Startup skills for a t-shirt company
An aspiring t-shirt entrepreneur turns to Ask FSB for advice on getting started.
(FORTUNE Small Business) -- Dear FSB: I am just getting started with my t-shirt company. I need help finding manufacturers or a t-shirt press.
- Ashley, Rochester, NY
Dear Ashley: We spoke with Jeffrey Kalmikoff, chief creative officer of Chicago-based t-shirt retailer Threadless, which sells 90,000 t-shirts a month and has 600,000 registered users on its website.
"First decide if you want to screenprint or heat-press your t-shirt designs," he says. "The quality of the t-shirts is typically better with screenprinting, but heat presses are generally more affordable."
Threadless has found success in outsourcing its designs to a screenprint company.
"Screen printing is a unique trade that takes years to learn, so we never bothered to get a machine of our own," Kalmikoff explains. "Instead, we hired experts who already know techniques to make a high-quality shirt."
Outsourcing can be quite expensive, but Kalmikoff suggests finding one or two vendors who will agree to charge you by your monthly volume, rather than per t-shirt.
If you chose to do it yourself, start with a hobby heat press, which you can get for about $500.
But more important than the press you use is your concept, Kalmikoff says.
"The t-shirt market is enormous," he explains. "Work on the local level and differentiate yourself. It's important to start slow."
Threadless' success can be attributed to its unique "community" system, where customers can both create and vote on t-shirt designs.
Similarly, T-Shirt Deli, another Chicago firm, has built up a customer base by taking their branding to the next level.
"The concept evolved from the idea that people should walk into a retail store and be able to put anything on t-shirt - like a sandwich," explains T-Shirt Deli founder Ninel Pompushko. "The store is set up so you can chose your T-shirt size, color and style, and then pick any letters and image you want on it. All our designs are behind the 'deli' counter. We make it on our heat press in matter of minutes and hand it to you wrapped in butcher paper with a bag of chips."
Customers can also bring in their own designs for the Deli team to press on a shirt. The price of these custom shirts ranges from $25 to $100.
Once you decide how to manufacture your shirts, and get your brand, consider developing a website.
"Creating an e-commerce site will help you ship all over the country," says Pompushko. "It will help you build your brand and look professional. Plus, if you start getting press for your concept and you don't have a website in place, you'll be screwed."