How to Start a T-Shirt Business – A Step-by-Step Guide

Starting a new apparel business can be exciting, but you need to consider several things before investing your time and money. While new business ventures can have high turnover rates, setting the groundwork to ensure the likelihood of successful outcomes can save not only your business but also your sanity. Many entrepreneurs go through several business plans before finding one that works for them. There are so many different ways to run an apparel business that there’s no “tried-and-true” method to success. To complicate things, external pressures such as your local or global economy can dictate your options even if other methods worked well in the past.

Starting an apparel business will depend on what kind of a business model your clothing line will follow. Some of the most common apparel business models are:

  • Print-on-demand (printing design on blank apparel using a digital ink-jet printer to print directly onto apparel)
  • Wholesale label (similar to print-on-demand, but done in bulk)
  • Custom sewn clothing (you do “all-the-things”; intensive, 100% custom, high start-up cost)

Depending on the kind of apparel business you’d like to start, your approach may vary dramatically. For instance, what works for a local apparel start-up or an Etsy shop likely won’t work for a large-scale regional or multinational corporation. However, some thoughtful research, business plan revision, and confidence in your product can help you get closer to choosing the right business plan.

Consider these five key tips to help you start your apparel business:

Choose a Mission Statement

How you approach entrepreneurship can say a lot about how you approach the world itself. From practicing fair trade to best practices in eco-consumerism, several approaches exist when deciding how you want to brand your apparel business.

To build your “brand,” creating a mission statement can help your customers decide whether your products are right for them. A mission statement is simply a sentence or two that describes your company’s values and goals. It can also serve as a guiding principle for how you run your business. For other business owners, a mission statement can also frame the “moral conscience” or business ethos they’re trying to sell.

A mission statement can also guide your branding approach. Whether you’re approaching your business using sustainable practices or are trying to make apparel as affordable as possible, mission statements communicate what your business is “about” and what clients can expect from your products. Your clients may often choose your products based on what those products say about their own choices or beliefs in the world.

Consider your Business Plan

What’s the “gap” your apparel business hopes to fill? Creating a business plan helps to better define what your apparel business does that others don’t.

No business plan is bulletproof – ask Warren Buffet. Your business plan should consider best practices for locating quality materials you can find at a price you can afford without ignoring your mission or profit margin. If you’re designing and sewing custom apparel yourself or with a team, how long will it take your business to get the product to your customers’ hands?

Alternately, you need to consider how to adapt your business plan if your website loses traffic or you have a sudden, financial issue that requires a quick response. While it may not be possible for a lot of people, creating an emergency business fund can help you to better weather financial storms beyond your control. Similarly, it’s important to understand the tax implications for your type of apparel business.

Establish a Marketing Plan

Business plans often go hand in hand with marketing plans. Who do you think will buy your products? Are you marketing your apparel directly to consumers or will you be partnering with another company to sell your apparel? Conduct deep market research to inform the approach of your apparel business so you can better avoid making expensive mistakes down the line.

To begin your market research, start with an audit of your competitors. You can either do this research yourself or pay a marketing agency to do it for you depending on your budget and how quickly you’d like to scale up. Initial market research should consider your client’s demographics, disposable income, location, needs, beliefs, and habits. To start, you can conduct SEO keyword research; hold focus groups, and even scope out Instagram and Facebook, where many new businesses get their start.

The Internet has empowered the current generation of consumers to research their products beforehand more than any other generation. Don’t neglect content development as part of your strategy. The blog posts, Instagram blurbs, and website content that “get the word out” are essential for introducing your brand to your target audience.

Don’t forget your Packaging

How you choose to package your products is a crucial part of your marketing. Packaging is often the first thing your clients notice when they receive a product. Whether your packaging is luxurious like Chanel’s, which features expensive boxes and packaging development, or has modern lines like a lot of direct-to-consumer products, like Everlane or The Reformation, apparel packaging is a crucial part of the consumer experience. Many business and psychological studies show that packaging can even change your client’s feelings and perceptions about your products. Perhaps you seal all of your packages with old-fashioned wax seals or tie them with ribbon. However, your approach doesn’t need to be expensive, so don’t be afraid to get creative with packaging materials. Some apparel businesses even include a brief, handwritten note adding a personal touch to better connect with clients.

Whatever your approach, the packaging is your client’s first impression of your apparel business. First impressions are hard to change, so let your imagination run! However, don’t let the trash your packaging creates be an afterthought either. Though one of many considerations, don’t make the mistake of letting your marketing and packaging be an afterthought.

Continue your Apparel Business Education

Every great business owner knows that knowledge is power. Don’t be afraid to revisit and rethink your business plan based on new market trends, competitors, or unforeseen economic issues.

You can turn to many different sources for your apparel business. Once upon a time, apparel businesses turned to fashion magazines to guide their trends. However, between Instagram and Facebook, apparel business owners have more platforms than ever to help stay on top of the latest trends in the industry.

Networking with other apparel business owners can always help give you insights you may not have considered before. While opportunities for apparel business networking events may vary, don’t hesitate to politely cold-call someone you admire in the business and ask them for an informational interview, which can help you learn different ways of adjusting your business or marketing plans.

Also, don’t forget to stay on top of financial news to learn about how unforeseen forces may influence your business. For example, if you learn trade laws are being renegotiated in your country or state, you might learn ahead of time whether your materials are about to become more expensive or difficult to find. This knowledge could help you stock materials at today’s prices so that you don’t have to pass on a price increase to consumers.

Starting a new apparel business takes time and research to avoid common challenges. If you want to start an apparel business, consider these tips from Clothing Shop Online to start!

Also, take a look at other tips we have, like our tips screen printing on cotton or designing your own custom t-shirt graphic! Check out all these and more on the Clothing Shop Online blog.

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