Print On Demand: How To Start An Online T-Shirt Business That Makes Money

By Rodney Laws | Business

ecommerce tshirts shopping on a rail
Dec 22

The t-shirt has the ability to tell the world who we are: what we love, and what we don’t. When starting out your t-shirt business, it needs a brand image and a website that stands out as much as your t-shirts do. So here are some pointers on how you can turn your passion for tees into cash.

A brief history of t-shirts

Your business should be as disruptive as the t-shirt itself. So to stand out from the crowd (that’s online as well as on the streets), first, get to know our dress-down history of the t-shirt.

Late 1800s + early 1900s

During and after the Spanish-American War (1898) the U.S Navy began to issue white cotton undergarments.


Returning WW1 veterans kept their standard-issue cotton undergarments when they came home. F. Scott Fitzgerald lands the phrase “t-shirt” in the dictionary when he mentions it in his book This Side of Paradise.


In the film A Streetcar Named Desire, Marlon Brando cemented the t-shirt in popular culture. As did James Dean in 1955’s Rebel Without A Cause, who’s said to be an early example of the first modern teenager.


By now, there was the message, and there was the merchandise. Printed across t-shirts, bands, products, and slogans defined who we were and who we wanted to be.


The world, culture, and information have diversified. How do you create a product that cuts through in the noise of the 21st century? It’s all down to your brand and strategy.

Business plan

So you’ve got your hands on some t-shirts and you’re looking to start a business. The next step is to start developing your business plan and determining how to develop your website to fit it.

Find your USP

Before you start any business, you should have your unique selling point in mind. I’m sure it will come as no surprise to learn that lots of folks sell t-shirts online. So how are you going to make sure people buy yous? Any new business needs to develop its own recognizable brand ID – so make sure you have one.

Considering how your customer journey feels is just as important as what it feels like to wear one of your t-shirts. Before you sell a single crew neck you need to define what kind of business you want to be and what sets you apart.

Socialize your brand

No new brand, especially a fashion brand, gains any traction without harnessing the power of social media from the word go. Not only is this the platform to show the world who your brand is and what it stands for, but it’s a space to build a following around your product. It may sound cultish, but the most successful brands have managed to develop a loyal brand that follows them across multiple social platforms.

Find the right fit

It doesn’t matter how good your designs are, they’ve got to look good on. So choosing your blank t-shirt is vital. You need to think about the size range, the colors each company can offer and the fabric they use.

Even though you’ll be able to change who you go with whenever you want, think about how this impacts your customers. If they buy one t-shirt that’s printed on Gildan and another on American Apparel, that isn’t going to play well. Here’s a useful blog to help you decide which one to go for.

Pick your platform

You’ve got your designs, brand, and your product. Now you’ve got to decide which e-commerce system you want to use. The one you choose will tie closely to what type of t-shirt business you want to be.

If you want your website to be orientated around your designs and build your business organically, you want the most customizable platform that can be stylized to suit you. Platforms like Wix and Squarespace give you access to easy to use templates. But these are restricted on e-commerce specific features.

If you’re looking to get your name out there quickly, Shopify and BigCommerce offer features that integrate with other online market places such as Amazon and eBay without having to delve into any coding.

Or, to get the best handle on your sales and the traffic coming to your website, a platform like Volusion offers powerful SEO and SaaS tools to bump your site up on search results.

Whichever platform you use, there is always a cost no matter which package you go for. So be sure to factor platform costs into your wider business model before signing up.

Refine your brand image

Image is essential for making an online t-shirt business work. What is the fashion industry if not image? In business terms, this means developing a great looking website that has the right type of product imagery to appeal to the base you’re looking to attract (GraphicSprings is a useful tool to use here).

Product imagery needs to be professionally shot and presented in a way that fits the overall aesthetic of both the brand and the website. Many of the best fashion websites are understated and simple in design with minimal use of text. This lets the product imagery do the talking.

Think about how your product imagery both on your website and social media channels will work in terms of social proof. Social proof is a phenomenon in which people will copy the actions of another person in an attempt to fit in and be accepted. When you’re applying this to your t-shirt website you should look to have imagery of models wearing your products, so customers can imagine themselves wearing them as well. This helps to sell the value of the product.

Social proof also works with influencers on social media. A great early investment for any fashion business can be an influencer to wear and promote the products, telling their impressionable audience how much they like and enjoy wearing them.

Ethical considerations and branding

The fashion industry needs to be at the front of ethical considerations. Many shoppers now consider the ethical considerations of the clothes they buy, with a generation rejecting the folly of fast fashion. Consumers are now concerned with where a t-shirt is made and what materials are used. If you want your business to get off the group and not sink under the weight of angry comments from environmentalists you need to find the most ethical manufacturer you can.

T-shirts have always made a statement. But with so many voices out there and so many other businesses trying to do the same, all we can suggest is be like the T and rewrite the rules. Take your designs, your brand, your product, and your service and just do it differently.