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eCommerce

How to Start a Dropshipping T-Shirt Business: The Ultimate Guide

By
Chris Bibey

Everyone has that go-to t-shirt that makes them feel stylish and comfortable no matter which outfit or outing is planned. With the demand for the perfect Tee never going away, why not be that go-to store for everyone's favourite Tee? 


If we’ve got your attention, your next question is simple: “Where do I find unique and high quality T-Shirts?”


Look no further! We’re going to cover how to start a tee shirt business, and how dropshipping can solve your product and inventory problem. With 27% of online retailers transitioning to dropshipping as their primary method of order fulfillment, there’s no denying its effectiveness. 


This guide is all about how to start a successful online t-shirt business that you can manage from anywhere in the world, and launch yourself into entrepreneurship. But buckle up! It takes hard work and grit to get there. 


Before we get into the finer details of launching an online dropshipping t-shirt business, there are two important questions to answer:


  • What is dropshipping?
  • Is it profitable?


Dropshipping is a supply chain management method in which your goods - in this case, t-shirts - are transferred directly from a manufacturer or wholesaler to your customer. You take the order, but you never touch the goods. 


In regards to profitability, now is a better time than ever to make money online. Retail eCommerce sales worldwide reached $3.53 trillion in 2019, and there’s no signs of stopping. 


But that doesn’t mean success will come easy. Winning big at dropshipping is a result of grit, strategy, and knowing your costs.


For example, if you sell a t-shirt for $20, you must deduct your costs to arrive at your final profit. Here’s a basic example using the $20 retail sale price:


  • Cost of t-shirt: $8
  • Cost of shipping: $2
  • Total profit: $10


Of course, this doesn’t take into consideration other miscellaneous expenses, such as marketing and advertising. But even if you don’t break even right away, keeping up with a healthy retargeting strategy and staying on top of your weaknesses will guarantee a healthy revenue and profit in the future. 


Without further ado, let's get into it!

6 Steps for Launching an Online Dropshipping T-Shirt Business


No two entrepreneurs will take the exact same approach to start a t-shirt business, but there are six basic steps that deserve your attention. Don’t forget to tackle these one at a time, and make sure you spend the necessary time and effort on each one. 


1. What Makes a Good T-Shirt?


Don’t do anything until you have an answer to this question. If you don’t know what a good t-shirt looks like (and feels like), you could end up with products that don’t suit your brand or target audience.


The word “good” means something different to everyone, but here are some basics to consider when sourcing t-shirts:

  • Style
  • Comfort
  • Durability 
  • Sizing (including how it fits)
  • Color


You know your audience better than anyone else, so personally weigh these five details accordingly. 


For example, if you’re targeting the younger generation Z crowd, price is a driving factor


Conversely, if you’re selling custom t-shirts to an older demographic, they may be more interested in comfort, durability, and a good fit. Although a good t-shirt lies in the eye of the beholder, it’s your job to make sure you provide the perfect tee to your target audience.


2. Choose a Niche


Choosing a niche is critical to honing down your target audience, and staying focused on your value proposition. It’ll help your t-shirt business stand out from the crowd. Furthermore, it helps you build a brand and competitive advantage. 


There’s no shortage of niches to dabble in. Some common examples include:

  • Funny
  • Sports
  • Nerd/fan
  • Pop Culture


From here, you can narrow down the niche even further. For instance, maybe you want to sell funny t-shirts but would rather focus on humorous artwork as opposed to plain text t-shirts. 


(Source: 6 Dollar Shirts)


Or maybe you want to sell t-shirts with quotes on them, but would rather appeal to a more targeted audience. So, rather than use just any quotes, choose a sub-niche, such as sports, celebrities, or pop culture. 


If you’ve yet to pinpoint your niche, here are some things you can do:

  • Focus on topics that you personally enjoy
  • Search for your niche and the word “t-shirt” in Google to find your competitors
  • Use Facebook’s Audience Insights tool for data on your market


Once you have your niche specified, it’s easier to tackle the next steps in building your T-shirt dropshipping business. Keep your target persona in mind at all times! And always ask yourself: “Would I buy this T-shirt?”


