Weekend Project: Start Your Own Side Business Selling T-Shirts Online

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Here’s something to talk about while you’re out and about tonight – What would be a clever and new T-shirt idea?

CafePress lets people sell their own art and design work without any of the hassle. They handle the printing, shipping, webhosting, payment processing, customer service, and even returns.

It’s free to sign up and start your own store. Then all you have to do is:

1. Make your own unique design or slogan.
2. Upload it as a digital image.
3. Pick the products you want them to be on.
4. Set your own price.
5. Publicize your store and sell them!

They’ve got all kind of stuff – every size and style of shirt, hats, dog clothes, baby clothes, buttons, boxers, thongs, frames, mugs, pillows, bags, coasters, bumper stickers, clocks, steins…

For fun, I whipped up the MyMoneyBlog Gear store in about an hour. Here are some samples:


It definitely helps to be familiar with an image-editing program, but you can still make basic designs easily using free software like GIMP or PhotoPlus. Here are some more image creation tips. Remember, using copyrighted materials is a no-no.

The main drawback to all this is that the products can be a little pricey and your profit margin can be pretty slim. For example, a basic T-shirt has a base price of $8.99, and that includes zero profit to the seller. To get $1 profit, you’d have to sell it at $9.99. I basically just added a $2 profit margin to everything in my store. So if you buy something (ha!), I get two bucks.

If there is enough interest, perhaps I could run a T-shirt designing contest? Off the top of my head, I’m thinking of two categories: Financially-related and Anything Goes. So get those creative juices flowing! Start your own business in 1 hour with nothing but an idea 🙂

Added: I found out if you sign up as a seller and use my shop ID as your referral, I will earn 5% of the base price of every sale you make for a year at no cost to you. My shop ID is “mymoneyblog”. Also, another option is Zazzle.

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  1. cafepress has been around for a long time. I made some design and bought it my own. The printed logo on the black tshirt isn’t that great. The quality is okay. Like you mention, profit are slim.

  2. No one will buy that stuff.

  3. Wow that is cool! HOw do you come up with so many great ideas!! I am in the middle of opening up a store right now and I get to donate to you by giving you 5% fo the base price! Thanks for sharing your discoveries I am having so much fun trying ideas on your blog, I am afraid I believe anything you say and just jump in like a puppy dog.

    Because of reading your blog I decided to get started on my own blog last week, so I already have an idea for my t-shirts. Thanks again! I am having so much fun blogging!

  4. I’ve been in the retail apparel business for just about 8 months now and I have been surprised at how profitable it can be. I guess living around a college community helps out (University of Florida).

    If folks are serious about starting up a tshirt business, it is a really inexpensive business to start in your own home garage. To get a printing press, blank garments, and basic licensing to start your business will range between $5,000 to $10,000 with most of the money spent on buying the printing press. And, if you’re charging retail prices, the margins are good.

    There are so many people that want custom printed shirts quickly!

  5. Wisely Sunshine says

    You always find a cool idea. Thank you so much!!!

  6. Sweet! Though I won’t invite just anybody to see my “assets” 😀

  7. Jonathan,

    Where do you find out about these services from? Do these folks approach you and pay you to advertise them on your blog? Or do you run into them just web surfing. I have learned so many useful tips from your blog over the years so I am not complaining but am just curious…

  8. Cafepress has been around a long time it seems, but I only recently ran across it. Weirdly enough, I was searching for customized dog items that would be possible competition for my own biz idea.

    For example, if you are big fan of the Basset hound, you can find tons of different Basset t-shirts. Just type in “basset hound” and you’ll get 1,000 options. Every one of those options is probably from some single person sitting at home. I thought that was pretty cool.

    I have no expectation that anyone will buy my lame shirts; I literally made them last night. I am pretty open about my assets though, as you know… 🙂

    But I do believe that someone out there has some good t-shirts ideas. When you get your T-Shirt ideas up, send them to me!

  9. The free stores have some limitations, so if you want to add multiple designs you may need to open multiple (but still free) stores. Otherwise, there is a premium option with a monthly fee.

