You’ve heard that selling T-shirts is a huge industry, and you happen to have a little garage space, so you think to yourself, “Hey, I can make T-shirts in my spare time and make a few extra bucks, too.” So the next thing you do is scour the internet looking for information about custom T-shirts. All you need is some equipment, right? Hang on a second.
There are a variety of ways you can go if you want to make custom T-shirts. There’s digital printers, plot cutters, and even custom transfers, but screen printing is the best way to produce a lot of T-shirts at a very low cost per unit. All the other methods are good for short runs, but when it comes down to screen printing supplies brass tacks, their cost of consumables is staggering compared to the few cents in ink a screen print takes. But there’s more to it than that: you have to consider make-ready, floor space, and how time-consuming it is to custom imprint T-shirts.
The real truth about the T-shirt industry is that while you can make a lot of money, there are a huge number of potholes along the way. Every business has them. All businesses even share common Do’s and Don’ts. For example: unless you are Walmart, don’t try to compete by being the cheapest guy on the block. Instead, offer something the other guy can’t or won’t deliver.
So how do you figure out the potholes of an industry without losing a ton of money in the process? There are a few ways: hit the books; seek competent advice; and also you could do a small experiment. You can dip your toe in the water just a little to see how it feels. For example, you could try to sell some T-shirts and contract out the job. You could also do a small T-shirt project from the ground up. Whatever you do as an experiment, the focus is more on your feeling out the industry, rather than making a profit.
Doing small experiments is a great way to gain a lot of insight without taking big risks. You can run experiments to find out many aspects of a business proposition: Do you like the industry?, Can you sell the product?, Can you make a plan that will bring in profits?, and Are your ideas about production and logistics out of wack? You also can find out other subtleties like Are there kinds of supplies or equipment to avoid like the plague? and What are some not-so-obvious aspects of the industry that nobody is telling you?
Clearly, some industries are a lot more expensive to enter than others. As businesses go, custom T-shirts is a very low-start-up-cost industry to enter, as most beginning screen print shops can get away with spending less than $12,000 US to get good entry-level equipment. Even going digital and using either direct to garment printing or plot cutters will still keep you under the $20,000 mark.
However, dropping even just $12,000 on a garage-sized screen print shop is hardly a small experiment. If you want to do a T-shirt run test, you might try something much smaller. You can pick up supplies online or in a local art supply store, and for less than $300 you can spend the weekend rolling up your shirt sleeves. You may not be able to sell what your experiments produce, but if you are handy you just might. You may be able to run an experiment, have fun doing it, learn a lot before leaping in, and if you don’t have a problem selling individual T-shirts for $15 to $20 each, you might even turn a small profit.
Gary Jurman is the president of diyTeeShirts.com, a website dedicated to helping artists learn to screen print. The site features how to screen print tutorials and supplies, including a crash course in screen printing, how to build a screen printing press, and other start-up equipment as well. He is also president of http://www.RedAlertGear.com, a Tampa-based custom screen printing company.