How To Start A T-Shirt Dropshipping Business

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.

Post: My 2015 attempt to create and Scale a T-Shirt Printing Business

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.

Why T-Shirts

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.

Post: How To Write And Publish A Book In 3 Days

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.

setup-shopify

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:

debut-theme

 

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. They have printing facilities in multiple locations around the world but are most heavily UK focused (like me!). They also have a pretty good reputation on the t-shirt dropshipping forums.

I went to the app and installed it directly to the Shopify dashboard. Took a few clicks.

install-app

 

Designing My First T-Shirt

As this is just my first test, I uploaded something I put together really quickly.

bear-design

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.

upload-my-images-inkthreadableI 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.

buy-anvil-t-shirt-online

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%.

import-t-shirts-to-shopify

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!

items-in-shopify

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.

new-designs

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.

Including:

  • 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.

buy-domain-shopify

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.

t-shirt dropshipping

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.

the-t-shirts

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:

  • Amazon
  • Ebay
  • Bonanza
  • Etsy
  • Walmart

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.

amazon-downgrade-seller-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:

amazon-brand-registry

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!

priestley-hoxton-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.

amazon-first-sale

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?

Extra Things

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…

  • Awesome post Sam. This has inspired me to set up a brand later in the year to work alongside our YT channel and blog. Fun times! 🙂

    • Eva Blue

      Hi Cora, nice to see you here as well! And I guess I will see you on FIRE escape:)

  • Greg Heath

    Thanks for your generosity Sam, this is a great read. I must do this in 2017

  • Eva Blue

    Hi Sam, great guide! I’m doing something similar myself, also with inkthreadable. So far, how happy are you with their fulfillment times? BTW this is Eva from reddit 🙂

    • Hi Eva! Good to hear from you :). The fulfilment times are a bit slow. Looks like it is taking 4 or 5 days from the order being placed to it arriving at the customer. Which I suppose isn’t too bad, but it doesn’t really compete with the next day delivery people have come to expect from prime.

  • Delano Nunes

    Hey Sam! Thank you you for sharing. Just one quick question: how do you deal with returns? If the tshirt is too large or too small. Is it possible to return it?

    • Inkthreadable only accept returns if the product was faulty. So what I do if they are asking to return for any other reason is to just refund them their money and let them dispose of it. It is cheaper than paying for their postage and means I get to make a big deal out of how great our customer service is.

  • Arnold

    That’s what I love about this blog – showing people how it’s done. It’s very simple yet very few people do it. Keep it up. Wish you the best, Sam!

    • Marketing has so many different options and variables! I am trying a few different marketing ideas at the moment for Priestley & Hoxton, and will report back once they begin generating some sales.

      Some ides:
      – send free items to instagram influencers, youtubers or bloggers to review.
      – buy pay per click advertising on amazon
      – buy facebook adverts
      – get friends and family to purchase some items and leave reviews. In order to work your way up the amazon bestseller lists and get more organic traffic
      – create topical t-shirts and try to get them to go viral. For instance you can create a t-shirt in response to something donald trump said that day.

      • Arnold

        Buying PPC advertising is the most common and easiest way of spreading the word. This is a no-brainer, but may get very expensive quickly.

        I really liked the idea of creating a T-Shirt in response to some event or phrase. These sometimes go viral.

        The review phase is also interesting, I just thought you had to be a bigger player to use this service. If you want a big player to review your product and you are not a known brand – it costs not just an item and may not cover the investment.

        Thanks for your answer. I look forward to reading your blog post about marketing and generating some sales, if any. I’m thrilled to know what’s worked and what’s not and why.

  • Elliott Davis

    This article gave me a kick in the arse to actually do something. Took about 6 hours to get everything to a level that I was happy with. A lot of that time was actually spent learning how to use photoshop. Here is the website: http://www.montysclothing.com. The only thing that I don’t like so far is that the images on the t-shirts look like they have just been plonked on top. In the future, if these item sell, I will take some proper pictures and use them instead. Would you say you have enough confidence in the item to recommend selling them before the test ones arrive?

    • Awesome! I like the designs.

      I would say that if you want to make it a proper brand that you can be proud of, it is probably worth waiting for the test ones to arrive. You might not be happy with the packaging, or the packing slip, or the relative height on the t-shirt.

      After the first test one and once you know how the printing comes out you can be confident to release new designs without testing each one first.

      Ps. It’s pretty cool you’ve been able to get it to that level starting from scratch in just 6 hours.

      • Elliott Davis

        Hey – glad you like the designs, and thanks for the reply!

        I’ve been waiting the last 14 days to reply – apparently shipping to Germany takes a bit longer than expected. Finally arrived today – glad I took your advice and waited to check the items out, fortunately everything is better than expected.

