Starting a t-shirt business

I recently decided to start an apparel company for geeks. My initial products will be t-shirts, so I had to learn a bit about the t-shirt business. I spoke with a cousin, Marc Clark, about all aspects of the t-shirt business (he designs/sells t-shirts, bow-ties, and foxtails). He gave me invaluable advice as to what the focus of my research should be – t-shirt quality, printing options, and t-shirt tags.

I first had to decide which type t-shirt to purchase. I didn’t want to print my designs onto a cheap t-shirt, but I also didn’t want the most expensive t-shirt. After some research, I narrowed my selection to the Anvil 980, American Apparel tr401, Gildan 5000, and the Gildan G200. I created a spreadsheet and visited multiple wholesale t-shirt sites to get the pricing for each t-shirt. I ultimately decided on the Gildan G200 – it had the best price for the weight (6.1 oz).

I then had to decide how the t-shirt designs were to be printed. My basic printing options were:

  1. Have the t-shirts printed by a local (or national) print shop.
  2. Purchase a Heat Press and print the designs on to the t-shirt myself from heat transfers (vinyl paper). I could have a print shop print the heat transfers.
  3. 3. Purchase a Heat Press and a Cutter Plotter so that I can print the designs on to the t-shirts, but also be able to create the heat transfers myself.

The problem with option 1 is that I initially have over 80 designs (mostly words) and I don’t know which t-shirts will be popular. I don’t want to purchase 10-20 of each design and hope that I sell them.

Option 2 sounded fairly reasonable. I found a few companies that printed 1-color heat transfers for a reasonable cost per sheet.

After doing a bit more research, I posted my dilemna to the t-shirt forum. The overwhelming response was for option 3. So my plan is to initially print all t-shirts myself, but once I find that a particular design is popular, that t-shirt will be created in bulk by a print shop.

So I purchased a 16×20 Heat Press (HP3804-c) from ebay. I considered purchasing one of the multi-function heat presses, so that I could print designs on caps, mugs, etc. The heat press could then have a dual purpose – print for my t-shirt/apparel business and also market a printing service for other businesses. I ultimately decided against it – I was more interested in starting an apparel company rather than a printing company.

I also purchased a US Cutter MK2 871 Plotter Cutter. Although it is a low-end cutter, I read few good reviews about it and it seemed like a fairly good plotter cutter for the price. I found many plotter cutters that were much more expensive, but I’m not starting a printing business – I hope to eventually be able to send all of my designs out to be printed.

Start-up costs for a do-it-yourself t-shirt business do not have to be outrageous – and can be rather inexpensive. Most of the initial costs will be for equipment, but you don’t have to break the bank in order to be successful. As with most businesses, the more you invest, the more options you will have. Assess what you really need for the immediate future (2-3 years) and don’t purchase equipment that you really won’t need in that time period.

As far as my new venture, I am currently testing print process with a few designs and trying to complete the product images for the website. I hope to be finished soon.

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