How to Start a Christian T-shirt Business: The Complete Guide
T-shirts are one of the most popular products sold by Christian entrepreneurs. Competition is fierce, but finding a niche you are passionate about can give you an edge when starting a t-shirt brand.
As an entrepreneur who has dropshipped, vinyl printed, and screen-printed Christian t-shirts and sold them online, I would like to share my experiences with other entrepreneurs who are looking to start a Christian t-shirt business.
So, let’s start with the question…
How do you start a Christian T-shirt business? Let me start with a 10-step simple answer then we can unpack it.
- Decide who your target audience is.
- Sketch 3 designs on paper that you would like to sell.
- Come up with a name & domain for your brand.
- Determine how you will print and fulfill t-shirts.
- Decide which online platform you will use to sell your t-shirts.
- Determine how you will market your brand.
- Get your first 3 t-shirt designs live online.
- Make your first t-shirt sales.
- Followup with your customers and get reviews.
- Amplify your efforts.
Determine your target audience
Before you start thinking about designs to sell, it’s important to consider who you want to sell to. There’s an important reason that I list this one as the first step and I’ll explain shortly.
There are so many general Christian t-shirt brands on the market. If you can narrow your audience a bit, you will have a better chance of creating a tribe around your brand.
With the number of sports fans in the U.S. alone, you could specific sports fans, or sports fans in general.
Targeting people that enjoy exercise as a hobby is interesting if you create simpler designs that look good on wicking apparel. The “iron sharpens iron” designs are already being made by several brands. But there are very few brands that are leveraging wicking apparel to do it.
If you have the same interests as your target audience, it will make it easier to come up with relevant designs and know where your target audience hangs out on and offline.
Sketch 3 Designs on Paper
If you have already decided to dropship t-shirts from an existing brand, you can skip to the next step. Although I suggest going through this exercise in case you decide to sell your own designs later.
This next step has nothing to do with having artistic skills or designing your own t-shirts.
Get some paper and a pencil. Now that you have an idea of who you would like to target, sketch out three designs on paper that you can envision selling to this audience.
Make your sketches small. Four inches by four inches is plenty large to get ideas on paper.
Keep your sketches handy. We can use these later when it comes time to create your first t-shirts.
Decide on a Brand Name & Domain Name
Naming your Christian tee brand is a hugely important step. There is a reason that I combined these into one step. Here are a few tips to help you come up with a memorable name and domain name that aligns with your shirt brand.
First off, if you are planning to sell anything online, I can’t tell you how important it is to come up with a name that is relevant to your brand, is impressionable, and aligns with an easy-to-type domain name for your website.
The reason that determining your target audience first is so important is that it sets the tone for many of the remaining steps, including your brand name.
If you plan to mostly sell online, it is so important to nail the domain name. And with the number of domains that are currently registered, finding a good one is not an easy step.
Here are a couple of considerations when selecting a domain/brand name:
Choose a domain with a .com extension
The reason is simply that .com domains are what most people remember. So if your brand name is “316 Tees”, many people will try to type 316tees.com in the URL bar or Google search. If your domain is 316tees.net or 316tees.co, it’s just one more obstacle that your visitors have to overcome to find you.
Do not use hyphens in your domain name
If you find the “perfect” domain but discover it is not available, there might be a temptation to just add a hyphen. For example, 316-tees.com. Most people never assume the hyphen, so they will type the domain without. Those visitors will end up on the other 316tees.com.
Make sure the brand name isn’t already being used
If the .com is already taken, and you avoid the hyphen and alternate extensions, you should be safe here. But either way, you want to be able to create branded materials, printed logos and more. You can’t use an already trademarked term. But you also wouldn’t want to try and compete with someone in the same niche with a similar name.
Similarly, if you are ever thinking about trademarking your brand (most brands don’t) make sure your name isn’t infringing on another trademark.
Several years ago, I acquired the domain, ShiningArmor.com (I no longer own it). I had an awesome logo created. The designs were initially parody designs (which I no longer advocate- but we can discuss that later). See my models below (lol):
Without going into great detail, a certain big (secular) brand with Armour in their name sent me a cease and desist letter when they spotted my shirts for sale on Etsy after I applied for a Trademark online. It’s unfortunate that small brands have big headaches if they step into the yard of a big brand.
