche market.
Within the broader golf market, night golf will have a very specific group of people who are interested and passionate about it.
Our aim is to create t shirts in niche markets.
The psychology behind buying t shirts is interesting. For most people its about “advertising” who they are and what groups they belong to. People wear t shirts that display things that they love and that they feel passionate about.
These types of t shirts CAN NOT be bought in stores. Big stores have to cater to mass markets.
This is our big advantage.
Because we have no inventory and no real expenses in creating t shirts we can laser target specific niche markets and give people truly unique t shirts that they would LOVE to have.
It is really important to note that we are not really selling t shirts at all. We are selling the message. We are selling the ideas and we are selling what the t shirt represents to someone in a very specific niche.
Before we go any further, it is really important that I highlight something…
What NOT To Do When Starting a T-Shirt Business
I’ve seen this far too many times. It breaks my heart every time I see someone on a Facebook group posting about their t shirts stores “that are just not making money”.
Most of the time, they start a t shirt business and think they are going to be the next Nike. They come up with some cool logo or brand and paste that in different sizes on a few different t shirts. It looks “cool” and they think that everybody else will think the same.
This does not work.
Don’t do it!
Unless your t shirt business is targeting a very specific group of people with t shirts that appeal directly to them you will not stand a change of being successful.
Please read that again and make sure you get it.
You want to target customers that are really passionate about something very specific. These are the types of t shirts people buy online.
The rest, they will buy in a store or from Nike. It will be better quality and much cheaper.
Remember that you are not selling the t shirt. You are selling what the t shirts represent to someone wearing it.
Printing Your Own Shirts
If you want to start a t shirt business and you are thinking about printing your own shirts then I would urge you to reconsider.
It is very hard to compete with big print houses that have incredibly advanced printers that can print hundreds of t shirts in an hour. You simply can not compete with them in terms of quality or price.
You most certainly can source an old printer for cheap and print your own but it will hardly be worth the effort. Being a print house is a very different business model from having a t shirt business.
5 Steps To Start Your Own T Shirt Business (For Free)
1.Pick a Niche Market
We’ve already touched on some key points about niche marketing but lets dig a bit deeper. Niche marketing is all about digging deeper into larger markets and finding smaller segments of people who are passionate about something smaller within that market.
If you target fishing you will have to compete with some major brands that pump millions into marketing and branding.
You just can not compete with that.
You need to start drilling down into that niche. What about ice fishing? Or bass fishing? Or trout fishing?
Each of these are smaller markets and each has vastly different people who do it. Each has its own lingo and its own pain points.
So, how do you pick a niche market for your t shirt business?
Start with your own hobbies and interests. Why? Because you already have an intimate knowledge of what makes people in this niche tick.
You know what they find funny, you know what annoys them and you know what they would likely want to wear on a shirt (because you would probably like to wear it).
You don’t have to stick to niches you are already a part of. There are literally thousands of niches that you can target. Hobbies are always great because it is something that people are passionate about.
A winning niche always has one or more of the following characteristics:
- People are passionate about it – these are usually hobbies. People are proud of their hobbies and love to show it off to the world. They particularly like to show it off to others who are part of that niche. Examples are: wine lovers, chess, archery, parkour, zorbing, quidditch ec.
- People are proud of it – these are usually occupations, life events, and different roles people play in life. Examples are nurses, fire fighters, teachers, army, moms ec.
- People are emotional about it – these are niches where people feel strongly about particular issues or causes. Some examples are LGBTY, second amendment, politics, environmental issues ec.
Never be afraid to be “too targeted” when you first start out. You want to pick a really tight niche because that allows you to speak very directly to a specific market.
The golden rule is this: If you try and appeal to everybody, you appeal to nobody.
“But, I can’t make a million dollars by targeting female quidditch players” I hear you say. True, but that is not the goal. The goal is to get a foothold into a bigger market. Once you become successful in a small segment of the market it is easy to expand.
Never let “too small” be what puts you off a specific niche. As long as you have a bigger vision you will be just fine.
Even if your niche is “too small” what stops you from have 5 small niche t-shirt businesses?
If you get stuck, here’s a huge list of niche markets…
2.Identify What Makes Your Market Tick
In every niche market there are things that make them tick. There are jokes only they will get. Pain Points only they will understand. These are the types of things you want to tap into with your niche t shirt store.
If you are marketing to a niche that you do not know intimately then you need to spend a lot of time learning the lingo and understanding the market.
This will help you come up with ideas for what to put on t shirts.
If you are part of Facebook groups in the niche then you will quickly learn and see what people respond to. Posts that get a lot of likes and shares are usually telltale signs of things that make people tick.
Common phrases and sayings can be used in hundreds of different ways when you start creating t shirt designs.
3.Create 10 to 20 Designs
Doing the initial leg work of coming up with a killer niche idea and having an in-depth understanding of what makes them tick will make the rest of the process so much easier.