  10. there are others vendors let you create and sell other than cafepress now, like spreadshirt, zazzle, comboutique, shirtcity.. just few

    and to get some ideas some few good t-shirt blog like tcritic.com, teees.com and tshirtisland.blogspot.com.. okey the last is mine, count it as self promotion =)

  11. T-Shirt ideas:

    “This shirt was last washed on 8/18/1986”
    “Tonight, lets blog until we cant blog anymore”
    “Can I blog you?”
    “I have a nice blog”
    “Blog you!”
    “Vote for Pedro, the blogger”
    “Al Gore’s blog puts me to sleep”
    “Bush’s blog is full of lies”
    “This little blogger was a result of two irresponsible adult bloggers”
    “When my wife is asleep, I blog”
    “Beam me up, blogger”
    “I did not have sexual relations with that blogger”

    For atheists/Agnostics ONLY:
    “I am with stupid” Arrow pointing up.
    “I dont believe in blogging”

    For Hindu’s
    “You blog because in your past life you did not blog”

    For Christians
    “If only Jesus had a blog….”

    For Buddhists
    “Blogging is a way to achieve Nirwana”

    For Jews
    “If only Jesus did not have a blog….”

    For Muslims
    “We blog for the sake of Allah

    For Mormons
    “South Park sucks”

  12. Corrections: Better versions

    For Christians:
    “What would Jesus do if he blogged?”

    “What would the prophet before Jesus do if he blogged?”

  13. I ran a Cafepress shop for a few months and made a slim $25 in sales, until I was shut down for Intellectual Property Rights Infringement 🙁

    Turns out a logo I was using was copywrighted.

  14. My Wealth Journey says

    I’ve bought a few shirts from cafepress and have found the quality to be not so great. What I do love about cafepress is that it allows people to have access to all these creative shirts with funny/unique slogans that otherwise you may not have came across.

    P.S. I love the “Want to see my assets” shirt!

  15. moneysmartlife says

    I love coming up with new business ideas. Even if most of them don’t pan out, one of them eventually will. Beware the skeptics!

  16. For anyone who thinks that selling t-shirts is a joke should check out Johnny Cupcakes in Boston. His shirt designs are cute. They’re also a hipster trend with a high premium. ($40 bucks for a t-shirt? Ok, I shouldn’t complain. I have a stitched Diesel t-shirt that was more than $20. I have a Bebe one with sparkles. Hated paying for them, but they do look good even after 5 and 3 years respectively. Cold wash + low heat = minimal shrinkage)

    Cafe Press is ok. It’s great for merchandising a site that has a following, but no, I don’t find the quality of their stuff to be great all the time. But it’s disposable fashion for a current trend.

    I had an idea for a while that I thought would appeal to PF bloggers… I guess I should try to revive it.

  17. I read on cnnmoney.com about these teenage girls that made $11,000 a year selling their t-shirt designs through cafepress.com.

  18. Ellie, aka little miss splendid says

    I like the “Little Miss” t-shirts. They’re on an 80s t-shirt site, but they are really pricey at $26 a piece… I wonder what type of copyright laws you need to go through to get the rights to put them onto a shirt? This site seems to have the rights to a lot of 80s comics and shows, which probably adds to the extraordinary price of their tees…

  19. It seems that the ratio of people or are successful at making a profit on cafepress, versus those that buy a couple of their creations (or worse, spend for the store upgrade and then generate 0 sales) is highly skewed.

    Sure, you’ll have small number of highly profitable stores. But the vast number of cafepress stores aren’t rolling that much profit, at least when you compare the time and effort put in.

    I think if you’re serious about starting a T-shirt business, take out the middleman (who’s taking a big cut) and produce the shirts yourself. If you want to stick to ideas, try pitching some to the T-shirt makers.

  20. A quick plug for a friend’s new website: PopShops.com. They let you combine feeds from a ton of different shops into a store that you can host on your own website or blog (so no need to link to CafePress). Cafe Press is one of the supported stores. Mini stores are available for the sidebar too.

  21. Have you read Zero Dollars, a Little Talent and Thirty Days? The experiment business was base on a sense of creativity & humor with cafepress.com as well. I think you would find this an interesting read.


  22. cafe press has some cool straight edge shirts on there.

    I was just wondering though, I found this site called bigcartel.com and it seems really great. Only problem is you cant order the shirts off the site to sell, you have to do that on your own. they just let you have a store on the site, and its all free they say.
    How would I go about getting shirts to put up on there? Every site I’ve found wants you to sell the shirts on the site you order them from.

  23. Nicole – I would try the Yellow Pages and look up local T-shirt printing companies if you are able to buy in bulk.

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