Wanna Start Your Own T-Shirt Line? 7 Pros Will Show You How

Workin' Girl

Lip gloss. Jewelry. Panties. Pumas. T-shirts. If someone were to ask me what I have an abundance of, things that I'm basically addicted to, it would be those five things; especially T-shirts.

No doubt, I am a self-professed walking human billboard. In fact, I love tees so much that a few years back, I attempted to start my own T-shirt line. I must say that the concepts were super dope; so was the name of the line. So, why is it on indefinite hiatus? Because I'll also admit that when I started out, I bit off a lot more than I could chew. For example, T-shirt lines are EX-PEN-SIVE. Because I was ill-prepared, I was spending more to print them than I was making selling them.

Still, I know that one day I'll want to resurrect my line. I'm also pretty sure that some of y'all have considered doing one of your own, but you weren't sure how to make your own vision come together.

Although there are some pretty informative YouTube videos that you could check out (like here and here), I decided to take things up a notch by featuring some of my absolute favorite Black female-owned T-shirt lines on the 'net!

I can personally vouch for each one because I either own some of their shirts or I've bought them as gifts for others. And trust me, after checking out these women's expertise, if having a T-shirt line in 2019 is one of your goals, you will feel more confident than ever that you can pull it off!

Thank you, ladies for your pearls of wisdom. It's like getting access to a free online business seminar and that is priceless!

Tees in the Trap

Courtesy of Tees in the Trap

Arsha Jones, Owner and Founder

What inspired you to come up with a T-shirt line and what inspired the name? Also, how do you select your specialty lines?

I didn't see a reflection of my own experiences, likes, humor, and personality represented online. I wanted to purchase products that represented me — a Black girl who is a little hood, with a touch of bougie. The name came from the Nicki Minaj song "Beez in the Trap". I thought it had a nice ring to it.

How much money do you need to start a line?

That's relative. It could be a low as $20. With the emergence of drop shipping, if you have a domain, Shopify, and an idea, you can be up and running in hours.

Feminine Funk

Courtesy of Feminine Funk

Nicole Grier, Owner, and Creative Director

What is something that you wish you had done differently within the first year of having your line?

When I started Feminine Funk, we had very humble beginnings. Money was very limited, so I didn't factor in a bookkeeper or an accountant to take care of our finances. The truth is, if you are going to have any kind of business, you need someone handling the books. It will give you peace of mind and make tax time so much easier.

What's the biggest mistake a Black female can make in the T-shirt business?

The biggest mistake a Black female can make is to not protect their designs and artwork. I have been guilty of this myself. We are smart and talented and because of this, we are getting knocked off all of the time. Talk to a trademark lawyer and find out your rights and what you can do to protect yourself.

Mess in a Bottle

Courtesy of Mess in a Bottle

Kaliah Wright, Founder and CEO

What do you love most about your T-shirt line and what, quite frankly, is the most challenging about it?

I love the unique concept of receiving a MESSage in a Bottle. This idea stems from the 310 B.C. concept of receiving a message that was dropped into the ocean and then found washed up onto the shore. We are the 21st-century version of that, in which you select the MESSage, it is printed on a premium cotton t-shirt, packaged in a reusable bottle and then dropped into the ocean (i.e. shipped) for yourself or your recipient.

The most challenging part is growing so rapidly with the business. We have exploded in the last three years. We started in my small row home in Baltimore, MD and the brand quickly expanded beyond my reach. We have graced celebrities such as Serena Williams, Lena Waithe and Bozoma Saint John to name a few and featured in publications such as Harper's Bazaar and Cosmopolitan Magazine. The demand for a MESSage in a Bottle has significantly increased and it has been difficult to keep up with as we print and manufacture most of its products in-house.

I'm a walking human billboard, so I'm a snob when it comes to T-shirt quality. If someone wants to start a T-shirt line, how do they make sure their tees are up to par?

A couple of easy things. If you are not a designer, I would try to work closely with a graphic designer to be sure you have a well-designed T-shirt. In addition, I would obtain sample prints of different print methods to be sure you choose the best quality print for your designs on your T-shirt. Lastly, don't be afraid to get a sample of different T-shirts as well to be sure using cotton vs. poly-cotton or polyester is the right fit for your brand. Attending T-shirt print trade shows are a great way to quickly get answers to these questions.

Fab Fly Fancy

Courtesy of FAB FLY FANCY

Tierra McKnight, CEO

How old is your line and what was the inspiration behind it?