It wasn’t a big deal because I could sell the above designs on any brand, but I planned to create a Christian athletic set of shirts with Shining Armor logo designs. I stopped before I got started.
Choose a short name that’s easy to remember
There’s a reason why most Fortune 100 brands have short brand names. They are easy to remember. They are easy to display on thousands of different types of digital and physical branding materials. The shorter your domain name, the better. Try to keep it under about 17 characters if possible.
Years ago, the brand C28 Clothing (who was responsible for the NOTW line) had the URL: C28.com. Three letter domains are hard to come by, but C28 came up with their name with inspiration from Colossians 2:8, which says..
“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ”Colossians 2:8
This just shows how you can be creative when coming up with a name for your brand. C28.com is easy to type in and remember so this was a great domain name.
Write down a list of at least 20 ideas, then check availability
I always write down ideas on paper. First, write down ideas as words or phrases, then you can put them together as potential domain names. Once you have domain ideas, go to Godaddy.com. Enter each domain (with the .com extensions) into the Godaddy search bar. As domains are not available, draw a single line through them.
When you are finished, hopefully, you have 3 or 4 domain names that are available. Now it is time to make a decision based on which one you like. If you like something a lot, go ahead and buy it. Even if you change your mind, you are only out a few dollars. But that way, no one else can nab the domain while you are making a decision.
Create a Logo
Once you decide on a name, you need a logo for your brand. There are several logo design companies online. You should expect to pay $80-300 for a nice logo. Many designers charge more.
I’ve used several over the years, including having friends design logos for me. TheLogoCompany.net is a good one I have used. I have also used Fiverr. But be very careful on Fiverr to find a designer with at least 200+ high reviews. Even then, have a good idea of what you want. Otherwise, their final deliverable will not likely meet your expectations.
Determine Fulfillment/Printing Method
There are so many variables when trying to decide how to fulfill your t-shirts. I will discuss some of the best options, then go deeper into this section in a separate blog post.
When I decided to sell Christian tees online, I first sold them using a couple of dropshipping distributors. For those not familiar with the term, dropshipping is when a retailer sells products, and a distributor packages and ships the product, usually with the name of the retailer on the packaging.
One advantage to this method is time to market. When I dropshipped Christian tees, it took me very little time to get my website up and running with products ready to sell.
Two disadvantages to drop shipping are low-profit margins and market saturation.
Because the drop ship distributor fulfills the products, the margins tend to be pretty low. And because distributors often approve anyone who qualifies, there are usually a large number of retailers competing to sell the same products.
That said, anyone who wants to be successful dropshipping t-shirts can do it. But this is not my recommended way to sell Christian tees anymore unless you can make a special arrangement with a smaller business. Dropshipping for large brands just fuels the large brands and really doesn’t help you establish your own message or brand at all.
Screenprint Your Own Designs
Screenprinting is the lowest cost t-shirt printing method as long as you print enough quantity. Typically large brands screenprint their designs because it is the lowest cost for companies who stock their own products.
For smaller, startup brands, however, screenprinting your own designs means you need to print enough stock of each size, anticipating which sizes you will sell the most of. The biggest drawback (from my experience) is smaller startups can easily print 7 designs x 100 shirts per design (minimum) and if the designs do not take off and sell, you are stuck with a lot of t-shirts.
In addition, with this method, you have to factor in the time to package the design, cost for packaging, time to ship, and more.
Creating Designs with T-shirt Vinyl
I will keep this one brief but e-mail me if you have questions about any of these. I bought a big vinyl cutter on eBay, a $1200 heat-press, about 100 rolls of different colors and styles of vinyl and sold a ton of shirts on Etsy.
That was about 5 years ago. Now Etsy is way too competitive thanks to the next method I will discuss. And all-in-all, vinyl is not scaleable.
It is a really fun way to print your own shirts whenever you want. Although you are color and design limited, you can creatively do some really cool one and 2 color prints.
But vinyl is best for higher-priced Athletic apparel. If you decide to do an athletic Christian T-shirt line, and you plan to create Christian athletic jerseys, then vinyl might be just for you. The margins are good if the retail prices are a lot higher.