3. Find Dropshipping Suppliers


This step can make or break your dropshipping experience, as the wrong choice of supplier(s) could cripple your dropshipping T-shirt business. Finding the right supplier takes time, and there are plenty of options out there for you to explore before making a decision. 


Conversely, once you connect with a reliable, quality supplier, you’ll feel confident in every order you place. So, it’s important to not take any shortcuts in the beginning!


Here are some questions to answer as you compare dropshipping suppliers:

  • What is their wholesale price?
  • What is their return policy? Is satisfaction guaranteed? 
  • What types of designs are available?
  • How often are new designs being made? 


As you answer these questions, you’ll come to realize that some suppliers suit your every requirement, while others fall short in several key areas. With these questions, you’ll be able to filter out the ones that work best for you. 


Your success hinges largely on two points:

  • Your ability to form a partnership with a reliable supplier
  • Your ability to balance quality and price, with the goal of achieving at least a 30% profit margin 

With Spocket, you gain access to many high-quality artisanal US suppliers that offer fast shipping, competitive pricing, and unique designs. 

Source


You can also go the cheaper route, and try to find suppliers abroad that fit in with your aesthetic, but keep in mind that shipping times are an important factor in making a sale. With dropshipping suppliers from the USA, you’re able to make fast shipping a selling feature, and use it as a competitive advantage. 

Tip: once you narrow your list of suppliers, request a sample (or several samples of different products) from each one. This should help you make an informed and confident final decision, as well as see the entire customer journey. 

4. Define Your Approach


You’ve selected a niche and nailed down your suppliers. Now, it’s time to define your processes. 

Since you’re dropshipping, there are three options available to you:


  1. Create your own designs: There are two ways to approach this. 

Personally create your designs - if you’re the artistic type - or hire a designer to carry out your vision. There are both freelance networks (such as Upwork) and design communities (such as Behance) where you can find designers. 


(Source: Behance)




  1. Print on demand dropshipping: This is best when validating your designs and t-shirt business as a whole. There’s no upfront risk, as shirts are only printed if someone makes a purchase. If you want to take your validation to the next level, create and share a poll with your network (friends, family, co-workers, etc). This provides additional insight, which you can combine with data collected from the orders you receive. 


(Source: Printify


  1. Dropshipping from an artisanal supplier: These suppliers have all the t-shirts and designs you could want. Simply choose those that fit your niche, add them to your store, and start selling. 


(Source: Spread Shirt)


Each of these approaches has the potential to align with your business plan, so study each one to determine which best suits your style, design skills, marketing strategy, and goals. You can even try a few approaches instantaneously!


5. Create Your T-Shirt Dropshipping Store


You don’t have to look far to find an ecommerce platform. The platfomrs make getting started easy, and remove the headache and trouble of creating a converting website and worying about choosing a secure payment portal. Take a look at some top choices below: 


Shopify

Shopify is well known as the most popular all-in-one ecommerce solution. It powers millions of online stores spanning every industry imaginable.


Pros

  • Three tiers: $29/month, $79/month, $299/month
  • The #1 help center in the space
  • Tools for marketing your online store 
  • Access to hundreds of themes 


Cons

  • Often have to install a “paid” app for the functionality you require
  • Big difference in features in each of the three tiers ($29, $79, $299)


BigCommerce

Used by small and large online stores alike, BigCommerce is lauded for its design freedom and simplicity.


Pros

  • Three tiers: $29.95/month, $79.95/month, $299.95/month
  • Easy to use design tools
  • A flexible framework to build the store you want 
  • Powerful analytics tools


Cons

  • Lack of high quality themes can force you to customize on your own
  • Payment gateway limitations for sellers outside of the US
  • Difficult to add content, such as blog posts 


Wix

Thanks to its heavy advertising push, Wix is on par with Shopify in regards to brand recognition. It’s biggest benefit is the ability to get started with no coding skills. This attracts newcomers, as well as established store owners who are seeking simplicity.


