Virtually everyone owns at least one t-shirt. It is one of the most purchased and worn clothing items. They easily blend in with several other clothing items. They can also be worn almost any time of the year. Over the past years, the trend of custom t-shirts has spiked. There are now numerous activities or events that necessitate the need for custom t-shirts. These can be conferences, various types of celebrations e.g. birthdays, sporting, and so on. The custom t-shirt industry has grown so much that it is now worth over US$4 billion worldwide. There are many focuses but in this article, let us look at small-scale t-shirt printing as a business in Zimbabwe.


There are a number of possible approaches to this type of business. Often, people prefer to have diversified services rather than just dealing with one service. For example, it is typical to provide t-shirt printing services to clients coming with their own t-shirts. Alternatively, you can have plain t-shirts handy so that they purchase from you. Those two approaches entail clients coming with specifications of the designs they want imprinting on the t-shirts.

Another approach is to make unsolicited on-demand prints on t-shirts based on some trends. For example, there can be some trending memes, sayings, and the like. You can print t-shirts based on that and get clients willing to purchase such. I recall there was a time when sayings like ‘Tobva Tadii Paya’ were trending. Many people were eager to buy t-shirts imprinted with that catchphrase.

If you can find a healthy mix of these 3 approaches, your small-scale t-shirt printing business can take off. You can always figure out how to pivot or scale your business as you operate. It is easily one of the scalable small businesses you can start.

Key Requirements

The kind of equipment you will need depends on the type of t-shirt printing you will be doing. Some of the major types are screen printing, sublimation printing, direct-to-garment printing, heat pressing, and vinyl heat transfer printing. You will require different types of machinery – usually at least one. At the most basic, you might need to have a heat press machine, a vinyl cutter, a computer, or even a paper printer.

You will also need the related supplies that go along with the machinery. Examples of such supplies are poly flex, vinyl, and transfer papers, just to mention a few. It is not particularly easy to indicate which machine is the most important in any given trade. T-shirt printing generally follows a linear production model, so all machinery is equally important.

As for where you can get the machinery, you can source domestically, or you can import, e.g. from China. I have a church buddy of mine who runs this type of business. He imported his machinery from China. The heat press machine cost roughly US$560 to import. Then the vinyl cutter cost just under US$1000. Stuff like poly flex, vinyl, and transfer papers can also be imported (e.g. from SA), but you can easily get them locally.

On a small scale, you can easily operate from anywhere, e.g. home or in a rented space. The machinery is generally not that big, and a single working table can be enough. Electricity is needed to operate some of the machinery, and the production level will determine how much power you consume.

Important Things To Consider

Direct-to-garment printing is considered the most long-lasting type of t-shirt printing. A direct-to-garment print can effortlessly survive way over 50 washes. It is the most ideal for imprints that involve precise details. Screen printing is also in that durable league. Sublimation is best for scenarios that require imprints that cover a significant portion of the t-shirt. Sublimation is also best done or comes out perfectly on t-shirts made from polyester.

Vinyl heat transfer is often the best for small orders, e.g. about 20 t-shirts. For much bigger orders, screen printing would be ideal. No matter what type of t-shirt printing you settle for, it is highly recommended to have heat-pressing machinery. Heat pressing will almost always come in handy, especially in curing your prints. Overall, how long the different types of prints last depends on the care regime of the user. For example, vinyl printed t-shirts normally should last at least half a decade. However, this is only possible if washed using mild detergent – either machine or hand wash.

These details and more are crucial in choosing your niche, the type of t-shirt printing, and how you run your business. Being knowledgeable in such aspects is essential to guiding your clients wisely. You need to be able to truthfully advise them on what to expect for the type of t-shirt printing they would have chosen.

Prospects And Market Dynamics

The prospects are huge because you can easily spread the word. Happy clients are your seeds that can produce more client inflows. This suggests that you should provide top-tier customer experiences and encourage word of mouth. Do this offline and online as well – the internet and social media are your stages. The market is segmented but inexhaustible; you just have to build a formidable brand.

Competition definitely is there, especially in central business districts. However, if you focus on out-of-town locations, e.g. peri-urban, you can enjoy market dominance there. Not to shun CBDs, though; market research is always the key since you can still thrive there. There is room to price flexibly and draw clients whilst still profiting.

That is the small-scale t-shirt printing business for you. It is a good business idea to pursue in Zimbabwe. It is easy to scale and diversify in the short term if operated well. I have seen a number of people graduating from small scale in less than a year. This is achievable, especially if you manage to score recurring clients with substantial order sizes. There is still room for more players in Zimbabwe.