How To Start A T-Shirt Business (and Make $41K/Month)

  • by Brandon Boushy
  • 6 months ago
  • Blog
  • 0
Big Frog tshirt business

Have you ever wondered how to start a t-shirt business? Starting a t-shirt business only requires a little investment and some technical skills. You can learn how to start a clothing line and make a great living. We’ll show you how.

One of our success stories is about Sanford Booth. He started his own t-shirt printing company by buying a Big Frog franchise and turned his original investment of nearly $200k into a profit in four months. The first year he took home $80k, and this year he’s expecting to make $550k! We’ll share some of  his advice during each of the steps of starting a t-shirt company.

Sanford took the time to explain how to start a t-shirt company. He gave us a ton of great advice about how to start your own t-shirt company that we’ll include while providing a step-by-step guide to start a t-shirt business.

Step 1 : What’s the Best Way to Start a T-Shirt Business?

Young man printing on t-shirt at workshop

The first step in the process of how to start a t-shirt business is to conduct research to determine what t-shirt printing business is right for you. Your t-shirt business needs to work with your mentality, but should also appeal to your customers’ needs and wants.

You may want to run a store focused on a specific group, such as company t-shirts, one that caters to everyone, or you may want a warehouse where you focus on e-commerce. You aren’t limited to just one type, but the type of t-shirt printing business you choose will impact every decision you make going forward.

Sanford’s Big Frog Portland franchise focuses on producing and selling custom-made t-shirts based on the customers’ specifications. He decided to get a Big Frog franchise after the 2008 housing market crash caused a massive slow down in his real estate career. He told us, “It cost around $180-200k to start up, but I was breaking even after the fourth month.”

Many consumers start their shopping experience online, so a shop that can sell clothing in person or online is recommended to start your clothing line.

Keep reading for different types of shirt companies.

Franchise

Let’s start by looking at a franchise like Big Frog. A franchise starts with an application process that is similar to the interview process, but slightly more complicated than most job interviews.

The Big Frog process follows these steps:

  1. Request information
  2. Have a phone discussion to introduce you to the brand
  3. Attend a webinar that goes into more depth
  4. Fill out disclosure documents to prove you have the resources necessary to start the franchise
  5. Meet other franchise owners
  6. Go to the headquarters for more information and get to know the corporate team
  7. Start the franchise

Every franchisor will have different requirements, but according to Micahel H Seid, most franchises require a minimum of $100,000 to $300,000  to get you through the first year. This is consistent with Big Frog’s requirements of:

These numbers are in place because the following are consistent across all of their franchises:

  1. $39,500 initial franchise fee.
  2. Initial investment range of $188,344 – $247,944
  3. A 6% royalty paid monthly on revenue
  4. 1.5% of revenue for marketing costs

Ultimately, this pays off because you have access to proven methods to make a great living printing t-shirts. The top ⅓ of stores open for more than a year make more than $600k revenue with a 63.5% gross margin. This is comparable to what Sanford  told us:

The franchisor’s job was to help me develop a marketing plan, and it worked… going into year 9, I expect to make $550k. It’s been growing steadily, with the exception of 2 huge years and a drop during the pandemic to $440k. Currently, break even is about $25k/month.
We also get special pricing, which is a benefit of Big Frog over an independent shop.

Brick and Mortar T-shirt Shops

Lots of T-shirts on hangers on blue background

We’ve all been to a brick and mortar store. Their business model is selling t-shirts in a building where people can come to the store, try them on, and buy what they like. These stores may sell a single clothing line, multiple clothing brands, or custom t-shirts.

With the rise of ecommerce, this part of the industry is hurting. Closures of retail stores have been increasing for at least the last three years according to Moneywise. Despite this, Digital Commerce says retail sales have increased around 3% per year since 2007, meaning the stores that stay open are making more money.

This business model works with franchises and stores that run a tight ship. They tend to need sales of $40k/month to be safe. Otherwise, you’ll probably want to start a different way.

Private Label T-shirts

T-shirt companies that run this way focus on a specific brand. This type of business can be a physical retail clothing store, fashion design, e-commerce, print on demand, manufacturing, or a combination of these types of businesses. A business plan using this model typically focuses on a niche market to satisfy their needs and may expand into other markets later while keeping the brand image.