Pros

  • Large library of templates for every industry
  • Three tiers: $13.50/month, $23/month, $24.50/month
  • Easy to build a store within a matter of minutes


Cons

  • The starter plan includes third-party advertisements on your website
  • Drag and drop design can limit your creativity
  • Lack of built-in SEO tools


Squarespace 


It’s simple to use, competitively priced, and designed to help you build and manage a growing online store. 


Pros

  • Four tiers: $12/month, $18/month, $26/month, $40/month
  • Website template survey to help you find the best design for your store
  • Advanced website analytics
  • Direct access to Squarespace experts (for hire)


Cons

  • The style editor has limitations
  • Slow page speed at times
  • Not as SEO-friendly as the other platforms


WooCommerce


WooCommerce is an open-source ecommerce plugin for WordPress. It allows you to build your store on the WordPress platform - the number one CMS in the world - but power it with the plugins.


Pros

  • Built on the WordPress platform
  • The plugin is free (but you’ll have other costs, such as a domain and hosting)
  • 100% customizable 
  • Best in class security


Cons

  • The need for plugins and extensions, which can slow down your site 
  • Template customization can be complex
  • Familiarity with WordPress is required


Regardless of the eCommerce platform you choose, you can easily integrate Spocket to your store. 


If you choose to integrate with Spocket, there are four areas that immediately sync:

  • Product listings
  • Automatic integration with new products
  • Inventory
  • Orders


Furthermore, Spocket partners with both US and EU suppliers, allowing you to easily add products to your store. This saves you the time of manually adding products. 


6. Market Your Store


There is no single way to market your online t-shirt store, but you must have a strategy to guide you from day one. These are based on your target market, as well as what your unique value proposition is! Options include:


  • Pay per click advertising: Purchase ad space, such as on Google and Facebook, to get your products in front of your target audience.
  • Social media: Use Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and other social media platforms to connect with your audience. 
  • Search engine optimization (SEO): Optimize your website to rank high in the search engines for your target keywords. Make sure to include SEO product descriptions as well, all of these matter to get your products and website ranking. 
  • Content marketing: Create content, such as blog posts, photographs and videos, to share with your audience with the goal of attracting and engaging. 
  • Email marketing: Build an email list so you can target interested and past buyers by sharing new products, store updates, coupon codes, and more. This can be a secret weapon to getting recurring customers. 


If you’re just getting started, it’s simple (and free) to set up social media profiles to connect with your audience. This is a good place to get the ball rolling. 


As your store grows, you can move into more advanced advertising and marketing strategies, such as pay per click(PPC) and influencer marketing.


Here are some basic tips for getting started:

  • Don’t limit yourself to one marketing method (try two or three to start)
  • Spy on your competitors by reviewing the content on their website, studying their PPC ads, and comparing product specs and prices
  • Track everything, such as by using a business dashboard to track KPIs

Final Thoughts on Launching an Online T-Shirt Business


The above knowledge is more than enough for you to launch a successful online t-shirt business.


If you’re ready to take the leap, set-up a free dropshipping account with Spocket. It won’t be long before you’re adding products to your store, making sales, and scaling your business.  

FAQ

1. What platforms are best for launching a t-shirt dropshipping business?

When it comes to launching your dropshipping t-shirt business, you want to choose an appropriate platform. Spocket integrates with Shopify, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, and Wix. So, if you want to secure reliable dropshipping suppliers that will protect the reputation of your business, we’d suggest looking for a platform that will integrate with any of these hosting and CMS providers.

Printful, Printify, Gelato, CustomCat, Teemill, and Spod all integrate with at least one of the CMS hosting platforms we mentioned earlier. And so, any of these would make a great choice of platform for a t-shirt dropshipping venture. 

2. How do I design and source t-shirts for dropshipping?

Designing the tees you will sell through your dropshipping platform is all down to you. Our top tip? Keep the designs simple and legible if you want to maximize profitability by appealing to the masses.

Sourcing t-shirts for dropshipping is where the difficulty lies. Luckily, all of the platforms mentioned earlier (Printful, Printify, Gelato, CustomCat, Teemill, and Spod) facilitate printing and dropshipping services. Plus, automated order integration is also available which can help you streamline your business processes. Win-win.