Back in the Tim Tebow football days, it would have probably been a really good time to print up some John 3:16 jerseys. Even today, with the number of people that wear athletic apparel, there is a market. You just have to create a solid strategy around this printing method.
Using Print-On-Demand Services
This is one of the most popular and newest methods today for brand new startups. Print-on-demand shops are basically t-shirt fulfillment companies that have DTG (direct-to-garment) machines allowing them to print your one-off t-shirt orders as you get them.
This is a huge advantage for entrepreneurs who want to test out new brands on their site because you can create 20 designs in multiple different sizes without having to stock any product.
These shops are fairly new (within the last 3 years) but the quality and pricing have gotten pretty competitive, which is great for someone who is starting out.
Shopify helped fuel the growth of these companies because of the massive amount of T-shirt stores that are on the Shopify platform, which opened the door for Shopify to partner with the brands as ‘apps’ on the eCommerce platform.
Decide which online platform you will use to sell your t-shirts.
In this section, I am not going to list all the dozens of platforms there are. I will just be listing the ones I have found to be the best. But if you have a question about a platform, let me know.
Etsy is mostly a handmade goods marketplace. In other words, the original intent of Etsy was to allow small businesses to sell products like crafts, handmade and hand-carved art, and more. Over the last few years, Etsy has allowed quite a bit more in the marketplace, but they still don’t allow the sale of items not manufactured by the seller (for the most part).
About 5-6 years ago, Etsy was a relatively small marketplace. Entrepreneurs could go to Etsy and see which products were selling the most. This is a huge advantage over an eCommerce site, but it opens the door for thousands of entrepreneurs who steal ideas and start their own stores.
That said, Etsy is still a great marketplace for many types of products, especially products that cater to women, since women make up the majority of the target audience on Etsy.
The biggest advantage of Etsy is the time to market. You can come up with an idea, create the design and have it on Etsy for sale to be seen by a huge audience faster than almost any other platform online.
But my advice to Christian business owners today is to only sell products on Etsy that you have some proprietary method to create. In other words, t-shirts are (unfortunately) the easiest products to copy and re-create.
Several of our favorite designs come from Etsy. For example, there are a few Iron Sharpens Iron shirts from Etsy sellers that we feature on our Top 7 Iron Sharpens Iron blog post.
But if you sell custom Christian jewelry, hand-painted or hand-drawn artwork or prints, and similar products, you have a better chance of sustaining sales on Etsy without worrying about someone copying your creations.
Shopify eCommerce platform
There are dozens of eCommerce platforms online. For those who don’t know, an eCommerce platform is an online tool that allows entrepreneurs to display their products for sale on a website.
I believe Woocommerce has the most online users. But the reason for that is because Woocommerce is a WordPress plugin, and there are more WordPress sites than any other CMS (content management system) online.
But when it comes to website speed, SEO friendliness, number of apps and integrations, ease of use, number of online guides and manuals, number of fast loading templates, and more, Shopify is hands down the #1 best eCommerce platform online (in my humble opinion).
The advantage of building your brand on Shopify (as opposed to a marketplace like Etsy) is you own the domain name, and you can build up your brand with less concern about a bunch of new startups stealing your ideas.
The disadvantage of using an eCommerce platform like Shopify is that there is no marketplace ready to buy your products. You have to market your brand, create interest, and generate sales on your own.
The great thing about an eCommerce platform like Shopify is that it has so many apps and integrations. And most of the themes load super fast.
You will pay a monthly fee with Shopify, but it is super affordable for a new brand. Two things the fee buys you are security and regular updates. These are both big concerns on a Woocommerce site where plugins are hacked all the time, and you have to keep up with your own updates.
I said Shopify was super fast. Compare that with Woocommerce (SLOW). There is no comparison. Woocommerce is a giant eCommerce plugin riding on the back of an otherwise awesome CMS platform. It’s like the heavy rucksack on the back of a 21-year-old soldier.
Also, Shopify is integrated with several print-on-demand services. So it’s super easy to get started and manage your business when you couple Shopify with print-on-demand shops.
Again, these are opinions from my experience. What I am not going to do is tell you about all the possibilities you could try. I would rather tell you what has worked best for me.
