We always like to say that any idiot can start a t-shirt company because we are living proof.
We weren’t designers or fashionistas, we barely knew the first thing about clothes other than how to put them on. What we did have was an idea, an idea of how we could build community, bring people together, share stories, represent where you come from and give back through clothing. So we decided to give a whirl, try things out, learn from our mistakes and grow.
It started with a simple Google Search “How to build a t-shirt company”, from there we watched a YouTube video and a few hours and $50 later, we had an “online t-shirt company”. It doesn’t have to be perfect right off the bat, in fact, we recommend it isn’t, because what you have for an idea in your head that could be good, what the market and your customers might actually want could be different. For example, when I first started the company I thought that the Calgary Community shirts would be the way to go, and threw the YYC design in as a last minute addition.
Just remember that once you are set up, it will take time to grow and start to see the results come through. It will take years of working on your shirts, designs and brand to get it off the ground. You aren’t going to make any money right off the bat and you need to be in it for the long run. We are still not where we want to be and have a long way to go before we get there if we ever do get there.
Step #1 Coming up with the Design - A really simple and easy to use drag and drop design tool that is free and can get your designs into a workable format that you can use for test pieces is Canva. You don’t have to use this tool but I highly recommend you at least do the first drafts of your graphic design on your own instead of bringing someone on board to do them for you from scratch, it’ll make things a lot easier and you won’t have to rely on someone else to make your vision come true. Here is the Deer Run Design that I was able to create using Canva and I am far from a graphic designer. Nothing too fancy but gets the job done. Once you have an idea for your design or you really want someone better to do it for you can work with a graphic designer through either Kijiji or Fiver and one can be created for $20-$30.
The first design does NOT have to be perfect. I wouldn’t recommend spending a tonne of money on the initial design, once you get some feedback from customers or followers that’s when you can invest a bit more money into making the design perfect.
Step #2 How to Make a T-Shirt Company - This is the exact video that I found when I Googled “How to make a t-shirt company” it takes you through a step by step guide and process on how to get everything set up from domain name, to connect your store to the actual site that makes your t-shirt. Just gotta be patient and follow along, go back and forth and don’t be afraid to ask for help from Shopify when needed. It can take a while but once you have it all set up it’s the best feeling in the world. Trust me.
Step #3 - T-shirt/Hoodie Printing - ThePrintful is the on-demand t-shirt printing that can make all the shirts for you whenever you sell a shirt. They have a tonne of different shirts, sweaters, hats, mugs, pillows even leggings and skirts that you can sift through to find the best product to print your designs on. They even have a real great mockup generator that you can use to see what your stuff will look like once it's printed. The only downside is that it is in USD, they are a bit more expensive and they do Direct-To-Garment type printing so it's like the shirt is printed on with a big printer, so if your designs have a tonne of detail they might not come out as neat. I’d recommend just doing a quick read on the difference just to familiarize yourself with it, its like t-shirt printing 101! Don’t worry about setting up ThePrintful it's all explained in the video mentioned above. So you can offer different types of t-shirts, different colours, sweaters, hats, mugs whatever! And the best part is that you won’t have to pay for anything it until someone buys it first, you only get charged for what people actually order.
If you are looking for a Canadian dropshipping company so you don't have to deal with USD or custom charges, check out Tee Hatch, based out of Vancouver.
We recommend trying out all different types of products, all different sizes, colours etc. You don’t know what will sell and what will not. Because we hadn’t invested a tonne of money into the shirts and utilized drop shipping, we were able to figure out what sold best and then we could decide which products to put money into. Same goes for product type, maybe you want t-shirts, but hoodies or snapbacks sell better. For us, it was the YYC design that took off and not the Calgary Community designs and it was the Crewneck sweater that sold the best rather than T-shirts. Once we knew what sold well, that's where we knew to invest more time and money into. It is a great testing market. They have a lot of different in-stock brands, fabrics and fits to choose from.
Don’t worry about the technical aspects of the garments at this point, that will come later once you know a bit more about what your customers want. If they can buy into your brand alone, imagine how fast they come running once you start boosting the quality of the garment. We did this when we decided to switch over to Made in Canada garments and we couldn’t be happier.
Some of the Cons of ThePrintful and dropshipping are that they charge USD and ship from the US so they may be a bit more expensive to use because the margins are less, then if you were investing in inventory yourself. They also don’t offer a tonne of customization on the shirts or packaging itself, so it could be a little bit more difficult to brand your garments but there are ways to do that, i.e. printed neck labels, back prints, incorporating the brand into the designs etc. The Pros of ThePrintful and dropshipping far out way the Cons when you are starting out though so we highly recommend starting out with them or another dropshipping company (we only used ThePrintful because was in the YouTube video we watched!).
We don’t use ThePrintful or on-demand printing anymore. We now use a Canadian manufacturer, printer and fulfillment team.
Step #4 - Selling your gear - Finally, Shopify is the master site that ties everything together. Its really easy to use and you can learn everything real quick. They have a great 14-day free trial that you don’t even need a credit card to start. After that, you can start off with a $15 account/month. The best part is, they take care of everything from all the website building, domain name, payment processing, literally everything. The video will explain it but if you ever get stuck I’d suggest checking out their support page, specifically their chat, they always help me when I have no clue what to do. Just be warned, this site is very addictive, once you start you’ll never want to stop and there is no better feeling once you get an order notification on your desktop or phone!
Don’t worry about making the website look the best or the wittiest domain name. I had never built a website before or ran an e-commerce store. Shopify makes it completely idiot proof (if I could figure it out, anyone can), and you can start with a free trial to get your feet wet. We still use Shopify to this day, and this isn’t a sponsored post, we still use it because it’s the easiest solution out there, plus they are a Canadian company (except they charge in USD for some weird reason).
Our best advice is to just get your idea or brand out there. You can get going and have it all set up over a weekend or a few evenings. The sooner you can get it out there the better, don’t wait until it’s pretty or perfect, because it never will be.
Any idiot can start a t-shirt company and because a lot do, the real fun starts once the t-shirt company is up and running and then you have to learn how to brand yourself to stand out from the rest.
If you have any questions, comments or rude remarks, feel free to fire us a message anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org
Co-Owner of Local Laundry