As a franchise owner, you may want to try to find clients like this to provide printing services. They can become steady clients.

Ecommerce for clothing

An online t-shirt business focuses on ecommerce through an online store. The online t-shirt business may be a reseller, print on demand, or manufacturer. Retail businesses can also have a division of a company to sell t-shirts online. The reason to sell t-shirts online is it expands your shirt store to a target audience beyond the local market.

Franchise printing shops can also offer an online t-shirt store to increase their revenue by allowing customers to add their images and hire a designer to develop a t-shirt design, print that design, and ship the shirt design to the customer.

Selling clothes can be done through a variety of sites. The top places to list your clothing line include:

Print on demand

Man printing image on t-shirt in workshop

Print on Demand works phenomenally with an ecommerce platform because it requires really low upfront costs. The t-shirt company doesn’t need to hold any inventory to start selling t-shirts. Using print on demand will even help with starting an online business from home.

You simply create a design, add it onto the print-on-demand company’s garment design software, and connect it to your ecommerce platforms to start selling it. Shopify has a great blog about the top print on demand companies.

My favorite is Printful because it’s easy to use, t-shirt design is easy, and they have easy integration with Shopify, WooCommerce, Facebook, and Amazon.

If you run other types of printing businesses, you could hire a developer to drive more revenue by providing the printing and shipping to your client’s customers.

Fashion designers

Fashion designers are focused on designing new clothing that is both stylish and unique. They are mostly focused on the art of their products. When a t-shirt business reaches this level, the brand is typically at the top of the fashion industry. They are typically artistic people who make clothes and accessories that stand out. They can be self-trained or go to fashion design schools. If you are interested in fashion design education, here are the top 50 schools.

Wholesale

Wholesale is focused on selling t-shirts in bulk orders. To do this, they will typically need to be able to offer retailers t-shirts at 50% of MSRP. This is typically a strategy that will be implemented once the company has developed a reputation, but ecommerce solutions have made it easier because you can combine this strategy with print on demand services for selling t-shirts

Here’s a great list of apps that make wholesaling easier.

Manufacturing

Manufacturing t-shirts is focused on the creation of the t-shirts from field to thread to final garment. This is the most cost-intensive portion of the t-shirt industry because you’ll need a warehouse, fabrics, employees, and machines that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I’d really only recommend this strategy at the point in which you are a solidly profitable company and the only way to increase gains is to buy the machines to produce the garments yourself. Make sure to reach out to a financial expert who specializes in t-shirt manufacturing before doing so.

Step 2: Learning the skills

A business owner teaching employees on how to design a t-shirt

The next step in starting a t-shirt business is learning the skills you need to run the t-shirt business. A t-shirt business needs 5 basic sets of skills to be successful:

  1. Design.
  2. Technology.
  3. Marketing.
  4. Production/Printing.
  5. Business skills.

 Let’s dig deeper into each of these to see how they impact a custom t-shirt company.

Design Skills

Before you can sell tees, you need shirt designs. Shirt designs are typically created by someone with graphic design skills. This person takes the idea and makes it a reality.

T-shirt designs will typically include several steps in the design process. The steps to design your own t-shirts include:

  • Draw t-shirt designs using digital software, like Photoshop or Illustrator.
  • Have a pattern maker cut the patterns for the design.
  • Build a prototype.
  • Make alterations.
  • Create a tech pack. A tech pack is just the design specifications you give to a clothing manufacturer.
  • Source the materials and begin manufacturing.

 This process will change some based on what types of machines you are using. For instance, Sanford uses a direct-to-garment printer that he says is his “most important piece of equipment and costs $22,000.” The printer plus software makes it where the process goes straight from design to print.

I’m not going to go into all the details of each as each is a highly technical field, but there are a ton of great resources about how to design clothes. Here’s some useful resources:

 Technology

The next skill you need to develop when learning how to start a t-shirt business is familiarity with the technology aspect of the industry. Paying a developer to create a website selling t-shirts online can be expensive. I’ve seen people spend $25k to not get what they want. It’s important to understand the technology aspect before you start.

