So you’ve decided to start your own t-shirt business. Awesome! So far, you’ve got an idea, some t-shirt designs in mind, and the enthusiasm to get you going. Or maybe you already have an online store, but don’t really know what to do next. It looks like you’ll need a business plan.
Why is it necessary? A business plan works like a treasure map, giving you and your team all the information and correct steps needed to get to the gold. And by gold we mean a successful t-shirt business.
Your t-shirt business plan must contain relevant information about the business itself, your market, your customers, suppliers, competitors, and anything else that’ll help you get where you want to go.
In this article, we’ll guide you through the main steps to build your plan and make your brand stand out in this competitive market. Don’t forget to take notes!
Having a t-shirt business plan is the best way to have a clear vision of where you’re going and how to get there. It doesn’t mean you’re free from making mistakes but it sure will be easier to identify and correct them if you have all your thoughts and steps organized and carefully laid out.
A business plan is also a fundamental tool to keep your team aligned and moving in the same direction, reducing misunderstandings and risks that can cost you valuable time—and money.
If those reasons aren’t enough for you, let us give you another one: it can put you ahead of the competition. You’d be surprised how many stores don’t have a structured strategy and fall behind as a result. So the question is, why wouldn’t you have a t-shirt business plan?
Now that you understand how important this is for your t-shirt company, let’s get down to business and actually learn how to do it from start to finish.
The executive summary is a brief introduction to your business plan. It should feature an engaging description of your idea and summarize a few important topics that will be detailed in the plan. Here’s how you can structure it:
This is where you should start detailing your vision. Consider including two different sections:
The problem: Describe your audience’s needs and how you know they exist—it’s even better if you can provide data to validate your information.
The solution: explain how your business will meet potential customers’ needs. Make sure to describe, in a clear and objective way, what kind of business you’re planning on operating (e.g. a print-on-demand ecommerce business, or a local store with in-house manufacturing, etc.).
Iconspeak, for example, was born out of a problem the founders experienced while traveling: they were unable to speak local languages, and had to draw symbols to get information. Seeing that the icons were commonly used, they came up with the idea of putting them on t-shirts, which turned out to be a very useful item for travel lovers.
But you don’t need such a specific problem to formulate your proposal. Let’s say you’re interested in tarot, but when you look for t-shirts with that theme, you can’t find items you’d love to buy. If you notice that other people feel the same, you have your problem to solve. The solution, of course, is your store of creative tees made by a genuine enthusiast.
There will always be a group of people interested in a subject and willing to buy products related to it. But there aren’t always enough good products available in the market.
If you’re thinking of using the plan to get funding, put extra effort into describing your future business captivatingly, and in detail. It’s important that potential investors are excited by your idea and can really see how it’ll work.
The details from your market analysis will be presented in more depth later on. In the summary, the idea is just to provide an overview for context. Take the opportunity to highlight how attractive and promising your market is, building a strong case.
Start by presenting a brief overview of the t-shirt business industry. Then, provide some information about your target—for example, children’s fashion or the geek world. Bring in some numbers and information about the consumption habits of this demographic, and how it’ll impact sales.
Finally, list your main competitors and summarize some details you have access to, like company size, average monthly sales, and the fulfillment method they’re using.
Describe your goals in the short term (1–3 years) and long term (3–5 years). Don’t limit yourself to just profit: offer a vision that includes brand objectives, community engagement, job creation, cultural impact, and other information that’s essential to your project. For example: you want your business to become locally known for its organic t-shirts in the short term and to dropship them internationally in the long run.
Finally, provide a quick outline of your financial plan, and include a chart of your short-medium term profit forecast. And, if you're looking for funding, include details about the amount needed and the timeframe for the investment to pay off.
If you want to expand your Executive Summary, consider presenting a preview of your marketing plan and presenting your team (or writing a quick bio of your own, if you’re running the t-shirt business by yourself).
Pro tip: Write the entire plan first and leave the Executive Summary for last. Once all the topics are well defined, you’ll only need to summarize them. At that point, you’ll have a much clearer vision of your idea, making it easier to write about it.
