Starting, launching and growing a t-shirt brand company can be a very rewarding undertaking. It would take a lot of time, effort and passion but if done right and with perseverance, the brand can become super successful.
One important note about this article is that it is not for someone looking to quickly start a t-shirt brand and make tons of money easily. This is a blueprint for serious entrepreneurs who want to build a solid and lasting brand. It is important to realize that once a solid brand is built, the money will follow.
In this article we will look at the following topics (click on arrow to jump to that section):
- Finding your niche – don’t start something that every one else is doing >>>
- Understanding your market and buyer – critical step >>>
- Finding a story – it is not just about selling t-shirts or hoodies but rather building a community >>>
- Validating your idea – would they sell? >>>
- Creating the brand identity – your brand needs to look the part >>>
- Creating the designs – the core of your business tied to the story >>>
- Creating the packaging – make it stand out >>>
- Finding the right supplier – making your t-shirts and hoodies >>>
- Marketing your brand – selling online and offline >>>
- Creating the experience – going beyond selling t-shirts or hoodies >>>
T he Beginning : Finding Your Niche
Before you do anything else, you need to spend time finding your niche. In any business venture, it is important to find a focus for your brand. I can not stress enough how important this is. You can not have a vague blanket idea of the product or service you want to sell and hope to succeed – in this day and age.
This principle applies to a t-shirt or hoodie business as well. Finding your niche can be done in a number of ways:
What is your passion?
Starting with your passion is the best way to start any business and especially a t-shirt brand. When you are passionate about something, you will love doing what you do and will find the will to persevere when the going goes tough. Along with making money, one of the main goals of any business venture your start should be to enjoy yourself and love the business.
What are you passionate about? What do you love doing? It could be your love for the outdoors or perhaps you love fishing. How about baking? Or perhaps you love sci-fi movies or horror films? May be you are very interested in astrology and horoscopy.
For this article we will take the niche of Egyptian mythology and explore how one would go about getting that off the ground.
What can be different and stand out?
Products that are different and stand our from the crowd can form a niche. Have you ever seen a t-shirt that had a very different design or message and felt like you wanted one for yourself? Chances are that brand intentionally went after a satire, humour or some other off the wall idea.
Being part of something
Do you love being part of something? Most people do. That is why people obsess over sports teams, music brands or rockstars, local or global events and so on. T-shirts that target these focused niches will do well. When people feel like they belong to a group, usually they tend to want to wear items that are branded with the cause of that belonging.
U nderstanding Your Market and Buyer
Once you have drawn up a list of passions you want to explore of your t-shirt business, it is time to understand the market for each of the ideas. Questions such as the market size, the type of buyer personas in that market, the buying power, competition and the overall viability of that market are important.
Of all these questions, I would begin with the competition. This is the surest way to find out if the niche you have in mind is really niche. It is ok to have other players in the niche as long as they are not really in the exact same context. For example in our case, one of the niche ideas I had derived from my passion for ancient Egypt and Egyptian mythology, was t-shirts with emblems of ancient Egyptian symbology including gods, cartouches and so on.
To determine if this niche has a market that would support the kind of sales I plan to have and the kind ow growth I would want form my brand, I started Googling about “t-shirt designs for Egypt” and “t-shirt designs for Egyptian mythology” and so on. I found a few competitors which was a good sign. I would not want to start off on a business that had no competition – at least for a t-shirt brand.
To access the competition, essentially you are looking at the following steps:
- Determine your direct competitors
- Determine your indirect competitors
- Determine your future potential competitors
- Rate your competitors and your own brand
- Perform a SWOT analysis
- Create a competitive positioning strategy
To read in depth about each of these steps, click here.
Once you have explored the competition and understood the landscape of that segment and how your competition is doing, it is time understand your buyer. Creating a buyer persona is fundamental to any brand building process. With out understanding who your buyers are, you would be sailing with out a rudder.
To understand your buyers, you need to understand their buying journey and how your product can insert itself into that journey. For our Egyptian mythology market segment, we would be targeting people interested in ancient Egyptian mythology, the various gods and goddesses, pharos, pyramids, travel to Egypt and so on. As you read this, you may be thinking “what a narrow market! how many would people would there be interested in these things, let alone the ones who would be buying Egyptian paraphernalia!”.
You would be surprised.
There are literally millions of people around the world interested in ancient Egyptian mythology. This is evidenced by the travel sector, the number of documentaries on pharos, pyramids and ancient Egyptian gods on television, the number of books and films and so on. This is the power of the niche. If I wanted to sell a 1000 tshirts a month – as a goal – I would need the entire population of the US or the UK to be interested in my product. I just need to target the small segment of people who are passionate about the niche as I am. It would be easier to identify them, market to them and ultimately sell to them.
F inding A Brand Story
Once we have identified the market and the buyer personas, we use that information to craft a brand story. Brands with out a story will struggle to connect with their target audience and be successful. Most t-shirt companies start out with just the goal of selling t-shirts and making money. That is not a bad place to start but to create impact and build a robust brand, you need more than the desire to make money. You need to have a story.