Technology that will need to be used includes:

This information is really important when trying to figure out how to start a t-shirt business because the costs are much lower to run an ecommerce store with production from a print-on-demand company that handles the printing and shipping of online t-shirt business.

Most tech companies offer a free trial or low-cost tutorials on how to use their software. Make sure to use them. They were built to help you make the most of their offerings.

Marketing

Middle aged businesswoman using desktop computer with marketing icons on screen and drinking coffee at workplace

Marketing is about going where your target audience is to help them become aware of your t-shirt printing, then turn awareness into purchasing. Marketing can be done both online and through other channels.

Three of the largest marketing companies expect digital marketing to make up over half of all ad spend in 2021. To read more of their insights, check out this blog.

You’ll need to be familiar with the largest three places where you can market your t-shirts:

  1. Facebook/Instagram
  2. Google
  3. Amazon

 It’s important to have social media accounts connected to your online t-shirt business to start an online presence that will help to sell t-shirts online and in person.

Each of these has a ton of resources to educate people on how to reach your target market with their marketing tools. Make sure to familiarize yourself with them; otherwise, you’ll be operating in the dark and wasting a lot of money.

Big Frog collects 1.5% of revenue and uses it to help with the marketing of their franchises. Sanford told us,

One of the big differences between a franchise and an independent t-shirt print shop is that Big Frog has well-defined marketing processes in place that, if you follow, make it easier to succeed.

Watch the full interview here to see what else he has to say about marketing.

The built-in marketing costs make custom t-shirt printing way easier than without a franchise to work with.

Production and Printing Skills

Your t-shirt business will need to produce t-shirts, which can be done through a manufacturer, or you can print your own t-shirts and other apparel products. If you are going to print t-shirts, you’ll need to learn how to make a shirt with different types of machines.

Some of the typical techniques you’ll need to learn include:

 Sanford walks you through the direct to garment printing process at the 6:28 mark of the interview.

Printsome offers a good infographic on deciding what kind of technique you want to use.

Printsome t-shirt printing technique

The best way to learn these screen printing and heat transfer techniques is hands-on, which means purchasing your own machines or finding someone who will teach you. If you are running a franchise or printing shop, you’ll need to learn this.

Other ways to learn t-shirt printing skills, like heat transfer, are YouTube videos and manufacturer training courses.

Business Skills

Business skills cover a wide range including accounting, pricing, shipping, and managing inventory. To educate yourself on all of these would be a lifetime of learning. We’ve provided a list of useful resources for getting more familiar with the subject matter.

You can also use YouTube videos to learn almost anything these days.

In the case of a franchise, you will probably have a ton of guidance. Sanford says,

I get discounts from a ton of places because Big Frog has discounts that save me money on things like payroll, payment processors, and other companies that Big Frog has discounts with.

Step 3: Shirt Business Name

I can’t stress enough the importance of the name you give a t-shirt company. It will communicate what the company is all about. Keep reading for best practices when naming a clothing line.

Does the name explain the business?

Big Frog Custom T-Shirts, Inc is the full name of Big Frog. The name clearly states what it does: creates custom T-shirts. In addition, it’s memorable. There are not many companies with similar names.

The easier it is to identify what the company is focused on, the easier it is for your target audience to find it while preventing wasted spending on industries that use similar wording.

Is it easy to spell?

Make sure your business name is easy to remember when using a search engine. A crazy name like Onomatopoeia Tees makes searching for your business difficult cause it’s hard to spell. Because people tend to type fast, it can be helpful to register domain names for common misspellings of your t-shirt business name and forward them to your website to make it easier for customers to find you.

Location

Including your state, county, or city identifies you as a local business. For example, Las Vegas Tees would obviously be focused on t-shirts.

Branding

Does your name fit your branding? Some business owners focus on visuals ideas for a logo before a name. Big Frog’s logo looks like this:

An image of a frog wearing an orange t-shirt

As you can see, it has their name and a big frog in a shirt. Even if it didn’t have their name or “custom t-shirts & more,” the frog in a shirt would give a hint of what they do. The logo definitely tells people everything they need to know about what the company does.

Register a .com

Find a name for which the .com domain is available. It’s the most recognizable. You can conduct a search by clicking here.

Give it a go!