To start your online t shirt business using print on demand you will need to come up with your first 10 to 20 designs. These designs are graphic files that you will upload to your print on demand provider that they will eventually print on the t shirts for your customers.
Once you provide them with the designs they will generate the t shirt mockups for you that you can use on your store and in your marketing.
So, how do you come up with your first 10 to 20 designs?
This will depend largely on your niche market and on your own skill sets. If you have designs skills then you will be at an advantage but it is not essential.
Basic text-based designs work incredibly will in the majority of niche markets.
It is the message and what the design stands for that people really buy.
You need to spend at least 2 to 3 days researching ideas that you can put on your t shirts.
Here are some pointers to help you out.
→ Search Facebook Groups:
Start searching Facebook Groups in your niche and find popular posts. These can be anything that has a lot of likes and shares. It can be memes, funny pictures, jokes, videos ec. Pay very close attention to what makes that post popular and think about how you can put that on a t shirt.
→ Search Pinterest:
Similar to the Facebook strategy you can search Pinterest and find the most popular images in your niche. Pinterest has recently removed the pin count on pins so you can’t see what’;s most popular anymore BUT usually the first page of results for any search shows the most popular pins.
→ Search T shirt marketplaces:
Proceed with caution here because you should never copy any designs or phrases directly. The way I use t shirt market places is to find what’s popular across all niches.
Don’t go searching for the most popular shirts in your niche and think you can be successful by replicating it. You need to come up with something unique.
A powerful way to do this is to find something popular in one niche and repurpose it for your own niche. Oftentimes, popular sayings in the culture can be translated to many different niches.
Some of the most popular marketplaces are:
- Snorg Tees
- T-Shirt Hell
- Crazy Dog T Shirts
→ Search Etsy:
Etsy is an incredibly popular marketplace that caters mostly to handmade products. There are many super successful t shirt stores on Etsy. It can be a goldmine for finding winning designs.
One reason I like doing research on Etsy is that you can see what’s popular by looking at the review count of certain products (people can only leave a review if they purchased the item).
I’ll say this now and many more times – don’t copy designs. Use your research on Etsy as inspiration to come up with your own designs. Seeing what designs make sales is a great starting point and Etsy gives you that information.
Once you know what to put in your designs, you need to actually create the design. If you are proficient at graphic design then Photoshop is the software of choice.
If graphics is not your thing, then don’t try and do it. Spending weeks learning photoshop will only leave you feeling frustrated and you will probably quit before you even make any progress.
Try and use something like Canva (free) and focus on simple text based designs.
If you don’t have the energy for that and you have some money to invest, then you can always head over to Fiverr and get the designs done for you. You have to be cautious on Fiverr because there are a lot of really poor “designers” but there are also some really amazing ones.
You can expect to pay $10 to $30 for a good design.
4.Set Up Your Store For Free
Setting up your online store for your t shirt business can be quite complicated but it need not be that way. You have so many options available to you and you can take your pick. I’ll cover a few of the most popular options below.
Spreadshirt is my absolute favourite place to start a t shirt business with no money. They have a huge marketplace where you can sell your designs. On top of that, you can set up your own store on their platform with your own branding and have a lot of control over your storefront.
It is called Speadshop and you can even use your own domain if you want to invest a further $15. They have a really good selection of T shirts that you can put your designs on and you have full control over your prices.
Their profit margins are decent and their mockups are decent. It is not amazing but for a 100% free platform it can not be beaten.
The learning curve is not very steep either. You can learn the entire platform in a matter of a day and have your store up and running in a day or two.
They take care of all the payments, printing, shipping and even customer service. All you have to do is to come up with the designs.
In some niches their marketplace does really well and you can drive sales without any effort. They rank really well in Google search results and if you can come up with designs that can get some Google rankings you can strike gold.
Shopify is definitely a more advanced option but if you are serious about building a business then this is probably the way to go.
Shopify is a platform that allows you to create an online store. It is fairly easy to use but there is a learning curve. They offer a 90-day free trail and after that it is about $30 per month.
You will need to buy a domain name for about $15 and you will also need to get a merchant account to be able to accept payments. You can either do this through Shopify or with Paypal and is quite easy to get set up.
There are many GREAt print on demand apps that plug straight into Shopify and makes running a t shirt business incredibly easy.
I would recommend Printful, Printify or Gooten as they are the most established print on demand players that have a proven track record.
The big challenge with Shopify is that once you set up your store, you need to drive traffic to it. If you already have an audience with a facebook page, an Instagram account or a website then this is a great option.
It is also a great option if you plan on driving traffic with SEO or paid traffic sources like Facebook ads.
Here’s a detailed write up on how you can get a ton of free traffic to your Shopify store >>
Creating a t shirt store on Etsy is another great option. It takes a bit of ninja magic to pull it off but its not that hard.
