If you’re wondering how to start a tshirt business with no money, look no further.
The t-shirt business is one of the most popular types of businesses to start. There are literally millions of t-shirt brands. This is both a good thing and a bad thing.
It’s good because it shows demand.
It’s bad because it’s hard to stand out.
Luckily, not only am I going to show you how to start a tshirt business with no money, I’m going to show you how to do it using the same strategies used by the world’s most profitable clothing lines. This will give you the edge you’re looking for.
You’d be hard pressed to find this kind of advice anywhere else.
So let’s get started…
T-Shirt Business Startup Costs
In this guide, I’m going to show you how to start a tshirt business with no money. But, it’s important to understand the economics behind the t-shirt business anyway because it’s going to directly affect our actions as we move forward.
So, there are basically 3 ways you can build a tshirt business.
Print on Demand
Print on Demand is when you use a service like Printful to create and ship shirts as people buy them. The great part about print on demand or POD is that there’s no inventory. All you have to worry about it is marketing whatever shirt you’re selling. The bad part is margins and limited customization. Because services like Printful or Printify are printing on demand, they have to charge a lot more to offset their losses. Plus, you can only modify a Print on Demand t-shirt so much. It’s enough for a basic graphic tee, but if you want more, then you need to go custom.
The startup cost for POD is essentially $0.
Private label is when you’re selling “off the shelf” t-shirt designs that manufacturers already create. The great part about private label products is that they tend to be higher quality and you’ll have better margins. However, private label requires you to have inventory. So you have to deal with cash flow and shipping issues.
The startup cost for a private label shirt will be around $500.
Custom or cut & sew is when you’re making something completely from scratch. The great part about custom is that you can make something completely original, which will make you more sales. You also get the best margins. The bad part about custom is that it requires the most inventory, which also means the most upfront cash. Plus, you still have to deal with shipping. With that said, eventually all successful t-shirt brands either start or move to custom because margins are king in ecommerce.
The startup cost for custom can be anywhere from $1,000-$5,000.
How To Start T-Shirt Business Without Inventory: POD
I’m going to assume you want to start a basic, graphic tee business.
In this case, if you really want to learn how to start a tshirt business with no money, your only real choice, for now, is going to be POD. Once you’ve validated the business, collected some cash, and have systems in place to grow, you can jump to custom.
Again, with POD, you don’t have to worry about inventory.
This means this is a pure marketing play.
But first, you have to make designs that both stand out and actually sell. The best way to do this is to first nail down WHO you’re selling too so you can make designs that are specifically built for them. There are 2 paths you can choose…
1/ Hyper niched like anime
2/ Community based like crossfit
In both cases, you have to create a POD-friendly design that will work for the smallest, yet still profitable audience you can think of. The reason is because that t-shirt business is one of the most competitive markets there is. And because we’re trying to learn how to start a tshirt business with no money, then there is no other real point of differentiation besides your design.
So go super deep.
3-5 designs that only your niche or community would understand so that when they wear it, it’ll act like a “signal” to the world of what they enjoy. So use whatever colors, puns, drawings, or anything else you need to make that happen.
One great example of this is the dog market.
There are a ton of dog related t-shirt businesses that use doggy related designs that dog owners love. Some even go breed specific like pit bulls and german shepherds. So if you want to go into this category, you either need to come up with an amazing design that people connect with or you come up with a good design that’s targeted to a less saturated dog breed like weiner dogs.
How To Start A T-Shirt Business With No Money: T-Shirt Business Ideas
Stuck on deciding between t-shirt business ideas?
The best way to get around that is by focusing on the categories you understand. Because the more intimately you understand your market, the more likely you’ll be able to come up with great t-shirt designs and marketing strategies that sell.
My favorite exercise for this is James Altucher’s 10 ideas per day exercise.
All you have to do is take out a notebook and everyday for the next few days, ask yourself a question that if answered, will lead to an entire collection of ideas you can work with. If you do this everyday for 7 days, that means you’ll have 70 ideas.
Here are 7 questions that can help you get started…
What niched communities are you a part of? (Crossfit, geeks, artists…etc)
What niched clothing have you bought before in the past? (EX: Cosplay)
What are your top 10 favorite brands in the t-shirt business?
What are the top 10 t-shirt brands you hate?
What type of t-shirt themes or designs do you enjoy the most?
What are the top 10 t-shirt brands you wished existed?
What are the 10 t-shirt brands you feel you could do well in?
Ideas 1-5 are going to be super easy. But, 6-10 are going to make your brain sweat. That’s good. Also, feel free to combine ideas. It’s OK there’s some overlap. The important part is to stretch your brain without worrying if anything is right or wrong.
Once you’re done, then you can nail things down.
With that said, here are some ideas I’ve come up with that can help…
T-shirts with cute dog sayings like “I good boy”
T-shirts for truck owners
T-shirts for Esports lovers
T-shirts for millennial hispanics
T-shirts for daddy’s girl
T-shirts with specific anime references
T-shirts for copywriters
T-shirts referencing the golden age of bodybuilding
T-shirts for ping pong fans
T-shirts for short guys
I’m not saying any of these ideas will be a hit. These are literally just ideas I made up on to spot to get your brain working and give you a direction so you can build on them and come up with even better t-shirt business ideas.
The Ultimate T-Shirt Business Plan
1/ Build a small, loyal audience. It’s very hard to learn how to start a tshirt business with no money, but it is possible if you build an audience first. This means Youtube, TikTok, Twitter, or any other platform you want. Because it’s essentially free to post and distribute this content, if you can successfully build an audience, then it will eliminate your marketing costs.
2/ As you’re building your audience, you want to test what ideas will work and what won’t. For example, if you’re building an audience on Instagram and you have multiple potential t-shirt designs, post them. The one that gets the highest engagement should be the one that becomes a shirt.
3/ Once you’ve built a sizable audience, all you need to do is set up your store with your POD shirt designs. Feel free to use Shopify + Printful or Printify or even use something like Teespring, although I prefer Shopify + Printful so you can build your own email list using Klaviyo. Take things slow. This means starting with just one t-shirt design based on what your audience already showed they liked.
4/ Promote your shirt design to your audience. This includes multiple promotional posts, as well as DMing anyone who needs to be DMed so you can sell them shirts 1-on-1. Then just repeat this process until you have 4-6 proven t-shirt designs that sell.
5/ It’s now time to test your designs with Facebook ads using the money you’ve made. You want to start small and slow. You also want to send people directly your product page for the highest chance of making the sale. In fact, if you can set up a landing page on Shopify using Shogun to sell your shirt, that will improve your chances of breaking even even further. For best results, bundle shirts so you can get to an AOV of $40 or more.
6/ Triple down on your owned marketing. At this point, you have a growing organic audience and reinvesting your earnings into paid ads. From there, you want to try and make 30% of all your sales from email marketing. This will require building our complete, robust Klaviyo flows. It also will require emailing your list 2-3 times per week. The sales you make through email are all 100% profit, so don’t half ass it!