See how people like it. Make sure to check what happens if people shorten it. You wouldn’t want to name a business Super Crazy Athletic Tees because it would get shortened to SCAT, and you don’t want that to be associated with your brand.

Check Google Trends. Read articles like Five Tools for Naming a Business. Finally, register your business name with the government.

Step 4: Write a Business Plan

You need a business plan to help define your vision for the t-shirt company’s objectives and strategy. Its purpose is to drive the direction of your t-shirt business by guiding decisions, securing financing, and developing partnerships with other businesses. 

One of the benefits of starting a t-shirt printing company as a franchise is many of the decisions are made for you, simplifying the process.

The franchise will typically specify or help you with:

  • Suppliers
  • Location selection and lease negotiation
  • Design and layout of the store
  • Training 
  • Marketing
  • Recruitment

According to Sanford, “The royalty is the big negative about franchises, but Big Frog really makes it worthwhile.”

Having a flexible business plan that is constantly evolving is a great approach to the process and allows for businesses to pivot when necessary. Here are some resources to help with this step.

Templates

We’ve gathered templates to help you develop your business plan. Here are some of the best:

  • One-page business plan
  • U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Business Guide
  • State-specific templates
  • Business Plan Template for a Startup Business

Resources

It gets better! Here’s some free and low-cost education on business plans:

  • How to Write a Business Plan
  • SCORE’s free business plans and startup assistance resources
  • The Complete Business Plan Course (Includes 50 Templates)

Step 5: Establish a legal structure

You’ve created a name and business plan. Now you need to establish the legal structure for your t-shirt business. For best results, hire legal representation that has experience starting a business, like an attorney, accountant, or tax specialist. They’ll help you get your business started quicker so you can start selling clothes faster.

Licenses, permits, and tax forms

Keyboard with the word "compliance"

Each location has different licenses, permits, or tax forms required. Use the SBA License and Permits page to identify what your custom tees company needs. Keep reading for information on different legal structures.

Sole proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is the easiest way to start a t-shirt business, but the structure doesn’t protect the owner’s personal assets from legal issues. That means if something goes wrong, you could lose both your printing company and your home. This structure should only be used if you can’t afford an LLC because shirt businesses have work and materials that can cause injuries to employees or customers.

It should be noted that most franchises will not allow you to run a sole proprietorship as it could expose them to liabilities.

To start a sole proprietorship, fill out a special tax form called a Schedule C. Sole proprietors can also join the American Independent Business Alliance.

Limited Liability Corporation (LLC)

An LLC is the most common business structure used in the United States because the company protects the owner’s personal assets. It’s similar to partnerships and corporations, but can be a single-member LLC in most states. An LLC requires a document called an operating agreement.

Each state has different requirements. Here’s a link to find your state’s requirements. People may register in specific states due to the cost of doing business. Delaware and Nevada are common states to file an LLC because of their business-friendly laws. Here’s a blog on the top 10 states to get an LLC.

This will typically be the best setup when starting a franchise due to the protection of legal assets and the ease of setting up the company.

Partnerships and corporations

Partnerships and corporations are typically for massive organizations or legal firms. Unless there is a specific reason you need a partnership, it is better to do a multi-person LLC. Investopedia has good information about partnerships and corporations here.

Franchise

There are several opportunities to purchase t-shirt franchises. Franchising.com has two franchise opportunities in the United States that allow you to start a t-shirt business using a reputable company’s name and business processes. This makes it where an entrepreneur can benefit from the reputation of an established clothing printer that has already worked out many of the kinks of starting from scratch.

Big Frog is the only Direct to Garment (DTG) t-shirt franchise available in the U.S. This is a competitive advantage because they control how many franchises can be in any city/town and the DTG process is more affordable on small print runs than screen printing.

Step 6: Getting Ready for Customers

Your t-shirt business is now an entity, but there’s more. 

The order you do the rest of the steps in will depend on the resources you have, your skill sets, and the type of t-shirt company you are running.

There are six areas of business you will need to focus on to get you running:

  • Location – Where will you be working?
  • Inventory – What will you have in stock and how will you pay for it?
  • Employees – Will you have employees and how will you make sure it is a safe environment?
  • Finances – How will you keep track of transactions and financial records?
  • Insurance – How can you protect what you are building?
  • Marketing – How will you find customers?

