I started my own T-shirt company in 24 hours and made $0

A fantastical idea, inspired by internet legends, comes crashing down

Want to make some money? Have you heard the news? The easiest and quickest way to become a full-fledged “entrepreneur.” Start a T-shirt company! A few weeks ago, I stumbled across some articles:

At the time, I was already designing a shirt to help me talk to strangers. So I thought, heck, why not make a t-shirt company from some of my designs? Seems like a quick way to start a mini-business and make some side cash, right?

The Experiment: Crafting The Site

Launching the t-shirt site was quite simple and, surprisingly, quite fun.

Mirroring the aforementioned article’s strategy, I used Shopify’s amazing user interface and website design to quickly boot up a site. One of Shopify’s third-party apps, Printful, made it dead simple to upload designs for on-demand drop shipping to customers.

Drop shipping is when shirts are printed on-demand, instead of building up an inventory of t-shirts before customers have committed to purchasing them. It’s more expensive for the store-owner, but better for small-scale operations.

Now, I just needed designs. I decided to make a bunch of subtle media references, so that only those who watch the shows would understand. I figured this was niche enough, as well as easily marketable in various online forums. After spending a day with Sketch, I had about 20 or so usable designs.

I set the price at an extremely low profit margin — only about $2–3 per shirt, which, if I sold twenty, would make back the cost of launching the site. For me, this project was more of an experiment than an actual money-making business.

A couple days later, and the whole site launched! You can still see it now at http://www.minimalshirt.com until I take it down.

Marketing… and Failing

Next up, I had to tell people about the awesome site I made! And unfortunately, this is where those blogs stop offering useful advice.

One of the blogs mentions advertising in the subreddit /r/shutupandtakemymoney. Not only does this seem to have been a lucky post in his case, but the subreddit currently doesn’t even allow users to post t-shirt products (probably after getting too much spam from people like me).

Well, shit! Where was I going to post these shirts?

  1. I posted on my social media platforms, like Facebook.
  2. I posted on subreddits specific to each show, ending up with 7–10 different posts on Reddit (which is a bit of a faux pas with the community).
  3. I posted in Facebook fan-groups for the various shows, with several thousands of people in each group.
  4. I linked to the site in my new blog post.
  5. I sent out a newsletter update.
  6. I tested out small Google Adwords campaigns.

On the positive side, I got a lot of likes and friendly comments! On the negative side, only two of the people that visited my site even tried to put something in their online shopping cart, and zero of them completed the transaction.

I tried… and Failed

At this point, I ran out of ways to market the site.

Then, I realized: Did I really expect to be selling a ton of these? All I did was slap some mildly creative designs on a bunch of t-shirts.

Blog posts love to proclaim the ease and simplicity with which anyone can make an online t-shirt business. But it’s not that easy. What the blogs don’t tell you is that they already have thousands of subscribes, connections to high-traffic sites, or a ton of money to blow on advertisement campaigns.

Regardless, I had a lot of fun and learned some neat things. Despite what the blogs say, just remember: success isn’t something you can always make in 24-hours.

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