How to Start a T-Shirt Business

June 29, 2018 267 views

Image of A T-Shirt Display

Overview of The T-Shirt Business

A typical day may start with brainstorming new designs and logos.

Afterward, you may transfer these ideas to a computer and prep your shirts for printing.

You may also need to fill an order for shirts and jerseys for the local little league.


There are a couple of things to consider before starting. First, decide if you want to make only your shirts for organizations. Creating your own brand and marketing the shirts can be very successful but it may take time to get name recognition.

Also, decide if you want to print your own shirts or outsource the printing. Outsourcing can be expensive but some techniques, such as screen-printing, can be difficult to master.

You may also want to consider registering the copyrights for your unique designs. This makes it easier to prove that you own them if someone tries to copy your designs without your permission.

If you decide to print the shirts yourself, decide what style of printing to use. Screen-printing is difficult but is of better quality than heat pressing.

Finally, decide if you want to franchise. Franchises such as Instant Imprints gives you name recognition, but you have to look at the total investment and ongoing costs for owning a franchise.

Skill Set:
  • Operate T-shirt press/printer
  • Use printing software
  • Graphic design
  • Familiarity with printing and transfer processes
  • Fabric care
  • Color and design experience
  • Clothing design
  • List of Common Business Skills
Employee & Job Consideration During The Start-Up Phase Or In The Future:

Common Staff Positions Needed To Run Some Businesses

Equipment, Supplies, & Services During Start-up OR In The Future:
Monthly Expenses To Consider:

See Our Page on Licenses and Permits

Approximate Daily Hours Needed:

General Hours of Operation: If you have a storefront, expect to spend eight to ten hours at your shop. These hours may be from 9:00 to 5:00 or from 10:00 to 7:00; expect to work weekends. If you have an online store, you may need to fill orders at various times of the day.

Approximate Minimum Startup Cost:

The T-shirt business can be easily started as a small-scale operation since it does not require a huge sum of capital to start up.

It would cost under $100 to buy the materials to screen print T-shirts, for example. The absolute minimum equipment you would need would be a frame, photo emulsion, a cheap light, ink, a squeegee, masking tape, and the shirts. For another $100, you could buy a single shirt screen printing press, or you can build your own press.

Since your product is something to wear, it is easy to get free marketing by wearing an eye-catching T-shirt. You can also go door to door to small retail shops showing your designs to the owners, or get tables at fairs and events.

If you decide to open an online store, it’s beneficial to create a website.

Pros and Cons:

The Pros:

  • Easy to start
  • You have the advantage of being your own boss and setting your own hours
  • A great part-time business that can grow to full-time
  • Startup costs are relatively low
  • Expandable
  • T-shirts sell in any economic climate

The Cons:

  • Coming up with a unique and marketable idea can take some time
  • There is a lot of competition
  • As trends emerge, your designs will need to change accordingly
  • Depending on the services you provide, you may have to handle substances that may be toxic or that you are allergic to
  • Trademarks, copyrights and exclusive licensing can be very cost
Types of Customers You Need to Attract:

Different organizations, groups, families, and businesses order T-shirts for special occasions such as reunions, company picnics, and more. In addition, people from all lifestyles wear T-shirts with an array of designs.


An estimated 1.4 billion T-shirts are sold annually in the US. That equates to about $20 billion USD in sales. The average cost runs anywhere from $1 USD to $10 USD and can sell from $5 USD to beyond $50 USD for large name brands.


Revenue will vary depending on the quality of the material, the process, and the demand for the design.

Johnny Earle of, “Johnny Cupcake T-Shirts,” started on the side. Each shirt costs somewhere between $4 USD to $5 USD to make and he would sell them for $8 USD to $10 USD. As the shirts became more popular and quality increased so did his profits. Now, according to an Inc. Magazine article, Johnny Cupcake T-Shirts sell for an average of $35 USD all the way to $75 USD.