How to Start a T-Shirt Business

Deciding to start a T-shirt business can feel like an extremely liberating decision. It allows you the freedom of being your own boss, allowing you to have complete control over where your work will take you. On the other hand, it is often a bit daunting in the beginning. It can seem like there is no guide on how to be a successful business owner, leaving you confused and overwhelmed.

If you’ve decided that you want to start a t-shirt business, but you aren’t sure where to start, we’ve got you covered. This article is going to detail the basics of starting a t-shirt business and what you should expect in the beginning.

Solidify Your Business Plan

Before starting your business it’s important to determine your long-term goals. You need to determine what kind of t-shirt you’re hoping to sell, as this will impact many of your future steps. For example, are you looking to create t-shirts for athletic wear? If so, this will impact your design and where your product will be stocked. For instance, athletic shirts should be designed with exercise in mind, so you’d probably use Lycra or polyester to wick away sweat. As for where athletic wear would be stocked, it’s more likely to be successful in a sports store rather than a store that sells formal wear. These are factors you’ll want to keep in mind as you find your niche in the t-shirt business.

You’ll also want to ask yourself where you would like to see your merchandise sold. Would you prefer to stick with a few small boutiques, or would you like to see your products lining the shelves of a major retailer?

Solidifying your business plan and long-term goals will help you to answer these questions. A great place to start is often the marketplaces where you can directly sell the products you create such as Etsy.

Create Designs

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Perhaps the most creatively involved part of starting your t-shirt business will be working on designs. This could be the part of the process that you’re the most excited about. While designing your merchandise does allow you to see your vision come to life, it’s not without hard work.

You’ll need to make decisions about the cut of the t-shirt, as well as color, fit, and any designs that you may want on the garment. When doing this, there are some things you should pay attention to. For example, what is the purpose of your shirt? Fashion or branding?  A design doesn’t end with the actual garment, though.

You’ll also need to make decisions about smaller details such as tags and labels. These minor details pull the t-shirt together and form a cohesive product. You’ll want to put effort into tags, labels, and other small details with the same fervor that you put into designing the garments themselves.

Creating designs for your shirts involves a significant amount of focus testing, to determine what designs are likely to lead to customer purchases. This may mean that the designs that you respond to, do not elicit a positive response in focus testing. You may have to work to find designs that appeal to a wide customer base.

Work Out the Legalities

As with any business, starting a t-shirt company requires working out some legalities. The main decision in finding this out is to decide on the legal structure that your business will have. The legalities around a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) are going to be a little more intensive than selling t-shirts out of your home as a sole proprietor. You also might need a wholesale/resale permit.  

You may decide that your t-shirt business will be a sole proprietorship, a corporation, or a limited liability company. Each of these entities operates in a different way, as the structure of the business is different for each. The best way to take this step is to consult a lawyer and get legal advice on how to proceed.

Once again, the easiest choice when you first get started might be to personally sell independently and grow your business naturally from there.


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Starting a t-shirt business isn’t going to be without financial expense. There are a variety of costs that you need to take into account when starting your business. If you choose to have a physical business location, you’ll need to consider costs such as rent and utilities. If you decide not to go this route, you’ll still incur costs for your web presence and any advertising you decide to do online.

As online shopping has become more popular, more businesses than ever have a presence on the internet. It’s important to have a strong internet presence, either on your own website or one like Etsy, to make it easier for your customers to find your business.

Other financial expenses include costs to create inventory and wages if you decide to bring someone else onto the project.


The endless possibility for growth makes starting a business a joyous occasion. Despite this, there are obstacles to be faced that can make this time a bit stressful as well.

With time and perseverance, you’ll be able to accomplish the steps necessary to get your product in the hands of customers!