From now on, the goal is to structure key aspects of your t-shirt business, transforming your idea into something more tangible.
Here you’ll discuss a little bit more about the history of your business and provide basic details about how the company operates. Try to answer questions like:
When did you start the business?
What’s its purpose?
What milestones have you achieved to date? Milestones can include sales goals you’ve reached, new store openings, etc.
What’s the basic structure you’ll be working with?
What will you sell, where and how?
You’ll also need to provide all the technical information about your company as a legal entity. Start by describing your business structure. In the US, your company should fit into one of these categories:
Limited Liability Company (LLC)
Then, provide details about the other legal aspects of your business, like your license to operate and federal tax number. Describe how the legal management of your t-shirt business will be handled—do you have legal representation or do you intend to take care of relevant paperwork yourself?
If you’re just starting out and all of this is foreign to you, check out this article on how to start a business in the US.
If you have a physical store, include the address and details about the locale (size, rent, license to operate, water, energy and internet costs, etc.).
If we’re talking about an online t-shirt business, include your website and list costs and details related to the domain, hosting, design, etc. as well as any other integrations you might use.
Here you should list all the equipment needed to get your products out there, from manufacturing to delivery. You’ll need to include info on:
The space needed to operate for manufacturing, inventory, and administration
Raw materials and suppliers (from fabric and thread, if you're planning on manufacturing t-shirts, to blank t-shirts, ink, and meshes, if the idea is to print designs on white-label tees)
The equipment needed for manufacturing or printing t-shirts or other products, and whether it will be purchased, leased, or outsourced
Vehicles for transporting goods
Office space and infrastructure (tables, chairs, computers, printers)
Make it clear which of these you already have and which ones will be purchased later.
Note: working with print-on-demand, you won’t need to worry about most of this. Your POD supplier will take care of the inventory management, fulfillment, packing, and shipping. In this case, use this part to explain everything your fulfillment partner will offer in terms of service.
Let’s say you’ve been thinking about opening a t-shirt business for a while now. You’ve probably already done some research on the t-shirt industry, but should take some time to go further and find more reliable data. An accurate, complete analysis will serve as a basis for planning every practical aspect of your business.
To write this part of your business plan, filter the most relevant data you find and explain how it supports your business idea.
If you’re operating your t-shirt business in the US, you’ll find that t-shirt sales generated 4.64 billion dollars in revenue in 2022. That’s a major market! You’ll need to look into specific data about the different markets in which your business will operate to ensure success and profitability.
Custom t-shirt printing market size worldwide from 2016 to 2025. Source: Statista
Aside from the promising numbers, there are other indicators that point to a thriving t-shirt market: it’s a widely purchased item in a well-diversified market and highly popular among a wide variety of consumers.
In addition, producing and selling t-shirts doesn’t require specific skills or large upfront investments when compared to other products, especially if you use dropshipping or print-on-demand as your business model.
It’s important to situate your business within major global economic events (like the pandemic) to provide context for current sales trajectories and future revenue forecasts.
Consider also including:
Cultural trends (e.g. the creator economy or activism)
Consumption trends (e.g. sustainability or the continued growth of ecommerce)
Speaking of trends, if your plan is to start a POD business, this article on relevant print-on-demand statistics is packed with useful data. Also, check out this list of market research tools that’ll surely help you out.
You might also find this blog post useful: 7 T-Shirt Design Trends for 2023
Identify relevant players, including direct competitors, major brands, or relevant suppliers. Write down a brief analysis of what they offer, how and where they sell their t-shirts, average price, and business structure. If you can access the information, include revenue numbers as a way to gauge market potential.
Some useful entrepreneurship advice states that you should “Create your store for people, not products.” In this section, you should discuss just that—the people who are so central to your business. Make an effort to outline a profile for and the habits of your ideal consumer, as well as provide insights into how and where they can be found.