Fab Fly Fancy started on Etsy and it has only been in existence for 16 months. In addition to Etsy, we now have our own domain, sell on We Buy Black, and vend at a variety of events. However, most of the revenue is generated from Etsy.

As a full-time educator with a new baby, I was constantly buying items from Etsy. I researched via YouTube and realized that it would be relatively simple to start my own T-shirt line and it would also be the perfect way to generate an extra source of income from home. The inspiration behind my line is a celebration of today's culture with expressive, thought-provoking, and sometimes humorous messages.

In your opinion, is it a good idea to learn how to print yourself or hire a printing company to do the printing for you?

In my opinion, I think it is a good idea to print for yourself because you are in control and your profit margin is typically larger. However, you also need to consider time and the amount of space needed when printing yourself…

I would suggest [buying] a vinyl cutter which is around $200 and a heat press, which would start around $100. Then you would also need to get T-shirts, vinyl, and some type of electronic device (computer, tablet) to create your designs. I started with a small heat press from Amazon, my work laptop, and a Cricut.

Habitually Fly

Courtesy of Habitually Fly

Traci Blanco, Founding Creative

When someone is just starting out, what are three essential things that they need?

Three essential components are 1) a clear niche because it will tell you who your ideal client is and where to find them; 2) a marketing budget because without marketing you don't have a business and 3) an e-commerce website because [putting on your socials] "DM to purchase" is ineffective.

How do you select price points in order to make a profit?

Price points are chosen based on the wholesale costs of all the T-shirt components and the profit margin you're shooting for. This formula can be used to help: Retail Price = [(cost to produce) ÷ (100-profit %)] x 100.

Izzy & Liv

Courtesy of Izzy & Liv

Nicole W. Brown, CEO

I checked out your backstory; it's super-inspiring. What has been the challenges with balancing running a brand and having a family?

The biggest challenge is the fact there really is no such thing as "balance". You cannot give 100 percent to multiple interests because there is only one of you. So even if you are giving 50/50, while that may be an equitable "balance" in the true sense of the word, that still leaves you with the guilt of feeling like you have fallen short, which is a struggle.

For me, it's more a question of how can I "juggle" it all? How can I keep all of these balls in the air and not drop any of them? Also, accepting the fact that I can only have one or two balls in my hand at any given moment, but as long as the other balls are still thriving in the air, all is good. I have four children and there are days where one child may need more attention and focus than another. Being aware of that and giving each child the individualized attention that they need, when they need it, is "balance" for me. And, as an entrepreneur, in some ways, my business is my fifth child. Both my business and my children require constant nurturing and attention to grow and be successful. I do my best to juggle them all and make sure that no ball is dropped.

However, at the end of the day, no matter what, my children and my family come first. So, if I have the business ball in my hand but one of my children need me, that business ball goes right back up in the air, no question.

T-shirt lines are super expensive. What's your advice when it comes to running one without breaking the bank?

I'm a fan of starting out with drop-shipping/print on demand, especially if your budget is limited. This allows you to sell your designs without having to invest in inventory and with little upfront cost of goods. You pay for what you sell as you go and it allows you to see what designs are a hit and what designs are a miss (proof of concept).

From there, you can focus on improving your margins by transitioning your best-selling designs to an inventory model where you produce more in bulk, which costs you less per unit. You can also look into learning how to print your own t-shirts. However, be prepared to be able to scale that operation as your sales increase.

Pink Grey NYC

Courtesy of Pink Grey NYC

Cici, Owner

What are the pros and cons of having an Etsy store?

A major pro of having an Etsy store is the direct marketing Etsy provides [such as] emailing customers on your behalf and directing customers to your shop. A major con is the fees…I would say for an Etsy shop, the cost may be around $500. Having your own stand-alone website will ensure that all profits go to you…but, in my experience, you'll always end up spending more than whatever [is in] your budget.

What, in your opinion, are the keys to success in running a Black female-owned T-shirt business?

Not being afraid to ask for help is the key to doing anything successfully. While it can be rewarding to do everything on your own, it can also be really difficult and maybe even a little unrealistic. So, make sure you have a good support system, whether its friends, family, or members of your church. Utilize those relationships, and never hesitate to ask for help, whether it be connections for discounts on supplies or just for words of encouragement when running your business gets stressful. Having a circle of people who support you and who are there for you can be a lifesaver!

Feature image by Habitually Fly.

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