That title is a little bit ambiguous, isn’t it?
Am I going to tell you how to find a market for the t-shirt designs you’ve already come up with? Or, am I going to tell you how to first find a market for your t-shirts and then come up with designs second?
Designs first, then market? Or, find market first, then design?
Well, in this article, it’s the latter.
Market First and Design Second
I believe that in the early days of starting a t-shirt business, it is best to find the market first and give them what they want, rather than designing what you want and then trying to find a market.
When you are an unknown brand it is difficult to convince somebody to spend $20-$30 on a t-shirt to cover your time and material expenses – that is, unless you have a specific thing that they want, or you are providing a necessary service to them.
Further down the road, all going well, you may be able to create t-shirts with a design and message that you are truly passionate about. At that point, having learnt a bit more about marketing and selling, you will be able to target the people most likely to respond.
At that stage, all going very well, you might have the opposite problem – you could have trouble producing to meet the demand!
In the beginning, it is truly best to find a group or ‘niche’ of people first. Find out what this group wants, create it, and market it to them.
The possible candidates to attack are endless. There are so many people interested and passionate about so many things. Just think of all the things you love!
One big reason for tackling t-shirt creation this way is because of the huge amount of competition in the market these days. There has been an explosion of design and production, and new technologies have made the process so much easier. There is little barrier to entry.
Therefore, consumers buying t-shirts nowadays obviously have a great amount of choice. I remember when I was growing up it was really difficult to find cool and unique t-shirts. They seemed to be few and far between. Before the world was ready to buy online, the mainstream labels selling in retail stores had it good. But since we have become accustomed to buying online, it has become much easier to start up a shop.
That’s why I suggest you cannot start by simply putting out what you like to a broad undefined market. You can’t begin by just chucking out your best ideas – no matter how fantastic they are! It will be difficult to stand out from all the noise and become recognizable.
That’s why my recommendation here is to start small. Or as it is being put more often these days, niche down. Niche “till it hurts”, as some marketing gurus are fond of saying.
What is it to Niche Down?
This means to find a small set of people with a particular shared interest, purpose, or community to create a product for and sell to.
The easiest way to explain this is by giving you some examples. Here are three different ones:
Example One: Local Restaurant and Cafe Patrons
In whatever town or city you live in, find a local restaurant or cafe that is unique, well patronized, and that is popular with tourists or visitors to your area. This works best with a business that has a casual feel to it and a cheerful and friendly atmosphere.
Do up some designs that might be a combination of the restaurant’s logo or name and combine it with some features from the local area. A restaurant I know of had the name of their establishment designed to look like the shape of the country they were located in – New Zealand.
This design looked great – tourists constantly bought this t-shirt as a souvenir of their time in New Zealand. It was such a design and quality that they would proudly wear it as a reminder of their holiday. The customer was happy with their memorabilia, and the restaurant is happy because they get free advertising on the tee and make a little money selling the t-shirts, and the t-shirt designer and producer have an ongoing customer. This particular restaurant was forever running out of t-shirts!
Is there an establishment you could approach in your area?
Example Two: College Clubs and Societies
A tee the Robotics Club would love!
Another idea is to look up a list of your local college’s clubs and societies. There are often dozens of different clubs. These groups are full of people who are having a great time doing what they’re doing and would jump at the opportunity to buy a cool t-shirt commemorating their time spent on this activity.
Some common clubs include:
- the Beer Brewers Association
- the Kayak Club
- the Morris Dancing group
- the Karate Club
- the Robotics Club
Ideally you want a group with at least a hundred people in it to make doing a design and t-shirt run financially viable. These groups of people are relatively easy to come up with designs for with a short amount of research into their area.
Which clubs and societies could you create for?
Example Three: Fish Lovers
A Siamese fighter fish tee for the aquarium owner!
My final and most ambitious idea is to find a larger niche with potential customers in more geographic locations.
For example, people who love tropical fish aquariums.
That’s a bit of a weird idea isn’t it!? But that’s sometimes why it works.
There are hundreds of thousands of people around the world who absolutely love their aquariums and their fish. There are hundreds or thousands of facebook groups dedicated to sharing fishy information, buying or selling fish, or bonding over their shared love and appreciation of their pet fish. There are also a lot of fish and aquarium forums – a good sign you’ve picked a hot niche!
You could build a website devoted to selling t-shirts to this set of people. Find out what they love, immerse yourself in their world and create the t-shirts that they would like to wear. Create tees that express their participation in the community. Have fun with it.
To Sum It All Up
The possibilities are endless once you work your way into a niche. And when there are forums, facebook groups and other online communities that you can join, then there is an easy entry for you to gently enter in and sell to them when appropriate.
At the end of the day, whatever business you are in, you are a marketer. So whether you’re providing a service or a product, you need to learn how to sell it. This is much easier to learn on a micro level directed at a small niche.
For some more inspiration and ideas check out these articles on how to make your brand stand out and social media for online clothing brands. Or have a look at 5 ways to earn extra money with vinyl, if you’re using that material.
What are you waiting for? Start niche-hunting and start selling!