A brand story creates an emotional connection with the buyers. In our case, the brand story I would come up with would do with the magic and awe of ancient Egyptian mythology and how the ones who love it do so because of the mystery and aura. This kind of story would also lead me to create other brand experiences that we will cover later on in this article. This brand story would help me come up with marketing campaigns. It would help me craft a message that would appeal to the target market.
To read more on how to create a brand story, read this article.
V alidating Your Idea
Once you have a brand story, you should spend a little time trying to validate your idea. If you already have a social media presence and following, it would be easier to validate your story. You could conduct a poll and get some feedback. You can gauge the interest in the product and any potential pre-orders.
If you do not have an online presence, then it may take little more effort to validate your idea. Start with friends and family. I would not actually place too much value on the feedback from friends and family since their opinions usually tend to biased. A better alternative would be to reach out to industry influencers on Twitter or Instagram and ask them what they think of your idea/venture. A lot of them may ignore your request but you may get back a few responses that would be of great value.
If you find validating your brand story and idea difficult at this stage, you could postpone this step to a little later when you have a few t-shirts in hand and are able to show them to people and ask them if they would buy them.
C reating Your Brand Identity
A lot of entrepreneurs may actually do this as the last step before marketing. They usually start with design ideas for the t-shirts, which is not a bad way to do it. If you already have ideas for designs, then not to worry. You can still go ahead and work on your brand identity before you start implementing the design ideas for the t-shirts.
Having a string brand identity from the get go is a good idea because the identity will influence the decisions you make for your brand building. A robust and well thought out brand identity would actually give you ideas on how best to tell your brand story through your t-shirts design. It would also make it easy for you to have a structured path on which to move forward in building the new business.
At the vey least, for a clothing brand, you would need a primary logo design, a secondary brand mark and an official brand pattern. You can read more about these in this article.
C reating The T-shirt Designs
Ah! Now we come to the meaty part of starting your t-shirt brand company. As mentioned before, most entrepreneurs start with the t-shirt designs and then work backwards to build a company around them. That is absolutely fine. There is not right or wrong way to do this – as long as all the steps are followed, in any order.
If you do not have any ideas for design, then you would benefit hugely from this section of this article. Even if you have designs in mind or on paper, this section would halve you enhance and streamline your designs.
I give some examples of the types of designs you can have on t-shirts.
Passion Oriented Designs
As mentioned above, for the purpose of this guide, we have chosen Egyptian mythology as our passion and building a t-shirt brand around it. Here are some awesome looking t-shirt designs based on ancient Egyptian gods and elements.
These designs are fresh and unique and look stunning. It is important to research deep into the design style when tackling a subject that others may have already done to ensure that your designs are different and unique.
A great design idea is to take seasonal items and turn them into designs. This could also include seasonal events, festivals and other important days. In this example, you can see a series of designs based on Christmas elements.
This would keep your t-shorts fresh and relevant through out the year. The downside of this is that you will have create fresh designs every few months and print fresh batches of t-shirts which may become expensive.
Themed Pattern Designs
You could also create trends with themed patterns that take up all the space on the t-shirt. These kinds of designs would be bright, bold and eye catching. The target audience for this type of t-shirt style would have to understood well since not everyone would be comfortable with t-shirts have an engulfing design style.
Woodcut Vintage Designs
Woodcut design style is quite appealing and when you combine that with vintage elements, you may have a winning t-shirt design series. In this example, we have taken World War I imagery such as officers in uniforms and war scenes and styled them in woodcut print to create attractive t-shirts.
Vintage American Sports Designs
Vintage American sports memorabilia is a huge market. You can create a niche targeting this segment of buyers with t-shirts that feature vintage American sports designs and imagery. As you can see in this example, you can use vintage typography and authentic photos to create stunning t-shirt designs. Just make you buy licensed photos that can be used in a commercial context with re-print licenses.
Iconic Image Pattern Designs
You can also take very simple elements such as flowers and create iconic patterns that can form the basis for great looking t-shirt designs. In this example, we have created a few different simple flower icons and created patterns out of them. Using pastel colors and flat designs would make the designs more appealing.
Hand Drawn Designs
One trend that keeps going and being popular is t-shirts with hand drawn design elements with an artsy and rustic feel to them. In these examples you can see the hand drawn elements as well as the hand drawn typography and the rustic and earthy pastel colors. Again with this design style it must align with the buyer profiles of your target market.
Abstract Polygon Designs
Another creative trend you can use for your t-short designs are abstract polygon shapes. You can also push the envelope and create polygon animals or things. The interplay of colors and shapes make these designs quite appealing. In these examples you see one with a finer polygon print and one with a broader pattern.
Astrology Or Tribal Shaman Designs
You can also go after niches such as astrology and zodiac systems and create designs that believers would find appealing and can relate to. Customized designs would work well in such markets, In these examples below, you can see we took a couple of tribal shaman designs and they look mysterious and beautiful. Of course a lot more research has to go into the designs you come up with for these kind of market segments because of potential offensive issues.
