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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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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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