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How to Find Your T-Shirt Business Niche

How to Find Your T-Shirt Business Niche - Threadsy

Nicole Rollender |

When you’re starting a t-shirt business, choosing a specific niche to serve will help your brand stand out and attract an audience who’ll line up to order your printed garments. Of course, it helps if you’re active or have a network within your niche, like moms, dog owners, athletes, yoga enthusiasts, foodies and so on.

The other big key to choosing your niche is to create some “test t-shirt designs” that you can share with people in your niche market. While you may love what you’ve created, you’ll want to get feedback and validation from the people who’ll be buying and wearing your t-shirts. That’s because you want them to become repeat customers and referrals. As you’ll hear from our experts, it makes sense to ask unbiased people in your target market via Facebook groups or on Instagram. You can also hire a business consultant in the t-shirt market to give you feedback on the saleability of your designs.

Experts Weigh In On Choosing Your T-Shirt Shop Niche

We asked veteran t-shirt business owners and other industry experts to offer their best advice (and lessons learned) for newbies, who want to get their t-shirt shop off to an uber-successful start.

Q: How should a new t-shirt shop owner pick a niche?

Kristine Shreve, Director of Marketing and Outreach, Applique Getaway: Look for the low-hanging fruit. What hobbies do you already have? What communities do you already belong to? If you already have connections with a built-in target market, start there.

However, if you don't have any particular connections, then spend some time figuring out what you really like to do. Are you great at two-color prints? Do you really like making things sparkle with bling? Answers to questions like that may also lead you to your niche.  

Jane Swanzy, Owner, Like Kristine said, ask yourself: What are you involved with? Market yourself to the things and groups you know. Involved with animal rescue? Create a market around that group. Your kids involved in sports? Market first to that group.

Jennie Livezey, Owner, Z Shirts Custom Printing: For us to find our niche, we went by the “do what you know” adage. We had previously coached high school volleyball and had purchased items for the team from another company. We knew what our expectations were when buying. Unfortunately, the t-shirt shop that we worked with didn’t meet the expectations for that order.

When we started our t-shirt business a few years later, we decided to make the process as seamless as possible for our buyers, from the initial contact we had with them to the delivery of the decorated product. We print for a lot of schools and teams because we make it easy for the coaches, parents and fans to order with us, while delivering a quality product.

Q: What other factors go into picking a profitable niche?

La Tonna Roberson, Owner, T-Shirt Shop Dallas and Lady Boss Print Consulting: I’m going in with some real talk here: Most newbies don't consider profits, production capabilities or sustainability when looking for a niche. As a veteran shop owner and screen-print industry consultant, I always say that you do need to follow the money trail. It all comes down to the potential profit, so you can build a successful t-shirt business.

Figuring out how much your t-shirt business needs to make on a monthly basis is the number one thing you need to know to grow. Plus, you should also review decorating methods, like screen printing, direct-to-garment printing or heat transfers, and equipment costs associated with each method to determine what’s best for your budget.

Studying projections over the next five years for various markets will help newbies find niches that are sustainable and scalable when you want to grow more. You can talk to more experienced business owners or even a consultant to determine where your strongest start might be.

Lastly, think about where your niche market hangs out and how you can best engage them and market to them. 

Howard Potter, CEO, A&P Master Images: Like La Tonna said, choosing your niche comes down to many factors. What’s your end goal in life? Do you want your t-shirt shop to be full time, and if, so how large do you want to get? My wife and co-founder Amanda and I planned on doing this for the long haul, so for us, it was offering anything and everything and following the demand until we learned to create the demand. That means we introduce a new product or decoration method and our clients line up to buy. Now, we’re able to read our markets to bend and sway with them.

Erich Campbell, Program Manager, Commercial Division, Briton Leap: Another key point is knowing how to speak the language of the niche you know, as well as having inside knowledge about the kinds of design and products they need. Ultimately, the trick to finding your first niche (you may have many, at once or serially) is to find a group of people you know, with needs you feel like you can serve, and strive to do so in a unique way. You want to stand out from the get-go.

Ultimately, the trick to finding your first niche is to find a group of people you know, with needs you feel like you can serve, and strive to do so in a unique way. You want to stand out from the get-go.

Deborah Hurd, Retail Sales Manager, DIME EMB: Act from a place of confidence. When you’re choosing a niche, as the other experts have said, a good starting place is to go with what you know. In other words, do you have a hobby or special interest you’re passionate about? Chances are good that others share your passion, and passionate people will spend on their special interest. For example, do you love antique tractors? Classic cars? Maybe horses? It may be a good path to identify products you know appeal to your fellow enthusiasts. Then, decorate your t-shirts with designs and sayings that you have inside knowledge of, and that you’d personally like to wear.

Using your past experience gives you a comfort level when talking to potential customers, helping to ease your initial selling experiences. Your confidence will increase by your niche market’s acceptance of your products and it’ll be even easier for you to charge higher pricing when you specialize with an audience you know.

The Big Takeaways

Choosing the right niche market to design t-shirt prints for is one of the most important business decisions you’ll make when you’re launching your t-shirt shop. We recommend that when you have some design ideas for your target market that you produce them in a professional design program like Adobe Photoshop, or hire an experienced graphics designer to help you get off to a great start. Plus, survey members of your target market to see if they’d buy and wear your printed designs. If all of this lines up, you’re off to the races (well...after you get some bulk t-shirts to get started)!