Me and my husband Simon, first got into the t shirt game after a visit to London’s Camden Loch market. We watched as literally thousands of pounds were handed over to market stall holders flogging really simple designs to trendy and alternative kids. I thought, someone must be making these t shirts and supplying them to the stall holders, and that is where the real money is.
On the train on the way home, we started brainstorming ideas. We didn’t want to violate any copyrights, so we decided that we’d have to come up with all the designs ourselves, and that we’d aim for as many original designs as possible.
Firstly, we knew we had to aim for the London market; the tourists were eating up anything with London on. We sat down and drew up a few London designs for t shirts and when we were happy, we used a computer to finish the artwork. We’ve always been creative and adventurous as a couple, and trying to make a little extra cash with this t shirt idea was nothing alien to us.
The next step was to figure out how we’d make the t shirts. Thinking back on it now, we should have found all this out to start with, but that’s how things go sometimes. We looked for t shirt wholesalers, and found a few that did polo shirts, t shirts and hoodies, as well as other garments. We found some good prices, and decided to order in around 300 blank, heavy t shirts in black (as black t shirts seem to be the most popular).
I sourced the silk screens, ink and frames and we set up a little production line. Our first 300 t shirts were printed over a weekend. After we got into the swing of it, it really wasn’t that hard. We did 100 of each design we had, and made sure we had a good mix of sizes.
Now we had our stock, we needed to get our foot in the door with the market traders. We knew that a lot of them would have suppliers they relied on from abroad who were printing in greater volumes, but we had unique stock, and we were confident that a few of them would see the value in having something no one else had. Most market traders in Camden Town would charge £15 per t shirt, and so we decided that we’d try and make about £3 – £4 on each t shirt. This wasn’t hard at all, and one trader took all 300 off our hands. We left our contact details and waited for a call to see how the t shirts did.
All 300 went over a two day period. Our London designs had gone down a storm with European tourists. We acted very blasé about the situation, and the market trader literally begged for more of the same shirts. We fibbed a little, and told him it was a one off to see how interested he really was, and he offered to pay slightly more than we’d originally sold them to him for. With the order in place, we produced a greater run of t shirts and our trader paid us upfront under the condition that we wouldn’t supply to any other stalls.
Working like this suited us. Simon had a job on a building site and I worked on perfecting our designs, making some new ones and getting the printing process optimised. Soon though, Simon’s work began to dry up. We needed to act fast to start to generate some more revenue. This was the time that we scaled up production.
Firstly we invested in more equipment, more screens, more ink and more t shirts from wholesalers. Secondly, I worked hard getting our other designs sorted ready for production. Thirdly, we planned to get our t shirts directly to the public, bypassing our market trader friend.
We did this in two stages. We got ourselves an eBay account and set up an eBay store to sell our t shirts, and let that sit making us money. Meanwhile, we got ourselves a market stall set up and began to sell our shirts every day, whilst printing in our spare time.
Our story doesn’t end there. We’ve been running this t shirt business for a while now and continue to expand, running more than one stall, supplying to traders at key tourist areas and making a lot on eBay too.
What lesson can you learn from this?
Sometimes you just have to go for things! Seize the day, grab your dreams with both hands and don’t let go. Money is a powerful motivational tool, but passion is what really motivates you.
Kate designs and prints t shirts for a living.