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THE GIRL FROM AWAY is a little online shop with a soft spot for the Canadian East Coast.

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ASK THE GIRL FROM AWAY: SHOULD I START A T-SHIRT BUSINESS?

Nadyne Kasta


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Hi, friends! Welcome to the first Ask The Girl From Away Q&A! 

Today's question comes from Ellen in Montreal who has a great idea for a t-shirt. She's thinking of having a batch of these shirts made so she can sell them, and she's wondering what's involved in the process, and whether it's financially worth it. Great question!

Let's break this down in terms of process and costs so that you (and anyone else who's thinking of starting a t-shirt business) can decide whether or not it's worthwhile for you.

For simplicity's sake, let's use the East Coast t-shirts I make as an example.

So, the first thing I do when I'm having a batch of shirts made is to order blank shirts. I do that from American Apparel wholesale. I use American Apparel because I like their shirt styles and because they're not made in sweatshops. I also really like that they have stores in most major cities so I can go to a store and check out styles, colours and sizing before I place a big order. It saves me from having to order (and pay for) shirt samples.

If you have a business (big or small), you can open an account with American Apparel's wholesale site, or whichever manufacturer you're using. If you don't feel like opening a wholesale account or if you're not yet a business, you can also almost always order blank shirts from the people/company who are going to print your shirts (who are, themselves, ordering the shirts from the manufacturers). Just make sure the printers aren't marking the cost of the shirts up too much. The entire process can be a bit pricy so you want to keep your costs down wherever you can to increase your profits.

Once you have your blank shirts, you'll want to have them printed.

You basically have two options here. You can either screenprint the shirts yourself or hire someone to do it for you. For the sake of brevity, I won't go into what's involved in screenprinting and I'll assume you want someone to print them for you, as I do.

When you're looking for printers, you'll want to shop around and get quotes from a few places to compare prices. It's also a good idea to ask other makers to see who they are using. You want someone reliable who's got a good reputation, not just the whoever will do it for the least amount of money. 

The printers will want to know how many shirts you're having printed and how many colours you want per t-shirt graphic. Each colour of your graphic represents a different screen in the screenprinting process so the more colours you have, the pricier it will be.

Again, if I use our East Coast t-shirts as an example, here's what we're looking at in terms of costs:
The blank American Apparel t-shirts I use are $5.75 each (when you order a dozen or more of the same size) + taxes + shipping. Then, there are the printer's costs, which can vary (depending on the printer and the amount of shirts you're having printed) but they're generally between $1.50 to $3 per shirt plus the screen costs which vary between $10 to $30 per screen + plus taxes. If you'd also like your wordmark/logo printed in the inner back collar (which I didn't used to do but have just started doing), that's another $0.75 to $1.50 per shirt + screen costs + taxes.

So let's say that making an East Coast t-shirt costs me somewhere around $10 per shirt. I sell them online and at craft/pop-up shows for $34 each, which means that I'm making about $24 profit per shirt. Sounds good so far, right? But here's where things get trickier. I also sell the shirts wholesale to brick & mortar shops. When I sell shirts wholesale, prices are 50% of retail prices (which is standard). So 50% of $34 (the retail price) is $17 (the wholesale price) per shirt, which means I'm actually only making $7 profit per shirt when I sell them wholesale. 

In some shops, I sell on consignment, which means that the shop pays nothing up front but that I make a bit more money (60% of the retail price, so $20.40) per shirt sold. The profit on that being about $10.40 per shirt. So, basically, I have to sell about 4 shirts online, 10 shirts on consignment or 14 shirts wholesale to make $100.

A general rule for figuring out wholesale and retail prices is to take your cost, multiply it by 2 (to get the wholesale price), and then multiply the wholesale price by 2 (to get the retail price). And while this is a great, easy rule, it's also important to consider what your customers are willing to pay for your product. For example, if I'd followed this rule, I'd have sold my shirts for $40 each retail. My feeling was that that was a little too pricey. Some customers would have paid it but others would have found it too much. So I brought the price down, which means I make less per shirt but, because the shirts are a bit more affordable, I sell more of them.

Another suggestion I can offer is to have a proof made before having the full order of shirts printed. So, essentially, have the printers print one test shirt. This will ensure that the graphic looks the way you want it to. If it doesn't, you haven't wasted your full order of shirts on a graphic that you don't like, and you can make the necessary changes to it before proceeding.

I hope this was helpful. Thank you so much for your question, Ellen! 

If you have a question you'd like to ask (about running a small business, being self-employed, the East Coast, creativity, why life is so weird), email me at thegirlfromaway(at)gmail(dot)com.