So you’ve decided to sell custom t-shirts. You probably already have some t-shirt design ideas, and maybe you’ve already found a print-on-demand provider or brainstormed online marketing campaign ideas.
These are important for anyone starting a t-shirt business, but what’s even more important is finding the right niche. Targeting a specific t-shirt niche will help you narrow your focus, identify potential customers, and earn more sales.
If you’re struggling to come up with ideas, don’t worry—I’m here to help. In this article, I’ve compiled a handy list of the most profitable t-shirt niches with examples, based on popular 2023 t-shirt design trends.
But before we get into our t-shirt niche list, let’s talk a little more in-depth about niches.
It’s your target market, or a specific segment of a larger consumer group with similar interests, hobbies, or habits. When you define your niche, it means you’ll be focusing on this specific segment when you’re creating and marketing your t-shirts.
A good t-shirt niche will have high demand, profitability, and low competition. When choosing your niche, it’s good to do research on what are the most profitable niches, but you’ll need to take more into account than just profitability.
A perfect niche will reflect your passions and personality. It will help you build long-term trust and a genuine connection with your customers. The right niche can also guide many of your business decisions—from your marketing campaigns to your t-shirt design and logo placement.
A good example of an online store that’s found the right t-shirt niche is Match Kicks, an apparel company that sells t-shirts with designs that match specific sneakers. Through print-on-demand, Match Kicks has been able to give their customer base—the sneakerhead community—something few other businesses are able to offer. That’s exactly what a niche market is, and translates to less competition and higher profitability.
But to find your own profitable t-shirt niches, you don’t necessarily need to come up with something completely out-of-the-box. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular niches.
Styles come and go, but the humble t-shirt remains one of the most popular fashion items on the planet. But t-shirt niches can be a little more complicated. Much like a fashion trend, niches can go in and out of style when the habits of customers change.
So what are the most profitable t-shirt niches in 2023?
T-shirt niches related to pets are time-tested classics that show no signs of slowing down in popularity. In fact, pet ownership in the US has been increasing over the last decade, which means the target audience for this niche is only growing. Data from 2023 shows that 66% of American households (that’s 86.9 million homes) own at least one pet.
Categories like “dog” and “cat” are very broad, so when you’re thinking of designs for your t-shirts, find a way to focus on sub-niche markets. For example, you can base your t-shirt designs on a specific dog or cat breed. Think about it: if I wanted to buy a gift for my grandmother who owns a Maine Coon cat, I’d much rather buy her a t-shirt with that specific breed, instead of a simple generic cat shirt.
A good example of a business in this niche is the family-owned brand Inkopious. While they sell designs based on many different dog and cat breeds, they have a section on their webpage entitled “Find your breed.” This creates a more personalized experience for customers, allows them to quickly find what they’re looking for, and helps you narrow down the number of keywords you’re focusing on.
You can also go in a different direction and explore niches relating to less popular pets. In the US, the most popular domestic pets after dogs and cats are freshwater fish, small animals like hamsters or chinchillas, and reptiles. These can be great sub-niches for you to try out in your t-shirt designs.
When searching for t-shirt niches for your online business, a good idea is to look at popular activities or hobbies—what do people love to do? Here’s one answer for you: people love to travel. In 2023, US air passenger numbers finally surpassed pre-pandemic levels, showing an 8.6% increase from 2019.
You can create designs centered around the most popular vacation spots or cities and market them to tourists. You can also rep your own city in your t-shirt designs—this way, you’ll be able to market to both locals and tourists who’ve visited your city.
If you’re working with an on-demand partner, you can also easily offer personalized items. Allow people to add whatever city or location name they like to your products, or let shoppers create family trip shirts. How? Printful’s Personalization tool is a great option.
But travelling isn’t the only path to adventure.
Surveys show that over the past few years, people have also become increasingly keen on various outdoor activities that don’t require spending money on plane tickets and hotels. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, 80% of outdoor activity categories experienced a growth in participation in 2022. This includes niche activities like camping, fishing, skateboarding, or sport climbing.
Each of these activities has a dedicated community, so these are good t-shirt niches for you to try out. Afterall, people love to show off what they’re passionate about, including rocking tees about it.
Here’s a tip: according to Deloitte, travellers are increasingly conscious of eco-friendly practices and are looking for ways to support sustainable tourism. This attitude can also carry over into the types of apparel they buy. So, do your research on the best t-shirts for printing to make sure yours are sustainable, too.
Internet culture is a gold mine when it comes to t-shirt design ideas, and, as t-shirt niches go, this is one of the most popular ones. Our own research on print-on-demand t-shirt designs shows that humorous t-shirts are one of those categories that bring in the big bucks.
