How to Start an Online T-shirt Business

How to Start an Online T-shirt Business

Written by Leong KexinDecember 14, 2019

How to Start an Online T-shirt Business

It’s no surprise that entrepreneurs, like yourself, want to start an online t-shirt business.

T-shirts are big business. They are, after all, a staple in many wardrobes across the globe. But that isn’t why starting a t-shirt business has become a popular venture among aspiring entrepreneurs. Today, t-shirts are increasingly easier to customise and print – and easy to source as well – especially as an e-commerce store. 

However, before you jump right into it, it’s important to realise that the current t-shirt industry is heavily saturated. New competitors are emerging daily. Fast fashion titans are getting most of the market shares – even popular denim brand Levi’s has tapped into the t-shirt market, selling a t-shirt every second. 

So what are the key steps you need to take to ensure a profitable t-shirt business?

Here are the 4 vital steps Omnilytics’ industry experts recommend: 

  1. Conduct market research
  2. Build a strong brand identity
  3. Determine your products
  4. Identify key sales channels

1. Conduct market research

It’s crucial to first determine an entry point – this is to avoid starting a business in a declining market. While there are many different t-shirt markets to choose from such as sportswear, cartoon graphics, slogans or even luxury, validating the demand will help you enter a market with confidence. 

For example, a look into the performance graphic t-shirts from Asos helps to verify the current market. From the table above, the sellout performance of graphic t-shirts signifies a steady demand.

What are your competitors up to?

Peek into the current landscape of the t-shirt business by analysing your competitors. From there, determine your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. Leverage that to uncover crucial gaps with great retail opportunities in the market. 

For example, if your competitors are Zara and H&M, diving deeper into their sellout rates gives you a clearer understanding of how their t-shirt category is performing. 


From left to right: Zara Disney Mickey Mouse shirt, H&M t-shirt with print motif

A look into their bestsellers shows that white t-shirts with colourful printed graphics are a similarity between the two retailers.

Target Audience

Define your target audience. Factors like behaviours, lifestyle choices, routines and even social media habits can help you craft a detailed representation of who your t-shirt business caters to. This helps to streamline all your business decisions to cater to the target market. 

Source: Uniqlo

Japanese retailer Uniqlo targets an audience that values functionality and comfort in clothing. 

2. Build a strong brand identity

Next, develop the identity of your t-shirt business. Brands with a compelling identity resonate better with customers. A strong messaging ensures that your brand stands out in the tough competition. 

Take the Supreme box logo t-shirt for example. The global frenzy has caused devoted fans to queue for days in anticipation of the latest release. The successful branding behind Supreme has garnered a fanbase that eagerly waits to be first in line for each release. 

Brand personality 

Crafting a fitted brand personality comes next. Your message should be concise and consistent across all channels. Ensure that your messaging and marketing platform complements the lifestyle of your target audience perfectly.

Source: Vice

Supreme maintains its strong brand image of exclusivity by only releasing a limited amount of items per launch to generate huge demand, even for its classic t-shirts. 

USP

Yes, it may seem tough to develop a unique selling point (USP) in today’s saturated market, but it’s not something that can be overlooked. There is no escaping tough competition in retail, so it’s vital for consumers to know that your brand offers something that cannot be found elsewhere.  

Start by analysing your own brand direction and draw out a key factor that distinguishes your brand from the rest. It could range from specialising in a specific material or even adopting a highly competitive price range that draws in customers. 

Source: Mr Porter

Sustainability is important to the popular outdoor clothing brand, Patagonia. They pride themselves on long-lasting products that are made from sustainable material. Its unique selling point delivers a strong message that resonates well among eco-friendly consumers.

 This proves that garnering a loyal customer base can be tied to being able to deliver a strong message for your t-shirt brand that speaks directly to your target audience.

3. Determining your products

Styles

After you have a solid brand identity, it’s time to look into your product offerings. What’s currently trending in your chosen market? What styles, silhouettes and graphics are your target customers looking for? 

Keep your product offerings aligned with market demands to ensure consistent sales for your t-shirt business. After all, producing items that are not in demand inevitably leads to an overstocked inventory.

Looking at the data from the table above, it can be observed that Jersey was the main volume driver for t-shirt materials from H&M.  

Zooming in on an assortment from the Jersey category, we can see that the item has been out of stock and replenished multiple times from July to September 2019. This indicates a stable demand for colour-block t-shirts from H&M consumers.

Leverage on valuable information gathered by data aids in the designing aspect of your first t-shirt collection. This ensures your assortments will generate long-term profit for your brand and also help avoid the issue of stagnant inventory movement.

Pricing

Next, devise a strategic pricing strategy. Determining an ideal pricing strategy is crucial as it is a key factor that affects consumer behaviour and your business’ cash flow. 

Analyse the pricing strategies of your competitors to emulate the average market price point. Pricing too low leads to missed opportunities and pricing too high drives customers away, resulting in unnecessary markdowns to clear stocks. Constantly relying on markdowns impacts your brand image too.

From the table above, we can determine the 3 main price ranges for t-shirts for Uniqlo. Dive deeper into the price ranges to determine the type of t-shirts Uniqlo offers within the tier.


From left to right: Men packaged dry v-neck short-sleeve t-shirt, Men packaged dry crew neck short-sleeve t-shirt

Basic t-shirts were priced within the USD 5-6 price range.


From left to right: Men slub henley neck short sleeve t-shirt, Men slub crew neck pocket t-shirt

T-shirts with added details such as pockets and buttons were priced within the USD 5-7 price range.


From left to right: Men heattech crew neck short sleeve t-shirt, Men AIRism mesh v-neck t-shirt

Functional items such as their Heattech and AIRism line, designed for different climates, were priced higher within the USD 9-10 range.

The key here is to determine a price range that caters towards both parties. Securing the best price range that fits the budget of your target audience will not only increase your cash flow but also attract more traffic to your t-shirt brand.

4. Identify key sales channels

Lastly, you need to determine the right distribution channel for your online t-shirt business. You have a wide array of choices. E-commerce websites such as Shopify, Woocommerce and Wix offer useful functions such as inventory management, mobile optimisation, add-on tools, SEO features and more. Explore all the features offered by such websites before deciding on one that caters to all your business’ requirements. 

Alternatively, you can look into selling on multi-label retailers, such as Zalora, ASOS or even Shopee. This will help your t-shirt business gain a wider reach, especially if the multi-label retailer has a similar target audience as your brand. 

However, do keep in mind that different multi-label retailers have different operating policies, commission percentage and even product placements. 

Whichever you choose, select a platform that optimises your t-shirt business strategy. 

Key Takeaway

With these key steps, you will be well equipped with the fundamental process of beginning your very own t-shirt business. With a solid foundation, you’re on your way for long-term growth.

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