You can start by describing your customer segment or niche. It could be anything: matching t-shirts for stay-at-home parents, cocktail recipe prints for mixology enthusiasts, or wanderlust quotes for solo travelers. I could go on forever, but it’d be easier to check out this list of 115 niche market ideas.
Once you outline the interest your t-shirts will target, it’s time to go back to your research tools and gather some more data. Build an objective profile of your target customer, considering these two areas:
Demographic: age, location, household income, education level, marital status, etc.
Psycographic: values, desires, goals, interests, lifestyle choices, etc.
What really matters for your business plan is describing your direct competitors—those who sell similar products to the same target customer. This means that, first, you'll have to define who they are.
Keep in mind that even though you’re selling t-shirts, a direct competitor could be a business that offers a different product, depending on the niche. Let’s say, you’re selling t-shirts for people in long-distance relationships. If another brand offers mugs for this same audience, people could be choosing between these two options when buying a gift. And that’s a direct competitor!
Once you have a list of direct competitors, create a brief analysis of their business. Here are some key things to think about:
Social media performance
Some of this data might be available through public databases or on their websites, but you’ll probably still need to do some business research. Consider consulting with those in the know, creating surveys, and using analysis tools.
Finally, describe your strategy to differentiate your t-shirt business from competitors and position your brand as the best option for customers. You can focus on higher quality products, a more creative or diversified catalog, better prices, or a faster service. Overall, identify what areas your competitors are struggling with and make sure to offer a better solution.
Differentiation can also mean an innovative way to market your products or to offer your services. For example, you could launch a personalized t-shirt subscription service, where the subscriber will receive a kit of t-shirts with exclusive designs each new period.
Read also: 50 T-Shirt Design Ideas for Every Occasion
Another way to differentiate your company is through sustainable values, which means having a company that’s economically viable, socially fair, and ecologically correct. For example, you could launch an eco-friendly collection of t-shirts with fabrics made from recycled materials. Or, use print-on-demand as your business model as it greatly reduces inventory waste spurring from overproduction, a big problem in the fashion industry.
There are many ways to structure your marketing plan, and you’ll probably have to create different versions of it whenever you put out a new seasonal campaign. For your t-shirt business plan, the traditional 4 Ps model (place, product, price, and promotion) is a great call.
Here’s what your 4 Ps marketing plan should contemplate:
As you’ve done in other sections, describe the product you’re offering in a few words.
Haven’t decided yet? Discover the best t-shirts for printing in the article on the Top 7 Quality T-Shirts for Your Store
Define your pricing strategy and explain how it compares to competitors. Break down your prices to specify your profit margin and costs covered. This article on how to price custom shirts might be helpful.
This refers to your distribution strategy. Specify whether you’re selling directly to customers or through other retailers, then list all your online and offline sales channels (e.g. ecommerce, multi-brand stores, your own storefront, online marketplaces, etc.)
This is how you’ll promote your product, raise awareness for your brand, connect with customers, and generate sales. Describe your strategy and what you’re planning to use: social media ads, partnerships with influencers, sponsoring events, billboards, flyers, or radio spots.
The best channels have direct access to your target audience, fit into your budget, and have greater penetration and credibility with customers. If you want to learn a more, here’s a guide on how to market a product.
Pro tip: always think of how your marketing strategy will resonate with your business values to build a cohesive brand.
In this section, you’ll create an action plan to get your t-shirt business out there. Use this space to plan your daily activities in detail and highlight business milestones, contemplating both short-term and long-term plans.
List and describe every activity needed to create your t-shirts and get them to your customers. This includes buying supplies, creating designs, printing the t-shirts, packing the orders, and so on. Provide details like:
Required skills and number of employees for each task
Timeframe of each task
Total space required for the development of operations
General expenses (tools, supplies, utilities, etc.)
Learn more about t-shirt printing methods in this article: What’s the Best Method for Printing T-Shirts
These are the medium and long-term goals that will guide your business growth. List achievements you intend to reach with your company and don’t forget to define deadlines.
To introduce the team that will make up your company, a good idea is to create an organizational chart (or organogram). This is a way to visually present the team structure and hierarchy.
