In this post, I set up a business that sells t-shirts with my designs on them. My t-shirt dropshipping business requires almost no upfront cost and takes very little maintenance. The store I set up is here and you can also buy the items on Amazon here.
I have been pretty fascinated with t-shirt businesses for a while. They are so simple but are very very difficult to get right. In 2015 I attempted to start a t-shirt business. And failed. Once all the outsourcing and cost of holding stock was taken into account, the numbers just didn’t add up.
Well, now I am going to try again. But instead of buying lots of stock I am going to use a print-on-demand service. Which just means that when someone buys a t-shirt, a third party company will print it and ship it out.
This type of model is known as a dropshipping business. They get looked down on by a lot of entrepreneurs for not being real businesses. But that’s a load of nonsense.
A good dropshipping business has all the same elements of any other business. You need a strong brand. You need your products to be differentiated. And you need to be good at marketing. You are just outsourcing the logistics.
It’s not a get rich quick scheme and it is not a part-time project to make pennies. It is a real business that will give back what you put in. It just doesn’t cost that much upfront.
Print-on-demand is a very new type of business and so far is only really set up for quite simple mass produced items. Such as books, phone cases, mugs and t-shirts.
I have big hopes for 3d printing and print-on-demand products, but I think we’re still five or ten years away from it really working. Whereas t-shirt dropshipping is pretty well developed and the quality has gotten pretty good.
There is also a real challenge factor to a t-shirt business. My main company is a brand of table tennis equipment. We do well because we have the best products in our price range. And everyone knows it. It would take a lot of work and product development for someone to compete with us.
But t-shirts are probably the most saturated market on the planet. I will need to have my brand building on point to make it work.
Choosing A Brand
I can’t bang on about this point enough. You need to have a good brand and a unique selling point in order to make any sort of product based business work. That is even more true in the ultra-competitive t-shirt dropshipping industry.
And so now I’m going to completely ignore my own advice. This post is going to document my experiment and learning process. I am going to come up with a new brand without putting too much thought into it. Then, if it works out, I will replicate the process and create an apparel section to my sporting goods brand, Eastfield co.
The reason I don’t want to dive in straight away and use this process for my main brand, is that I don’t want to risk any damage to its reputation from rookie mistakes.
So yeah, let me introduce to you…. after five minutes of thought… the brand new fashion brand: Priestley & Hoxton.
Creating A Store
It might sound weird that I am going to create the store before designing any products or finding any suppliers. But whatever companies I go for are going to need to be able to automatically plug into the web store.
I used an out-of-the-box webshop builder called Shopify*. Shopify is pretty awesome and I also use it for my main brand. It takes five minutes to set up and you don’t need to know any programming or have any design skills. Simply sign up and choose a template you like, and voila, your site is online.
I created an email address for my new brand and then signed up to Shopify with it.
There’s a free ‘trial’, but you need to actually start paying before people can buy anything.
The cheapest option costs $29 a month and 2.2%+20p of all transactions. For that, they take care of all the payment processing (which is one of the most complicated parts of online business), provide support and host the site.
You don’t need to sign up yet. Use the free trial period to get the site perfect, and only pay once you are ready to launch.
I chose the basic free template called Debut. Here’s what it can it look like:
Finding Print-On-Demand Companies
To maximise the chance of success, I want to launch in both the UK and the USA and have as many international shipping options as possible. Which means finding a t-shirt dropshipping supplier that is active in both the UK and USA.
I have done a bit of research, and come up with a few options. The company I found was Inkthreadable. Unlike most other companies they have printing facilities in the UK (like me!) which is perfect. And they also have a pretty good reputation on the t-shirt dropshipping forums. Another popular t-shirt dropshipping company is Avasam.
I went to the app and installed it directly to the Shopify dashboard. Took a few clicks.
Designing My First T-Shirt
As this is just my first test, I uploaded something I put together really quickly.
A pretty simple design I threw together in Photoshop using some clipart I found on OpenClipart. A website of designs that you can use commercially for free, including for t-shirt dropshipping. Which is awesome. A big shout out to that community.
I then went to the Inkthreadable app inside of Shopify and uploaded the design.
I selected 50% profit. But that was just a test. I think in future I will be choosing 100% profit. So if the product costs £10, I will be selling it for £20.
