T-shirts are more than just clothing. They have transcended even beyond being fashion items to being full-blown cultural representations. T-shirts are used in so many ways to show what people care about, who they are and what they believe in. For the savvy mind, there’s a huge opportunity in the t-shirt business. Statement t-shirts are big business worldwide and this is a niche of the t-shirt market that presents a great opportunity for a business with the right approach.
A statement t-shirt is simply a t-shirt that makes a statement and appeals either to popular matters or niche interests. The simplest example I think of to explain this is a t-shirt that reads “Proudly Zimbabwean” with a graphic to go with it. You can quickly understand why statement t-shirts are a great business idea. They can be applied to just about anything. What has proven popular with Zimbabweans and the world at large are things such as totems, music, cities and towns, alcohol, marijuana, hobbies, sports and popular sayings. So where do you come in?
The idea is to find something that people are extremely emotional about to the extent of wanting to literally walk around wearing their feelings on their chest. You can see in the aforementioned list that these are all things that are close to their hearts of people and many would want to make a bold statement about via t-shirts. It is best to find an area and stick to it. As a food lover, I will use food examples to bring the point home. The avocado is a divisive fruit with those who love them doing so boldly while those who do not do so with equal passion. For this, to work we will focus on those who love them, of course. For the record, there are t-shirts for avocado haters out there. All you need is a convincing graphic and a relatable statement about avocados and you could have a hot statement tee on your hands.
This is important. At the end of the day, we are selling garments here and while the focus is the statements on the garments they are still garments. So you want to make sure that the t-shirts themselves are comfortable and durable. You will also need to consider things like colourfastness in the wash. You need to find a supplier that has good quality material. You may think that this is the supplier’s responsibility but customers will associate the t-shart quality with your business.
Then there’s getting the t-shirts printed. And this is where things get a little bit tricky. Without getting into a deep discussion about t-shirt printing that could easily be its own article, you have a few options for printing methods. Printing them one by one is more expensive but easier if you need one t-shirt. It is more expensive per unit. Getting them printed in batches makes the per-unit cost cheaper but this works best with large production runs. I personally do not know 1000 avocado lovers who would part with money for a statement t-shirt about avocados. So a digital on-demand printing set up may work best especially in the early stages.
Then comes the all-important matter of distribution and sales channels. It’s all-important because the world is awash with T-shirts and sources of them. You will need to look at distributing yourself. The state of the world and the internet makes this a whole lot easier. You will need to bear in mind that it is the convention in eCommerce that the customer pays for postage, shipping and handling. So having a shipping partner who is ready to go will do you a world of good. By all means, looking for clothing retailers and t-shirt boutiques (I don’t know what else to call them) to stock your merchandise is also a good additional sales channel. Placed in the correct channel your t-shirts will sell themselves. And if you have chosen the right subject matter for your statement t-shirts you can have customers all over the world.
One last thing to think about is trends. I’m a fan of trend surfing and this is one business that can certainly be helped by trend surfing. That said trends have limited lives and it’s important to note that not all trends are created equal. If you pick summer as a trend it comes back every year. Lockdown as a recent trend is just over a year old and we do not know for sure if we will ever see it again or not. So while trend surfing is great you want to be careful with the trends you surf. The impact should also be considered on the printing method you use. If you’re using digital on-demand printing then there’s not a lot to worry about. If you are batch printing you might end up with a whole lot of unwanted inventory. We don’t want this.
A final tip there are one-stop-shop printers that will provide both the t-shirt and the printing service, they are worth considering. You could also set up agreements with these one-stop shops in foreign countries to fulfil orders in those countries. This gives you a way to expand without a large investment.