Step 7: Location

Man checking for the right location on iPad

Finding a location will vary based on the type of t-shirt business you are running. For instance, if there are certain major clients you are trying to target, being located near them can be beneficial. Otherwise, you may want to choose the location based on the wealth distribution of the area, based on the price of space, or choose a central location that is convenient for more people.

When deciding to rent a space for a clothing line, consider:

  • How will I store equipment and inventory?
  • Is there space for a home-based office?
  • Will customers be coming to my location?
  • How much inventory will I have?
  • How much display space do I need?
  • How much space is needed to store inventory?
  • Am I going to be having popup shops?

When opening a t-shirt company, you will probably need to rent space in your area. Whether space is a warehouse or a storefront, you’ll need to plan ahead to make sure you have the proper setup.

Franchises will typically help new business owners find a spot that works based on their previous experience. This can make a huge difference as every town seems to have locations that are just cursed to cycle through businesses.

To find spaces to rent in your area, contact a local commercial real estate agent. You can search for them by your area here.

Know the local ordinances

Each city and state has different requirements for where a business is allowed to be located. Local ordinances and franchises might not allow a t-shirt business to be home-based.

How am I supposed to start my shop with so many rules about clothing brands? Just search Municode Library to find your city regulations.

Finding a good spot

When looking for a space to rent, take into consideration your ideal client and what stores they might frequent. For instance, a t-shirt printer might do well in a high-traffic mall or in a space with a high density of local businesses. Finding the right place will take some research, which will be much easier after considering your marketing efforts.

Step 8: Inventory, T-shirt Printing Machines, and Product Displays

A notebook with the words "inventory management system"

A new t-shirt business requires inventory. You’ll need the shirts you’ll be selling, product display stands, registers, computers for design, and the machines for adding designs. You’ll need machines based on the different types of t-shirts. These can range from heat presses to DTG printers to embroidery stations.

Sanford uses the DTG printers for most of his work. He told us, 

I even work with other print shops on a referral basis to let them earn revenue on small print runs that they’d normally lose the revenue on because of how much the setup costs

Startingaclothingline.com offers a list of manufacturers by location and type of clothing. It’s a great place to start when looking for manufacturers.

Used printing machines  and product displays

Printing machines and product displays can often be found at huge discounts if you buy them used. You can find printers and product displays through most online markets, pawnshops, going-out-of-business sales, and other places.

When buying a franchise, they may specify the exact machines you use. For instance, Big Frog uses the Brother DTG Printers.

If you are considering buying an existing business, they should be included in the purchase price. Learn more about valuing an existing business in our guide about buying businesses.

Step 9: Employees

Sanford emphasized the importance of hiring people who are better at their assigned roles than you are.

I’ve got 3 employees, 2 designers, and one focused on printing.
Make sure they have Photoshop and Illustrator experience and good customer service. They’ll be interacting with lots of customers, need to be highly responsive, and set customer expectations.

You’ll definitely need employees. Big Frog emphasizes they want their owners developing the business rather than working in the business. Either way, there are some things you’ll be required to do. Keep reading for more info.

Tax filing and withholding

Federal and state tax filing requirements apply to new employers. You must keep records of employment taxes for at least four years, including special forms and accounting for state taxes. Don’t worry! We’ve got you covered! Check out the IRS guide for employers here.

Federal employment and labor law posters

All employers must display Workplace Posters, which you can download from the website.

Other requirements include:

  • Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9)
  • State’s New Hire Program
  • Worker’s Compensation Insurance
  • Disability Insurance—varies by states
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

Job Posting

A yellow notepad and a pen on a desk

 Hiring people requires posting “now hiring” signs and posting on prominent job boards. Some places you can start posting job requirements are:

Sanford told us,

I prefer LinkedIn because it lets me set up screening questions before I post the job posting. That really helps me screen candidates better.

Interviews

Having a prepared list of questions for interviews can make hiring the right people easier. Indeed offers a variety of resources to help you make better hiring decisions. Read their guide: How to hire your first employee.

Sanford suggests including your employees in the interviews because “it helps give them ownership and it’s important they like who they work with.”