But you’ll have to be careful with this specific niche. Not every meme will make a good t-shirt and you’ll have to make sure that you’re not selling t-shirts with designs owned by somebody else. Memes also tend to have a pretty short lifespan. So, if you don’t want to appear outdated, you’ll always have to keep an eye out for the latest social media craze.
Thankfully, print-on-demand allows you to experiment freely when it comes to designs. Your t-shirts will be printed only once a customer has made a purchase, so you can play around with different designs without worrying about any unsold stock.
Plus, you’re able to add and remove products from your store in a matter of minutes, which allows you to take advantage of different trends. Once the trend is over, just remove the product and try out something new. This freedom will let you keep your designs fresh and updated.
If it makes sense for your audience, don’t be afraid to experiment with dark humor in your designs and marketing. The bolder, the better, especially if you’re predominantly targeting Gen-Zers.
An example of a brand that doesn’t hold back is the Good Shirts—their shirts are rude, edgy, and they perfectly encapsulate the madness that is internet culture. Another good example is Dogecore—a brand that originated as a successful meme page.
Source: Good Shirts
Few things in life are as monumental and important as family. Most people want to celebrate the huge life events that are finding love and embarking on parenthood. We celebrate weddings, gender reveals, baby showers, family reunions, and show how much we care every year on birthdays and holidays.
Because family is something so universal, it can be one of the more profitable t-shirt niches on this list, since you have many sub-niches to experiment with. You can combine parenting with humor and go for the dad joke sub-niche—a good example is the brand Classic Dad. Or you can make a statement with your t-shirts by celebrating diverse families.
Another sub-niche that’s definitely worth exploring is holiday gifts. For example, you can start selling t-shirts that work as Mother’s Day gifts. Other holidays can also work as inspiration for your t-shirt business, especially the more popular ones like Christmas or Halloween.
TikTok is taking the food influencer industry to new heights. At the time of writing this, the TikTok hashtag #food has gathered an impressive 658 billion views, while hashtags like #recipes or #restaurant have earned 27.5 and 27.7 billion views respectively.
The popularity of food content means there are big audiences out there with many potential customers for your t-shirts. If cooking is close to your heart, you can find a profitable niche in the culinary world.
There are many business owners out there who create food-related t-shirts, so if you want your online store to be profitable, make sure your designs stand out. Look at what’s popular in your specific niche and see if you can do anything a little differently. You can also take a look at the top t-shirt design trends for inspiration.
Here’s a tip: if you’re unsure of your t-shirt design skills, Printful’s Design Maker has many clipart collections for foodies that you can use for your t-shirt business.
Yoga is one of the most popular and enduring fitness trends in the world. There are studios, Facebook groups, TikTok and Instagram content creators with huge followings who are all dedicated to sharing their knowledge and experience in the practice of yoga.
Where there is such a dedicated community, there is a demand for yoga-related products. Your shirts can be beautiful and elegant, or fun and humorous—try out different things and see what makes for the bestselling designs.
Something to keep in mind: it’s likely that many of your customers will buy yoga-related shirts to work out in, so when you’re thinking about t-shirt printing, pay special attention to how comfortable and breathable the fabric of the t-shirt is. You can even order a sample and try it out for yourself—it might save you from any bad reviews.
Gardening can be a profitable t-shirt niche idea, too. The pandemic lockdowns created 18.3 million new gardeners, most of them in the Millennial and Gen-Z demographic. And in recent years, global online sales of gardening products have doubled, with Americans spending $48 billion each year on gardening equipment.
You can search for the #plantmom or #plantTikTok hashtags on TikTok to see what kind of aesthetic plant enthusiasts are going for. If you add this to your list of profitable niches, you can also do some market research on what kind of gardens and plants your target audience is likely to own.
For example, Millennials and Gen-Zers are more likely to rent than own their home, so they’ll focus more on houseplants and vegetables that grow in pots and can be easily moved. So if you’re targeting a younger demographic, think about t-shirts that focus on potted plants. You can also take a look at what plants are the most popular and use those in your t-shirt designs.
If you’ve ever found yourself on the BookTok side of TikTok, you’ll know that literature can be a very profitable niche. This is one of those broad categories with many different sub-niches to choose from. You could go for anything from beloved children’s books to spicy romance novels—literature has it all.
There are two things that’ll be helpful for you before jumping into this niche. First, you’ll need to know your customer. What kind of books do they like? And why do they like them?
If your audience likes adventurous fantasy novels, for example, is it because of the morally gray characters or the sweeping, majestic settings? Consider the fact that Lord of the Rings fans are more likely to love the rich lore of the novels, whereas fans of books by Sarah J. Maas will probably be more keen on the characters.
Knowing what exactly your customers like about their favorite books will help you figure out what your bestselling designs should look like.