You can run a print on demand store with Etsy by using Printful. This allows you to take full advantage of Etsy without taking the risks of having to buy inventory. It takes a bit of time to set up but it is totally worth it. You can see the process here >>
Etsy is a huge marketplace and when you open your own store on Etsy your products are instantly exposed to a massive audience. Successful Etsy stores can drive hundreds of sales a month from organic Etsy traffic.
Etsy is not completely free and you will pay $0.50 per listing which is not much but something to be aware of if you plan on listing a lot of t shirt designs.
Etsy also has advertising options that can help you accelerate your success. This is very useful when you first start out. As you build up some sales history on etsy you will also start to rank better in organic searches on etsy.
- Merch By Amazon
Merch by Amazon is Amazon’s print on demand service. Just like every other print on demand platform, you simply upload your designs and Amazon will take care of everything else.
What makes “Merch” different is the fact that Amazon is the biggest marketplace in the world. It really is huge and you can get thousands of sales through Amazon. You don’t need to do any marketing and you are running your t shirt business on something as prominent as Amazon.
There are quite a few catches though with Merch by Amazon.
Firstly, they have an application process. You have to fill out an application and hope to get in. Once you get in, you will only be allowed to create 10 t shirts. As you start making sales you get moved up to higher tiers.
Amazon is also incredibly strict when it comes to copyright and having the wrong words in your designs can get you in hot water quite easily. For some niches this is not a great option.
The profit margins on Merch is low. You can expect to make about $5 profit per shirt but given the size of Amazon’s marketplace worldwide you will make up for it through numbers.
The top merch sellers make $100k plus per year in profit so there is definitely room to grow.
5.Start Making Sales
This is where picking your initial niche becomes really important. If you picked a really targeted niche then marketing becomes much easier.
If people feel like your t shirts are speaking directly to them they will buy it. If your t shirts target broad markets and broad ideas then you will rely on a few people within your broad market to find you.
This can quickly become very expensive (ito ads) and very demoralising when your t shirts are “just not selling”
The beautiful thing about niche markets is that these people always find each other online. Like minded people seek each other out. They hand out in numerous online and offline communities.
Finding these communities, becoming part of it and selling t shirts they will love is how this works. If you are already part of your niche then this becomes a hundred times easier because you are probably already part of these communities.
Advertising allows us to target these communities directly. You can see advertising as a shortcut, but it comes at a cost. With Facebook Ads you can target niche markets very effectively but there definitely is an art to running Facebook Ads profitably.
In the end the only way to make money from your t shirt business is to have eyeballs on your t shirts. You need to have some way to get people to see your t shirts otherwise they can’t buy it.
“Build it and they will come” is not a strategy. You need to have a strategy from Day 1 for how you will get traffic to your online store or where you are selling your t shirts.
If you build your store on Spreadshirt then you can tap into their marketplace to start seeing some sales. This will be quite small unless you really get something to stick on their homepage. You will most likely have to do some of your own marketing as well.
If you are building your store on Shopify then you will have to drive your own traffic.
If you are on Etsy you can leverage their marketplace to drive sales for free or you can speed things up by using their advertising option but that will cost money.
Merch by Amazon can drive a ton of sales for free but getting into Merch can be a challenge in itself. It is also fiercely competitive and most of your designs will not make much money.
Regardless of which platform you choose you will need to have a strategy to get your designs seen by people in your chosen niche. Advertising is a great paid option that is quite fast but it comes with a lot of risk.
SEO can be great, but it is slow. Marketing in facebook groups is great but unless you own the group you have to be cautious.
Social media is amazing for niche marketing. Instagram and Pinterest are 2 great options that you can leverage.
In the end, starting a t-shirt business online requires you to find where people in this niche are hanging out online and then putting your designs in front of them.
It is as simple and as hard as that.
Leveraging All Print on Demand Platforms and Marketplaces
One of the great things about a t-shirt business is that there are so many online platforms you can take advantage of. Once you created a design you own it. This means you can take advantage of ALL the t shirt platforms to sell your design.
You may have started your business Spreadshirt or Etsy but that does not limit you to those platforms.
Replicating your store across many different platforms not only increases your expos\ure but it gives you many more opportunities to make a sale. You most certainly don’t have to go and spam the internet with your niche designs because that is not a smart thing to do either.
Start by putting your designs on:
These are the 3 biggest marketplaces and it will drive the most sales.
Even if you are primarily running your store on Merch by Amazon or Etsy, it is still well worth your time to create listings on those 3 platforms.
Beyond The Humble T Shirt
Now that you know how to start a tshirt business with no money its time to look beyond the t shirt business. You should be thinking of your business as an apparel business instead.
If you are doing niche marketing then you will soon find out that designs that sell well on t shirts also sell well on other apparel items. Hoodies, phone cases, caps, bags ec.
In most cases you can just tweak your existing designs and leverage a number of alternative products.
This is a great way to expand your product catalog without too much additional work. Sometimes a design will do very well on a coffee mug but not so much on a t shirt.
Most of the print on demand platforms offer a number of apparel options and it is well worth checking out.