Example of a retail company organizational chart. Source: Smartsheet
Use this space to describe the expertise and skills of the administrators who will help make your business a success. Having other entrepreneurial experiences, especially in retail or sales, counts for a lot.
If you don’t have experience in the area, consider assembling an advisory board, which can also be presented in this section.
If you’re going to need a team to help you run your t-shirt business, include a personnel table. This should detail the annual salary amount for each employee, as well as other employee expenses and, if any, career path options and expected raises.
Example of a retail company personnel table. Source: BPlans
If you’re forecasting a fast-growing company, prepare a hiring plan to increase the team’s size. And as the clothing sector is quite seasonal, consider also including a plan for hiring temporary workers, or even subcontracting services for the periods of greater movement.
On the other hand, if you don't plan on having a team, you should anticipate what you’ll need to handle on your own and what you can outsource to suppliers.
With print-on-demand, for example, the process of printing, packing, and shipping your orders is taken care of by your print-on-demand provider. And since production and fulfillment is done on demand by a third party, there’s no need to hire staff to order, oversee, or manage inventory.
This step is a bit technical and contains a series of concepts specific to financial management, which may sound difficult for beginners. If your t-shirt business concept is complex, you may need the help of an accountant to better assess your prospects.
Generally speaking, though, this section is about presenting your expenses alongside your expected earnings to demonstrate how your store will become financially viable.
It’s all about predictions, but the more you research, the more reliable your forecasts will be. Use all the information you can get to project profits and losses for the next 5 years.
The profit and loss (P&L) statement, or income statement, provides a concise overview of the revenues, costs, and expenses accumulated within a designated time frame.
That means, first, you should calculate all your projected losses—or, whatever you’re paying for.
Investment (equipment, training)
Costs (raw materials, supplies, and everything it takes to manufacture your products)
Expenses (marketing, bills, rent, subscriptions, taxes, maintenance, personnel)
If you’re planning to run a print-on-demand t-shirt business, this article on print-on-demand costs is a great place to start. It’ll help you determine projected profits based on the pricing strategy you created earlier.
In this section, you might also include a break-even analysis—that is, a projection of the exact threshold in which your business will sell enough t-shirts to cover all its costs. From this point on, it’s expected to start generating purely profit.
A balance sheet is created by comparing what a company owes to what it owns. You can calculate it using the following formula: total assets = total liabilities + total equity.
In a t-shirt business, your assets would include, for instance, your inventory, equipment, and cash you might have to invest. Your liabilities would be things like taxes, subscriptions, payments to suppliers, and eventual debts.
The balance sheet is important to demonstrate whether your t-shirt business has what it takes to pay for itself and eventually generate profit. It's a comparison that helps you visualize and adjust your strategy if your operating costs are much higher than your earning prospects or the money you have to invest.
Source: Retail Dogma
Like the other tables, the cash flow statement is also a comparison of the money coming in and going out of your t-shirt business, but restricted to a period of time, like a month.
This dimension is important because your business expenses and earnings will happen at intervals that are not always aligned. For example, the purchase of blank t-shirts can be in bulk at the beginning of the month, but you’ll receive an invoice for it later on.
In a cash flow statement, you’ll be able to analyze what a typical month of operation looks like for your business. It’ll help you plan how to finance operating costs and avoid debt.
In this last section, you can attach files that complete the information described throughout the plan. This can be, for example, photos of the physical space available for your operations, product mockups, or the complete numerical workup of your financials.
Selling t-shirts online can be an adventure, but it gets easier when you have all the information to go in the right direction. That’s what a business plan is for!
Now that you’ve learned it’s not that difficult, it’s time to get to work.
The more you know about your business and your market, the better your chances of success are. We’re sure you’ll be more excited to run your t-shirt business once you have a plan ready.
Want more inspiration? Read some t-shirt business success stories from Printful.
Gabriela is a creative copywriter, professional blogger, and passionate content marketer with experience in publicity agencies and international companies. She loves sharing her ideas and new trends to bring inspiration to everyone around her.