That sounds like quite a big markup, but it doesn’t take into account the other costs associated with selling an item. Such as advertising, selling platform fees (Shopify, Amazon, Ebay, Etsy fees) and the cost of any returns.
You need a big margin in order to make this sort of t-shirt dropshipping business work.
The next step was to choose what base t-shirt to use. There are hundreds of options on Inkthreadable. If you want to test out what a few of the different ones fit and feel like, you can buy most of the basic t-shirts off Amazon. Often for just a couple of pounds a t-shirt.
The Gildan Softstyle is the most popular. But it doesn’t feel very premium to me. I quite like the Anvil Fashion (shown in the image above). It is similar to an American Apparel T-Shirt, but a bit thicker, while still having a bit of a stylish slim fit feel.
I also chose the Anvil tank top, the Anvil v-neck, and an iPhone case. Because why not?
Back at Shopify in the Inthreadable app I was able to select which variations to import. Note the prices are auto-generated based on the 50% profit margin I chose earlier. If you are doing this yourself, I recommend going for closer to 100%.
Most of the colours didn’t work with my design. But the ones that did I added.
And now when I go to my website. They are there, available to be bought!
If I now upgraded to the standard Shopify plan, bought a domain name and linked it to my Paypal or bank account. The shop would be live and people could actually go and buy the t-shirts. The business would be running!
The listings will need quite a bit of work to make them look more appealing (including changing the titles). But the basics are definitely there. And that was all pretty easy.
Filling Out The Catalogue
In fact, it was so easy, I thought I’d add a few more. I’ve stuck to the same recipe. Brand name across the bottom, and a simple design above it.
Let me introduce you to my pirate, and my fox.
I think they look pretty cool.
Once again I have just scoured the OpenClipart site for some nice simple designs.
I have created these really really quickly. But that is because this is a test. When I do it properly I will spend a lot more time making sure the designs are perfect.
Launching The T-Shirt Dropshipping Store
Now that I am happy with my products, there is quite a lot I need to do to get the site up to scratch.
- Changing the name of each item
- Choosing cover images and generally pimping up the front page
- Adding an about us and contact us page
- Entering my bank details and payment preferences so that I could receive payment for any orders made
- Setting shipping costs and return policy
If I was doing this for my main brand, I would also organise photoshoots with my favourite items and hire a designer to make the images look awesome.
Now that that’s done. I think it’s time to buy a domain name, subscribe to the basic Shopify plan and launch the site.
And the website is live. You can access my fully functioning t-shirt dropshipping business at Priestley & Hoxton.
Fulfilling The First order
To test to see if the site was working (and to actually see what the end product is going to be like), I bought a dummy order.
The process went fine. And I immediately got an email from Inkthreadable asking for payment.
You can either pay for orders as you go, or load Inkthreadable with a balance.
And here are the end results. Being modelled by a friend.
I am pretty pleased with how they have come out. The hoody is rubbish, but the v-neck and crew neck are both quite nice t-shirts.
Listing Our T-Shirts On Amazon
Well, now I have a working online store. Which is all well and good, but most people don’t buy stuff from independent websites. It is going to be difficult to try and get customers to come to our website, enter their card details and buy an item.
It will be much better if we can put our brand in front of them on the sites that they are already spending money on. There are some behemoths out there that will allow us to list our brand. For instance:
I read recently that 50% of all online ordering in the USA is done on Amazon. That’s crazy. So for the purpose of this article, let’s start with Amazon.
Creating a Free Amazon Seller Account
The first step is to sign up to Amazon.
To sell throughout Europe, I need an account in the UK. And to sell in the Americas I need one in USA.
On the Amazon seller website, it says that an account costs £30 a month. Well, that is a bit deceiving because there is also a free option. You need to sign up normally but can then downgrade your account.
Here’s how to downgrade the account.
Signing Up To Amazon Brand Registry
To list an item on Amazon we need a UPC or EAN number. These are basically the barcodes.
The issue is that we will need one for every variation we are selling. So if there are four sizes and ten colours per t-shirt. That will be 40 UPC numbers needed. Just for one t-shirt!
If you want to purchase a barcode, then you are meant to buy them from GS1. They are expensive and cost quite a lot to renew each year. There are resellers out there that will sell you them cheaper, but it’s technically against the Amazon terms and conditions.
