Starting a T-Shirt Line with No Money


I have to admit right up front that the title of this article is a bit of hyperbole. You might be quick to think that a t-shirt line that can be started without any money cannot possibly be a good one. It’s true that we could easily end this post in a few sentences by suggesting one of the many turnkey websites that sell one-off digital printing on every product imaginable. However, I am actually referring to starting a high quality screen printed t-shirt line without any money. Thanks to the internet…this is very possible.

Tell Your Story

One of the main ingredients in beginning a new tee line is to create a story about the brand. Something authentic and genuine, the story needs to resonate with the demographic you plan to market to. The intention here is to create a small army of followers that will help introduce the brand to the masses on the internet. This fan base is probably the most key component to creating your t shirt line without any money and will be referenced many times over in the steps below.

Telling your story is also a great way to help you figure out some very important things about your marketing strategy. Following the conversation and your brand mentions will help you identify where your followers’ online hangouts are and how they interact. This is key to knowing the “how” and “where” to most effectively get your message across to the eyeballs that need to see it.

Create Awesome Designs

Now that you’ve got your story, it’s time to turn your attention to another obvious necessity: t-shirt designs. Obviously without great t-shirt designs you’re not going to get very far. Quite often the designs themselves are what inspires the whole project. You can let your style shine and share your creations throughout each phase of the design process so your followers can watch the evolution. This is another easy marketing tactic that gives people a feeling of inclusion and it builds anticipation for the final products.

So now you have your designs and a compelling, marketable story…so what next? Now it’s time to set up an online storefront where you can sell your tees. Again this step can be completely free! Thanks to sites like Storenvy (totally free) and Big Cartel which offers a tiered membership (with the basic one being free), it’s never been easier to quickly and painlessly establish your business’ online sales presence. This can be a huge step since actually having this online store will make it feel more official, both in your eyes and in the eyes of potential customers.


The Launch Before the Launch

Speaking of potential customers, the next step is to provide them with a central hub where they can go and check for updates and information while you’re doing your behind the scenes stuff. True enough, you could just direct them right to the store page, but since that is mostly designed for the express purpose of shopping it often isn’t really the best avenue to release news about your progress. That’s why it pays off to invest a little bit of time (and don’t worry it’s only time, no money) in creating a launching page using a free site like Launchrock. You can collect email addresses with the landing page and keep everyone updated on your pending launch.

The Sales Before the Sales

Now it’s time to nail down some specifics about how many people are interested in your t-shirt line and which designs are going to be popular. You can do this by listing your designs as pre-sales on your store site. Doing pre-sales is a great way to lessen the risk involved and prevent wasted expenses. The is a great way to determine the sizes and quantities needed when it is time to print.

The Social Hustle

One more important thing to keep in mind though is promoting your business and designs. If you just set everything up and walk away from it chances are it’s going to fall flat. Instead get the word out, and then keep getting the word out. Promote your t-shirts on all your social networking sites. Release announcements about launches, and release announcements about pre-launches! Build as much buzz and momentum as possible by constantly hustling your brand on social channels such as Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. Just don’t be afraid to ask people for links, likes, and re-tweets!

Give Your Line a Kickstart


Have you come all this way only to find that now that it’s time to pull the trigger and go into production (and thus unavoidably incur some costs) that you are lacking in some necessary funds? Don’t worry there’s a way to help ease the financial blow for this part too! Thanks to Kickstarter you can get people to donate to your goal and thus, help “kick start” the whole production. Check out successful campaigns like the one Seibei ran. It is at this phase of the process where you’ll really see things start to come together. This is where building up the small army of followers mentioned before can make all the difference in the world. This is where they will be salivating to back the project and get their return based on their pledge amount.

So there you go, now you know how to launch your own t-shirt line using little to no money while still giving your business a good chance for success! There will be work involved no doubt, and it is going to take a whole lot of effort by your and more than likely a good bit of help from friends, family, and possibly even kind strangers, but you can make it happen.

Blake Poutra is a designer and developer for You Design It. You Design It is a custom t shirt printing company.


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