        I’ve just got to set up some sort of CPA advertising campaign, to try and scale it, and add in a few new t- shirt designs. I might also go for the personalised tags, although don’t really want to push it the price too much higher. Let me know if you want one of the t-shirts/ if I can send you a beer for the guide by the way!

        I can also throw you up some updates regarding campaign successes/ a review of the first month if you are interested?

        Ells

        • Awesome. Yeah please send me one. Drop me an email at hello@arbing.co.uk and I will send you my details. And yes please update me with how you get on and what marketing stuff you have tried. Good luck!

  • Mo

    Hi Sam,

    What an awesome post. funny enough I had just heard about Merch which is a t shirt printing service by Amazon. it has no risks involved but you’d have to wait upto 4 months for amazon to approve your seller account (could be longer for us in the UK). I was gutted to have heard that but then I visit your site and find this post…Sweet!!. I shall certainly give this a go before my Merch account is approved.

    I think you should keep your current brand, the name sounds like a luxury brand and the designs are really cool.

    • Hi Mo,

      Yeah I am on the waiting list for Merch as well. Been waiting for about six months now and have pretty much given up. From what I’ve read they are limiting and closing the current customer base anyway. Much better to have complete control like with this.

  • BiGSNeeZe

    Hi Sam,

    Just want to say thank you so much for this blog.!Your honesty and integrity has shone through throughout!

    So many articles pose as blogs to help you but have no substance and just want to sell you at the end to make money.

    But this was so simple and easy to follow! You’ve inspired me, if I ever make it big one day, you’re one of the people I owe it to.

    Thank you man!
    KayodeKoD

  • BiGSNeeZe

    Hi Sam,

    Just want to say thank you so much for this blog.!Your honesty and integrity has shone through throughout!

    So many articles pose as blogs to help you but have no substance and just want to sell you at the end to make money.

    But this was so simple and easy to follow! You’ve inspired me, if I ever make it big one day, you’re one of the people I owe it to.

    Thank you man!
    KayodeKoD

    (Ps I wish I wasn’t still saved as BiGSNeeZe lol I created my Disqus account years ago)

    • BiGSNeeZe

      Mate I have honestly spent the last hour or so just through your website, following your social media’s etc. and you are amazing!

      I do have a question though, what made you decide to go with Shopfiy and Inkthreadable, rather than each of their competitors? What made you choose them?

      Thanks man, I appreciate your answer from where ever you are in the world lol

      • Hi big sneeze (haha). sorry I missed your message. I just went with inkthreadable because it was the first I found and I was trying to it all really quickly as a proof of concept. I used shopify because I’ve been using it for years and really like the servic.

  • Kate Dunston

    Hi Sam,

    I was just wondering how returns work with inkthreadable? I know they state that they won’t deal with them but how do you go about refunding a customer yourself?

    Thanks

    • They don’t accept returns unless the item was faulty. If it is a change of preference I just refund the customer myself

  • Marc Davey

    Hi Sam

    Great post and really timely. I used inkthreadable to make a gift for my wife and I’m just about to start selling mugs through etsy using their service, I should be up and running this weekend. After reading this I’m considering trying amazon, the £30 a month charge had put me off but the free option has opened the door.

    Thanks

  • Jenny Giannopoulou

    Hi Sam, great post. I am starting a T-shirt business of my own.. not with shopify though. Since I have the knowledge and skillsto do it, I went with my personal site and WooCommerce. Inkthreadable is already connected through API, payment solutions too.. now working on designs. Anyway, I wanted to ask you something…if you know. I had already opened a merchant account with Amazon and just now I went to register my brand. I got he below message “Currently, we are not accepting applications ahead of the launch of a new Brand Registry experience on Amazon. Please revisit this page soon to enrol in the new Brand Registry.
    If you are looking for a way to list products that do not have a GTIN (Global Trade Item Number), which includes a UPC, EAN, JAN or ISBN, you can apply for an exemption. Most categories require sellers to use a GTIN when creating new product detail pages or when matching to existing products in the Amazon catalogue. Find out more about GTIN exemptions.” . Any ideas ? Thanks a lot

  • Greg

    Hello Sam, a real interesting blog post here…

    Do you know of any other UK based drop ship t-shirt services you can link using a Shopify app like Inkthreadable?

    I’ve used Inkthreadable recently for a couple of samples and they were a right shambles. Sending through a miss print with the white base layer and the actual design the first time round and then correcting that and sending the design through with the wrong label screen printed inside the neck the second time round – I’m already very quickly loosing faith.

    Be great to know of any others you might know of.
    Did find this place http://www.tshirtdrop.co.uk/dropshipping/ but their facebook has been deleted and there twitter account hasn’t been used since 2015 🙁

    • Hi Greg. I haven’t used any others than inkthreadable, but there must be a few around! Let me know if you find a better service 🙂