C reating Package Design
After your product design, the most important and critical component of your t-shirt design business is the package design. Most t-shirt brand owners do not really think about the package design. They place the t-shirts inside of transparent or other generic plastic bags, package them inside a FedEx box or cover and ship them off. A few take the pain of putting their logo on the plastic bags.
The bigger t-shirt companies on the other hand take great care and treat the outer package design as part of the product design and a chance to create brand loyalty. This is where the personality of the t-shirt brand comes through and adds one more layer of brand experience. They create outstanding package designs.
Here are a couple of examples of creative t-shirt package designs:
F inding The Right Supplier
There three ways of getting your t-shirts printed:
Screen Print Your Own T-Shirts
If you have a little but of investment, space and the aptitude for doing things on your own, the best way to get your t-shirts created would be to screen print them yourself. You can either do it manually as shown in the video below or you can print a screen printing machine.
Use a t-shirt printing company
You can upload your designs to a t-shirt printing online company and bulk order t-shirts to get good per unit prices. These are then shipped to your door after which you package them to ship them to your clients. This method could be expensive if you are not ordering in bulk. If you order more than 20 or more t-shirts of the same design, you will get decent per unit prices. For lesser number, you may have to shell out more which in turn will ruin your margins.
Here are a list of t-shirt printing companies you can use:
If you want a store/storefront:
Use A Drop-shipping Company
If you find it difficult to get your t-shirts from the printing company, repackage them and then ship it to you customers, the solution might be go for a drop shipping company. They would not only print your tees but also fulfil the shipping to your clients. Some of them even white label their service so that the package wold have your branding and logo design.
The only downside is that these fulfilment services may be a little expensive eating into your margins. To combat this you would need to build a solid brand that enables you to command higher pricing. We will see how that can be done in the sections below.
Here is a list of some dropshipping companies:
M arketing Your T-Shirt Brand
I have already written a detailed article on this topic called A guide to marketing your clothing brand. Here I will briefly explore the essence of that article which includes these steps:
1. Determine Business Goals
Spend time to clearly determine your business goals. The obvious goal may seem like “making money” but with out a concrete set of goals, you will find it hard to navigate the murky waters of sales and marketing. Goals can include things like revenue targets, sales targets, community building targets etc.
2. Select Campaign Media
Once you have established the list of business goals you have and identified the marketing campaign ideas, it is time to select your campaign media. This includes both online and offline media channels. A few media channels include Online advertising, Email campaigns, Organic search, Viral campaigns, Blog & Social Media etc.
3. Identify Target Audience
Although this step would have already been addressed by now (see section above), you will have to re-evaluate your audience from the perspective of the media channels you choose as your primary marketing channel. For example, audience on Twitter are different from those on Instagram. Your marketing and messaging must be customised for each channel. Read More
4. Competitive Positioning
The most critical aspect of your brand is answering the questions: What sets your product, service and company apart from your competitors? What value do you provide and how is it different from the alternatives? Make sure you are communicating this differentiation in your marketing campaigns. Read More
5. Content Creation
Strive to create high quality content around your brand. This may include how to articles, tutorials, videos, podcasts and more. Remember that you are not just selling t-shirts. You are selling a lifestyle, an idea, a passions. Read more.
6. Online Engagement
To be able to build robust sales growth, you need to focus on online engagement. Your followers on the various social media channels should be engaging with your brand. To make that happen, you should be doing all the right things on your channels. Here is a link to a webinar I did for my clients on how to leverage Facebook to sell.
C reating The Experience
Your brand should go beyond just selling t-shirts or hoodies. It should strive to create an experience. People love to be pleasantly surprised by brands. They love the unexpected service. They love quirky experiences that make them smile. This in turn becomes an advertising tool as people talk about your brand.
A great example is the t-shirt brand Johnny Cupcakes. This brand is unlike any other t-shirt company. The physical stores look like bakeries and cupcake shops – complete with ovens and menus. T-shirts are displayed in trays just like you would see cupcakes and pastries in a bakery. Sometimes, customers get real cupcakes along with their order of t-shirts.
With experiences like this, customers stand outside the Johnny Cupcakes stores from early hours just to get their hands on limited editions. When you see these massive lines of customers outside the stores waiting for the doors to open, you are reminded of Apple. Imagine a t-shirt brand having the cult status of a giant like Apple.
What can you do to create an experience for your customers? If you do not have a physical store, you can still create experiences for your online customers. Perhaps you can include weird and quirky things to the shipments. Things that customers do not expect with a t-shirt order and will talk about it and Instagram it. Or perhaps you can open popup stores and invite people to come and visit you where you give them a different and unique experience.
With some thought, you can surely come up with ideas to create an experience. That is why the brand story is such an important part of building your brand. The brand story will give you possibilities and ideas.
I hope you have found this Guide to Starting a T-shirt Brand useful. No single article can do justice to the complex and often difficult job of creating and launching a successful brand but I have tried my best to show you the steps that are required to get on the path.
This article is one of the lessons from my Ultimate Brand Builder Course. By completing the course you will have built a robust and stunning brand that will be poised to attract your target audience and dominate your market space.