3. Are there any copyright or trademark concerns with t-shirt designs?

As a t-shirt designer, you will need to acquire copyrights for your designs to prevent other people or organizations from using them. Copyrights ensure that illegal use of your designs in any form of commercial activity is prohibited without prior written agreement or consent. 

It could be tempting to use someone else’s images, tee slogans, or graphics within your own designs. But, you need to be aware that any illegal use, be it a like-for-like copy or an interpretation featuring someone else’s copyrighted design can lead to issues of legality further down the line.

4. What pricing strategies work well for t-shirt dropshipping?

When looking to price up the items for your t-shirt dropshipping business, you’ll need to maintain competitive pricing if you want to succeed. A profit margin of around 40% is a good ballpark figure. What’s more, pricing recommendations are readily available through the Spocket app. Here are some of our top tips to help you when pricing your t-shirt dropshipping products:

  1. Check out your competitors. This can be completed manually or using price-checker software. In order to remain competitive in your niche, you need to make sure that your pricing is also competitive.
  2. Incorporate your profit margin. Work out how much profit you want and need to garner from each sale and build that into your formula. But be realistic. We all want to achieve 110% profit on every item we sell, but in reality, that’s not a viable margin.
  3. Work out your variable expenses. Remember to consider the cost per t-shirt + shipping to you. You can keep track of these costs (and any changes to them) using free spreadsheet software such as Google sheets.
  4. Remember to incorporate any fixed costs too. The costs associated with your dropshipping site’s platform, web-hosting, marketing strategies, etc all need to be considered. This will prevent them from eating into your profit margins.

5. How to market a t-shirt dropshipping business effectively?

A proper marketing strategy ensures you are targeting the right audience for your t-shirt dropshipping business. This is an integral part of your dropshipping business plan, especially if you want your store to be a success. Here are some things you should try to work into your t-shirt dropshipping business marketing strategy.

1. Harness the power of social media

Social media is one of the most powerful tools when it comes to effective business marketing. So, use it to your advantage! Share your dropshipping t-shirt designs on any of the major social media platforms in a visually engaging post. This helps to attract new customers to your store and keep your following engaged at the same time. 

Remember to make the most of hashtags too as this will increase visibility. Another effective marketing tactic is to incentivize your followers to share your dropshipping t-shirt posts year-round too. Competition giveaways can lead to an easy win for anyone wanting to achieve greater visibility fast. 

2. Consider ad campaigns 

If your marketing budget extends to ad campaigns, targeted advertising is a great investment. Campaign tools that you can use during peak shopping periods such as Google Ads, Facebook Ads, and Instagram will enable you to reach a higher volume of potential customers that are specifically shopping for t-shirt designs. 

3. Email marketing

Your customer email address collection is invaluable when it comes to marketing. Email marketing cements a long-lasting relationship with your existing customer base. And actively staying in touch with your customers can help you to boost t-shirt dropshipping sales all year round and keep your followers up to date with your latest designs too. 

So, if you haven’t already started collecting customer email addresses, do it now! Here are some of our top tips to help you get off to a great start:

  1. Add a pop-up new sign up offer. Incentivize customers to sign up with a welcome discount via a pop-up sign up box on your t-shirt dropshipping website.
  2. Make signing up accessible to all your site’s visitors. Add a signup box to the footer of your website. 
  3. Enable social media sign ups. Encourage your social media followers to sign up to your newsletter by offering incentives - the welcome discount is enough of an incentive when you put your marketing hat on and do it well.
  4. Create a newsletter signup landing page. A dedicated newsletter signup landing page will help you earn trust with your customers. Plus, your site will gain more authority in google too which helps with SERPs (Search Engine Ranking Positions). 
  5. Add a signup option to your checkout page. Allowing your customers to opt in (or out) of receiving your dropshipping store’s newsletter during the checkout process will help to bolster the number of email addresses in your contact list.

Remember, the more opportunities you give a customer to sign up to your email list, the more likely they are to sign up.

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Chris Bibey

Chris Bibey is a content writer and content marketing consultant from Pittsburgh, PA. In addition to ecommerce companies, Chris has worked with the likes of Discover Financial Services, Outreach, and Entrepreneur Media.

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