Luckily there is a way round it. If you sign up to the Amazon brand registry they will let you generate Amazon unique numbers for free that can be used instead of UPC numbers.
Here is what the sign-up form looks like:
The first time I registered they rejected me saying:
When you re-apply for the brand, please can you include additional images of the sewn in labels that are on the items.
Which obviously I cannot do, as the sewn in labels say ‘Anvil’. So instead I submitted images of the phone cases.
NOTE: Inkthreadable do offer a relabelling service for an extra £1.44 a garment. It’s a must if you don’t want people to know you’re printing on another brand’s base t-shirt.
Listing Our T-Shirts On Amazon
Amazon takes a 15% fee for clothing sold on their platform and you have no control over what they charge for shipping. Aren’t you glad we put in such a large margin early on?
Clothing is a restricted marketplace on Amazon and I had to apply for approval in order to be able to list any t-shirt. There are some requirements that you need to agree to. I said I agreed and was approved instantly.
Then it was just a case of transferring my listings from Shopify to Amazon. You can do it manually (which is quite a slow process). Or you can export all the items into a spreadsheet and after a few changes upload them in bulk to Amazon.
Even easier, if you’re using USA Amazon, you can automatically link the two in Shopify. On the dashboard, just go:
Sales Channel -> + -> Amazon
That will transfer all your products onto Amazon and will automatically send any orders to Inkthreadable. Unfortunately, it only works for USA Amazon at the moment.
In the UK there are paid for services you can use. But the are quite expensive. And provided you aren’t adding hundreds of products it isn’t too time-consuming. The job can get really large if you are selling across many different platforms, but it is really just data entry and be outsourced very easily.
And here we go. My brand is up for sale on Amazon!
Fulfilling Orders ON AMAZON
While orders from the Shopify store will be automatically sent to Inkthreadable, that’s not the case with Amazon or Ebay or whatever other marketplace you’re using (Apart from a few specific exceptions: Amazon USA, Facebook and Pinterest).
There are services you can pay for that will link the two together. But I don’t think it is worth the money until you are making enough profit to cover it.
The default way Amazon is set up is that you will receive and email whenever an order is placed. Then you have to log into Amazon seller central, open up the order and get the shipping information.
That is a very tedious process and is not very scalable. But it can be streamlined.
I have set up an order report so that each morning Amazon will email me a spreadsheet of all the last days orders.
I can then change the spreadsheet slightly and upload it directly to Inkthreadable for from the to do the t-shirt dropshipping. Then I can then go in and mark the orders as shipped on Amazon. The whole process takes 5-10 minutes.
Once we get to the point where there are consistent orders each day I will find a program that will do it automatically.
What Next For Priestley & Hoxton
There is still a lot of work that needs to be done to make Priestley & Hoxton a brand that I think is good enough to market. For the moment I am going to take a pause and think about whether I want to continue with the brand or move on to another. What do you think I should do?
This is where I am going to finish the post. We’ve covered a lot and it has got pretty long. But there are still loads of things left we could do. If you’ve got to this point, here are some extra ideas to improve your t-shirt dropshipping business
- Launching in Amazon in other countries. Amazon is available in a lot of countries and the process is the same as above for each one: Germany, France, Italy, Spain, USA, Canada, Mexico, Japan, India.
- Launching on other platforms. Including Ebay (USA , UK, etc), Etsy, Wallmart…
- Designing more t-shirts. When t-shirt dropshipping there is no limit to the number of designs you can create and have on your site.
- Doing photo shoots with the t-shirts.
- Marketing the t-shirts. Adverts on Amazon, Facebook ads, sponsoring Instagram influencers, competitions and giveaways, selling to your friends and family, etc.
- Providing really good customer service to encourage sharing and good reviews.
- Creating some automated email marketing that upsells to existing customers.
If you decide to launch a t-shirt dropshipping business, please chuck a link in the comments. I’ll be really interested to see how you get on.
*Note: This blog makes me a bit of money from affiliate links. This page has links with Shopify and Amazon. If you click through the links and set up a Shopify store or buy a t-shirt on amazon, I will earn a commission. To try and be as impartial as possible I only look for affiliate links after writing the post. Which is why I’m recommending t-shirt dropshipping supplier Inkthreadable and Amazon seller central even though they don’t make me any money…