Secondly, what kind of books are popular right now? If romance novels are at the top of the bestseller lists, you might want to add a few romance-related designs to your product list. Push them in your marketing campaigns and see how your customers respond. Keeping an eye on trends might just help you earn more sales.
In the current political climate, you’ll have a hard time finding somebody who isn't passionate about at least a few social causes. This is especially true for younger people—global data from public relations and research firm Edelman shows 70% of Gen-Zers are involved with a political or a social cause.
The world is changing and becoming more unpredictable, which makes many of us want to get involved and express our beliefs. Exploring t-shirt niches related to a cause that’s particularly close to your heart will help you build something larger than just a business. You’ll be able to grow a community of like-minded customers who deeply care about the same issues as you.
Many online stores have found more than a profitable t-shirt niche in sharing the ideas they’re passionate about. Just take a look at brands like Jolie Noire and Gay Pride Apparel—these brands were built on strong ideas and have found a great deal of success.
Source: Jolie Noire
Any Stevie Nicks fans out here? Let’s chat all things witches, ghosts, and magic.
Mysticism and magic have found their way into TikTok through trends like “witchcore” or “whimsigoth” and the style of well-known musicians like Florence Welch or (my personal hero) Stevie Nicks. If you’re a dreamer with a penchant for the magical, this niche would be perfect for you.
This trend is a blend of many different aesthetics and there’s a whole sea of sub-niches for you to focus on in this category—you can go for a 1970s retro vibe or a more grunge, macabre feel. A great example of an online store that uses the latter is Terra Occulta. This brand combines humor with stunning designs, sometimes inspired by mythology and medieval history.
If your audience is more on the alternative side, you’re sure find a profitable niche somewhere in this category.
Nostalgia has been one of the hottest marketing trends in the past few years. And it’s not hard to understand why—nostalgia marketing evokes feelings of familiarity and safety for customers. In recent years, we’ve found ourselves living through some tough, turbulent times, so familiarity and safety are two things many of us are seeking.
For these same reasons, nostalgia and vintage aesthetics can make for great t-shirt niches. Whether your designs are connected to a beloved series like Harry Potter or evoke a retro hippie feel, nostalgia comes in all shapes and sizes, so you have a lot of room to experiment.
Several of the top graphic design trends of 2023, for example, have been throwbacks to different eras. This year, people were searching for kitschy ’90s graphic designs, psychedelic art, and ’70s punk aesthetics. There’s demand in the market—exploring this niche might just get you more sales.
Having to pick just one from a long list of t-shirt niches can seem daunting at first. You might be thinking: there are so many, how do I know which one will work best for me?
This t-shirt niche list is only here to help you realize the options that are out there. When you’re trying to define your own niche, it’s important to think about your passions. What do you love? What is something you’ll never get tired of?
Is it your animals, your job, your family? Or maybe there’s a particular hobby you’re absolutely in love with? Write down five things you’re most passionate about and you’ll already have five niche ideas. Start combining them and experimenting to find your unique niche.
You can also look to your own wardrobe for help. What kind of t-shirts do you buy, either for yourself or as gifts? What are your favorite t-shirt shops? This might give you some ideas about what your own business should look like. There are many profitable t-shirt niches that can work for you and it’s up to you to choose one that fits your personality and brand.
Don’t be afraid to try out narrow niches—though the audience won’t be as big, you’ll find it easier to set yourself apart from your competitors and find a unique positioning in the market.
Once you’ve figured out your niche, you’ll have to do some market research. If you’re still feeling a little unsure, don’t worry. We have plenty of resources to guide you through starting your business.
Next up on your to-do list: analyze the market your t-shirt business will “live in”—its target audience, the competitors, and the things you can do to set yourself apart.
Check out our Printful Academy course on branding for a step-by-step guide on how that’s done. In the course, you’ll learn:
How to conduct market research
How to identify your brand values and personality
How to create a memorable brand name, story, and visual identity
If you’re having problems with other aspects of starting a business, check out our other courses, too. You’ll find everything from beginner-friendly guides to more complex courses like how to navigate Google Trends.
But if you’ve already decided on your print-on-demand niche, you’ve got ideas for designs, and you’re ready to start selling, take a look at our guide on the best quality t-shirts for printing. It’s important to do research about the kind of products you’ll be sending out to your customers. Make sure you choose shirts that really fit your niche and your brand.
Before you start selling, remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your business. Building a brand takes time, patience, and the ability to adapt.
Each step you take on your print-on-demand journey is progress. Embrace your learning experiences and keep in mind that all your effort is worth it because it brings you closer to your ultimate goal—having a successful print-on-demand business and a community of loyal customers who love and trust your brand.
Ilze Elizabete Strazda
Ilze Elizabete is a freelance writer with a background in law and international relations. In her free time, Ilze is an avid reader and painter.