How I Built an Online T-Shirt Business and Made $1,248.90 in 3 Weeks


A few months ago, the team and I built an ecommerce business in three days. Staying true to one of our core values of “Do Things, Tell People”, we documented the entire process.

We figured, why not do it again? In fact, why not do it again with a totally different product, timeline, and budget?

So, that’s what I did.

For the past month or so, I have been building a business and documenting the entire process along the way. Everything from coming up with what to sell, to paid advertising, and more.

Today, I’m happy to share the results of that with you. I hope you find some of the details I’ve included in this case study to be valuable to your business, or to inspire you to start one.

As with the previous case study, this business is also being given away! Be sure to read to the bottom of the post to see how you can enter to win this business.

Enjoy, and good luck!

I believe one of the most important parts of building any business is the ideation stage and being able to move from an idea, to a product. It’s not an easy task to bridge that gap.

I’ve found that the best way to start generating ideas for a product is to sit down with someone and bounce ideas off one another. That’s exactly what Mark and I did.

We knew from the get go that we wanted to sell something that was relatively hands off, was easy to get up and running, and could be an exciting business that would be fun to work on for the foreseeable future.

I also wanted it to be something that required little to no upfront cost. I didn’t want to invest more than a few hundred dollars before being able to turn a profit. And, I wanted to be able to spend more money on marketing and less on inventory.

That way, if this turned out to be a complete failure, I wasn’t more than a few hundred bucks in the hole.

That left us with a few different options:

We decided on selling shirts. It’s an easy business model for anyone to wrap their head around, and with the help of services like Printful, getting started is incredibly simple.

But what kind of shirts did we want to sell? What sort of business was it going to be? Did we want to build a brand that would compete with the likes of Ralph Lauren, Nike, and more? Or did we want to build a t-shirt business that was more like Shelfies meets Threadless?

It would be hard for us to build a brand that competes on a large scale with little investment and time. How could we tell a story about a product that would be compelling enough for visitors to trust us, and to join us and our vision?

And, after gaining that trust – we’d still have to get them to take the jump and purchase a product.

It was clear that building a business around a brand story wasn’t the right route for us (at the time). But building a business quickly that has the potential to turn into a reputable brand was certainly something to work towards.

With this in mind, I got started by looking at what was selling already, what people were truly passionate about, and something that I was personally interested in.

It didn’t have to be anything too compelling – no, it just had to be a proven model that was approachable.

That’s when I started doing market research.

Market Research and Finding a Passionate Community

One thing that I’ve found is that if you want to sell something, it’s easier to piggyback on a community or trend that already exists, rather than try and build your own.

Yes, cultivating a flourishing and passionate community can be extremely rewarding – but we’re here to make something, and sell it quickly.

I didn’t have time to spend months creating content, marketing the content, and then selling a product to the community. That would come after the business model was proven.

I nailed down some criteria that I was looking for in a community. The community didn’t have to match all specific points, but the more that the net covered the better.

  • Approachability—is it a “feel good” topic? Is it something someone would be proud to announce “I’m selling (market or product type) t-shirts”?
  • Is it an “up and coming” market that will be here to stay?
  • Is there high shareability? Is the topic “viral”? Is there the potential for a single design to go viral?
  • Will the audience want to buy a shirt? Is the audience loyal, big enough?
  • Are there influencers in the space? Instagram accounts? Can we send someone a shirt for $20 + pay them for a featured post and get a significant return?’
  • Is there the potential for designs to be expanded to other mediums? Bags, Mugs, etc?

I decided to do a few Google searches for “most passionate communities” which, as you’d probably guess – didn’t turn out so well.

I switched gears and moved to one of the largest online communities – Reddit.

I knew there was a way to filter reddits based on activity, which is when I came across an incredible tool for doing this type of research.

Market Research and Finding a Passionate Community
via redditlist

Some of the different verticals I came across were the following:

Evergreen Verticals: Funny Shirts, Meme Shirts, Fitness, Movies, Gaming, Televisions

Others Based on Subscribers: Fishing, Food, GetMotivated, OldSchoolCool, Cats, MapPorn, Canada, MURICA, Beer, Baseball, AnimalsBeingBros, Mechanics (Justrollintotheshop), Gardening, PenmanshipPorn (lettering), BritishProblems, Zombies, Yoga, Baking, Sloths, UFOs, EDM, Gaymers, Dads

Others Based on Recent Activity: CrappyDesign, Minions, HipHopHeads, Bitcoin, MURICA, Canada, GetMotivated, Tattoos, Ecigs, Mechanics, Sneakers, Corgis, Nostalgia, Beards

After a search on Reddit for “what are you passionate about” there were a large number of threads made where hundreds, if not thousands of people shared what they were most passionate about.

Some of the things that were common across different threads were:

  • Pets
  • Animals
  • Maps
  • Fitness
  • Running

Even if you aren’t building an online business, I’d recommend this exercise. Take some time and look at what people are passionate about – maybe it will inspire you to start something.

These threads are full of insightful details about what people are passionate about and why. There’s certainly some other passionate communities that are just waiting to be sold to. See if there’s one that you can find that could be tapped into.