Over the holidays I watched a bunch of VLOGs (you can check out all my videos at here) about how to start up a t-shirt business (check out my t-shirt business, Superzooka, here) for NO money. The information they shared was all relevant and accurate, but… there was a serious conversation that wasn’t happening BEFORE the afore mentioned VLOGGERs shared their mystical secrets to creating something from nothing.
To cut to the chase, no. No, you cannot start up a t-shirt business for no money.
But Chris, there are lots of people on the Internet who tell me I CAN start up a t-shirt business for no money so it’s your word against hundreds of others.
I hear you. But you know the old saying, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is and I’m sorry to say, it’s too good to be true in this case. Here’s why.
Oversaturated low-margin product category
There are a gazillion t-shirt brands out there. So ask yourself… why would someone spend their hard earned money on YOUR t-shirt brand and designs? I know. It’s a brutally honest question, but this is the reality of this industry and wouldn’t you prefer to ask these questions now before you invest too much time, effort and money? Unless you are Supreme or Bathing Ape (and even he spent years before BAPE cultivating a celebrity network of influencers and his fashion sense) it’s going to be a really long, tough grind. So, right off the top, if you value your time being worth zero dollars, then you haven’t spent any money yet. But read on.
Just because you have and/or know the tools doesn’t make you a designer
So you subscribed to Adobe Creative Cloud and started dabbling with Photoshop and Illustrator… awesome. However, simply because you have the tools doesn’t make you a Designer or Illustrator. Knowledge of the software and learning the art of design are two very different things. I own and know how to use a mitre saw… that doesn’t make me a carpenter! So I’m going to assume since you didn’t previously own those tools, that you probably aren’t a seasoned Designer or Illustrator.
So that leaves you three options. 1. Hopefully you have a friend who can create amazing designs for you (for free, although you will most likely remunerate them in some way). 2. You purchase designs or royalty-free artwork (will cost you money). This also comes with the risk that the designs/illustrations will not be very compelling and therefore not truly resonate with customers and not earn you significant revenue. 3. You license other peoples intellectual property (will cost you piles of money).
Printing isn’t cheap and a turn-key drop-ship solution is even less cheap!
Most people trying to do a no-budget start-up use DTG (Direct-to-garment) (click here to visit the website of the DTG printer I use) combined with a drop-ship solution to get their foot in the t-shirt business door. To give you some rough numbers, a good quality DTG shirt will run you $12-$15 (Canadian) per shirt and it goes up from there depending on the drop-ship solution you use. Each dollar “spent” on the printing and fulfillment side is one less dollar of profit margin… and that margin dwindles quickly when you have someone else take care of virtually every aspect of the t-shirt business. Add in dealing with customer returns, hosting websites, time spent creating marketing materials, time spent performing bookkeeping and accounting and well… poof! No more “no-money” t-shirt business start up.
The most important part IMO
Let’s say you have a pretty good idea for a t-shirt brand and collection. You had a friend design all your shirts or you did it yourself for “free”. You used Shopify and hooked up with a DTG printer who offers a print-on-demand drop shipping solution. You’ve spent almost no money (if you don’t include all your time!). Amazing. Well done.
But… there’s always a but, isn’t there?!
You need to get the t-shirt line in front of potential customers. You can continue to spend zero money and set up some social media pages and pimp out your idea there, but that’s going to take a VERY long time to gain any momentum. Your friends and family will only get you so far. You quickly realize you need to spread your marketing wings to get significant traffic and sales.
Purchasing paid advertising and/or engaging with influencers is how you scale up relatively quickly, and that my friends… costs money.
Let me wrap up this blog article with this thought.
I don’t want to stifle your enthusiasm, just enlighten you.
I applaud you for wanting to get out there and carve out your piece of the t-shirt industry pie. There’s always a new and cool idea out there and the next big idea may, in fact, be yours. All I ask is to spend some time being critical of your idea and vetting that idea outside of your friend and family network who, 9 times out of 10, will nod their heads eagerly in support and approval.
Significant research and planning will ALWAYS net you better results, help you understand the reality of what you are trying to do and possibly save you A LOT OF MONEY!
Would you like my help starting your business or taking your current business to the next level? Email me directly, text me at 905.442.3323 or call me at the same number. It's always free to chat!