Compensation

Employees are typically a company’s biggest expense. There are three common pay structures in business. Each fits different scenarios. Let’s take a closer look.

Salary

Flat weekly/monthly rate based on a person working a specific number of hours. This is typically reserved for owners, managers, and some admin roles. You might want to assign this to yourself for budgeting purposes.

Hourly

This pay structure just tracks the hours an employee works and pays them a set hourly rate. This pay structure is solely based on time, not performance.

In Portland, Sanford says, “I pay my employees $14 to $16 per hour.”

Commission

Commission as benefit given to employees for a a job well done

Typically used in sales to give employees a percentage of revenue. It is a strictly performance-based compensation model.

Hybrid Models

Hybrid models combine two pay structures—for instance, hourly and commission—to compensate for time and performance. The hourly rate will typically be lower than an hourly rate without commission, but the commission should make it where good performing employees make more than they would without commission. These structures also help reduce the variability of pay from week to week.

Paying employees an hourly wage works for most positions selling custom T-shirts, but depending on your business structure, a commission or hybrid payment model might make sense. The article, “How to Create a Pay Structure That Promotes Team and Company Growth” offers some insights into thinking about pay structure.

Step 10: Financial Management

A crucial portion of successfully starting a small business is managing the financial aspect of the clothing brand. Sanford emphasized the benefits of managing margins.

Your margin is crucial. If you don’t manage them, no matter how much you sell, you’ll lose money. I typically aim for 65%

He also discussed the importance of following up with your clients. 

During the slow months, January, February, and into March, I’ll reach out to my routine customers and make sure they don’t need anything. Following up makes a huge difference in how much you make.

You may need some extra funds to start your clothing brand. To find banks that work with small businesses, use this resource.

Let’s look at some tricks you can use to help your clothing line become profitable.

Budget! Budget! Budget!

A budget is the most important tool you can use in business. Without it, your clothing line might not make it through the first few years.

As a franchise, Sanford says “I need to make $25k/ month just to break even, so that’s a lot of t-shirts.”

Be careful using spreadsheets though. According to Ray Panko, professor of IT management at the University of Hawaii, “1% or more of all formula cells” contain errors. 

Despite this, there are still ways to make sure you are paying attention to finances and budgeting while removing the tendency for errors. Using automated rules is a great way to prevent budgeting errors. 

Some of the best free budgeting software includes:

  • dsBudget – open-source software that requires some development experience
  • Quickbooks – used by millions to make their accounting easy by setting up rules, directly connecting with their bank(s), and more.
  • Xero – I have some experience with them. I was introduced to them through an Australian client, and people love them. It allows you to automate most of your processes but is meant to be set up by an accountant and software developer so that the platform works specifically based on your location(s) tax needs.

If you’re running other types of t-shirt businesses, such as print on demand from home, you’ll need to make less, but you need to routinely review your costs to make sure you are making the revenue you expect to make.

Consider the many funding options

Starting a t-shirt company doesn’t cost a fortune. While it cost Sanford “$180-200K for the franchise fee, equipment, and building with remodel,” other shirt companies we have talked to have started their company with less than $1,000.

In our interview with Marcus from Portland Gear, Marcus suggests beginners use the following if they wonder how to start a t-shirt business:

  • Shopify
  • A print-on-demand company.
  • Social media marketing of less than $500/mo.

Hear from him here:

Common funding paths include:

  • Personal funds
  • Loan from family or friends
  • Business partner(s)
  • Government programs

The SBA offers free courses on financing options and funding programs. For info on using personal funds to start a business, check out this article from The Hartford.

Alternative sources of funding include:

  1. Crowdfunding 
  2. Credit cards
  3. Home equity loan
  4. Rollover for business startups (ROBS)

Develop a pricing structure

How you price your clothing brand will impact how people view it. If your prices are too high, they’ll go elsewhere. Too low, you’ll lose money. Based on the rules of thumb presented by Marcus in his interview,

Direct to garment is typically 60-70% margins or around 45-50% for screen printing, but it fluctuates from month to month based on how many non-profits I’m working with.

Increase prices every year

Inflation occurs every year. To keep your business running, raise your prices 5% per year. It gives you room to increase wages and to make some extra money. It’s easier to raise prices when your customers expect it.

If you send out an email in November letting your customers know that prices will be going up at the beginning of the year, you may be able to book enough custom printing jobs to keep you busy through the slow months at the beginning of the year.

Step 11: Sales Tax and Insurance

Approval of business insurance

Sales Taxes

All but five states and some cities (or counties) require sales tax. You can find a guide on applying for sales tax on TaxJar. After you register to pay sales taxes, you will need to keep track of the sales to pay them according to state laws. I would highly recommend speaking with an accountant that specializes in taxes to help you comply with your business’s unique needs.

Insurance

You’ll need some insurance depending on what kind of a business you are running. You’ll need unemployment insurance and worker’s compensation if you have employees. You may also want a general liability policy and cybersecurity insurance to protect against unforeseen events that could cause your clothing line business substantial losses.

Unemployment Insurance

Unemployment insurance protects employees from entirely losing income when they lose their jobs. It is paid for on both the federal and state level. Federal unemployment insurance is driven by a 6% tax on the first $7,000 of each employee’s income, a total of $420/year per employee.

Your state taxes can reduce the federal portion down to $42/year per employee, but each state has different requirements. You can find a full list of agencies that deal with UI on nolo.com.

Workers Compensation

Workers Compensation is for when people are injured on the job. There are both federal and state requirements. You can find both federal and state requirements at dol.gov. The policies protect against excessive costs when an employee is injured through acceptable business practices.

General Liability Policy

A general liability policy is not required, but it is highly advised if people other than employees will be at your location. It protects against lawsuits and other occurrences that may occur. Contact an insurance agent to get a quote.

Cybersecurity Insurance

Cybersecurity insurance will protect your clothing brand against online store hacks. Given the average data breach is millions of dollars, this is highly recommended if participating in any kind of ecommerce.

 Step 12: Marketing

You’re ready to sell shirts. You have the location, equipment, inventory, and employees, but no clients!

How are you going to let people know about your custom t-shirt printing?

Marketing is crucial for a custom shirt business. Franchises have an advantage here because they already have built-in clients and a marketing budget. They’ve also figured out what works. 

Sander told us, 

I started with print media, radio commercials, a TV commercial, and tons of direct mailers, but that got expensive. Then I started cold calling, following up with previous customers, then digital marketing has really made a difference.

Other suggestions he suggests are:

  • Build relationships. Networking is what makes a business succeed. It pays off.
  • Continually focus on SEO. Start by familiarizing yourself with Google requirements.
  • Check the customers’ previous print jobs to give you ideas of how to sell more shirts.
  • Follow up! It makes a difference
  • Use analytics.

Using software like Hootsuite makes managing social media easier. You can schedule posts, assign team members to manage specific sites, and access all your social media in one place. In addition, they keep up with the requirements for each platform for you and update you when you enter the dashboard.

A CRM like Hubspot can make keeping track of clients easier as well. You can integrate it with almost everything including emails, invoicing, inventory, and your accounting to make sure that you know what is going on with every client. 

Influencers

Folder with influencer text and a pen on a desk

One of the best ways to learn what works in marketing and business is to follow others who rock their industries. Some of the top influencers to follow are:

  • Elon Musk – Let’s face it, both Sander and I think he’s a rockstar. He mixes jokes, insight, and enthusiasm to spread his message. He’s the founder of 6 companies and the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. We can all learn from him.
  • Screen Printing Blogs – a list of 40 blogs focused on t-shirt printing.
  • SEO Influencers – Randy Fishkin, Danny Sullivan, Neil Patel

Conclusion

To recap this guide on how to start a clothing line, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I know how to start a clothing line?
  • Is it worth it for me to start a clothing brand?
  • Will I be comfortable speaking to clients?
  • Am I starting a clothing line this year?
  • Why am I starting a clothing business?
  • Do I need employees or advice?
  • What will I need to feel successful?

Now that you know how to start a t-shirt business, take the next step. Start your own!

The truth is, all it takes is a great idea, some skills in design, and a good marketing strategy to get started. As Sanford told us:

When I went to see the people at corporate, I knew a Big Frog Franchise was right for me.

Let us know in the comments below if you have any questions, we’ll be more than happy to help!

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