Determine how you will market your brand
I could write an entire blog post for this one section. In fact, I will. An overall long-term marketing strategy has many more components. But here I’m just going to talk about a few of my favorite marketing channels.
In the very first section of this post, I discussed determining your target audience. That is a huge part of what goes into your marketing strategy.
Marketing on Facebook
If you want to start a Christian T-shirt brand and you have a Facebook account, you have probably seen the massive amount of Christian t-shirt brands that show up on there in advertisements.
The reason there are so many brands is the massive Christian audience that’s on Facebook.
This Christian brand is in my feed right now since I follow Ike White’s Pescador419 Facebook page. This is the organic way to do sell your gear on Facebook:
The above is good if you have a pretty engaged audience, but don’t expect huge numbers from organic posts. Paid Facebook posts are the way to go if you have a little budget to test some ads and audiences.
I took a screenshot of the 1st paid post in my feed this evening. It is a tactical brand I’ve never heard of. But the numbers and engagement are quite impressive. The ad is impressive as well:
So why Facebook?
Think about this for a moment. Let’s say you want to sell red tennis shoes. Who is your main audience for these? Hm. Not sure I would have to do some research.
How about fishing lures? Ok, this is a little easier. My audience is probably mostly men who like the outdoors. That opens things up a bit when I want to build content on my website, like the best fishing spots in each state. Make sense?
This type of content is inbound marketing content that shows up in Google for search terms that fishermen type in. They land on your site, read your content, and voila you are selling fishing lures that are relevant to your audience.
Now think about Christian t-shirts. It would make sense we could sell a lot of tees if our website ranks for Christian tees, etc, right? That’s gonna take awhile. Google Ads is a good option but it’s highly competitive in this niche.
Well did you know that some 70% of Americans identify as Christian? Yes, that is a huge number. In fact, there are about 327 million people in the U.S. That leaves about 228 million people that identify as Christian. Even if that number was only 25%, it’s still a lot of people.
You could even narrow the age segments down to the target audience you want (Millenial, GenZ, Generation X) and would still have a large target audience.
So what does that have to do with Facebook? Well, Facebook has some pretty cool targeting options.
You can target Christians in some pretty cool ways. How about all the people on Facebook that listen to Christian music? That is a number in the millions. If you want to get more targeted you can target Gospel or Contemporary Christian music fans.
Or how about targeting all the people who like specific Christian groups or non-profits? No problem. Those are solid options.
What about targeting people who follow specific Christian Facebook pages. You can do that too.
Try that with Red Tennis shoes. Not so easy. Fishing Lures? Better.
Facebook is one of the best places to build a new brand. You can get your designs in front of a lot of people. Even those who don’t buy will see your shirts, which creates brand awareness.
Advertising on Google
Google Ads are extremely effective for many brands. They are also very competitive and can get expensive.
But for the right product, like Fishing Lures or Red Tennis Shoes, Google Ads is an excellent place to get laser targeted leads with high intent to buy – on your website.
For Christian T-shirts (or any product) I always, at least, try Google Ads for a couple of reasons.
First off, you spend the money on Google Ads to get data you can use to market your brand, especially to inform your SEO (search engine optimization) strategy.
There are certain bidding methods you can use (Phrase match is my favorite) that will send you good potential leads and give you ideas on certain keywords you can optimize for.
For example, you bid on the keyword “Christian t-shirt”. It’s fairly broad but relevant.
I don’t want to pick on the above brand, but that is not a great ad at all. Very repetitive in the title. They aren’t taking advantage of all the “real-estate” that Google allows. Just a really boring ad. If you see ads like this, and they stick around, you know there is hope.
Anyway, back to the advantage.
Your Google Ad data tells you that many visitors are actually typing “Gym Christian t-shirts”, landing on your website, and buying 2 of your sports designs. Maybe ‘Gym Christian T-shirts’ wasn’t a keyword you thought about. But now you know that you probably want to SEO optimize for that search term for the athletic products you carry.
Because the clickthrough rate is much higher in organic search results compared to paid search results (usually 6-7x higher), you can hypothesize that if you rank #1 or #2 in Google for these terms, you should be able to sell a lot more of these organically.
The second reason I try Google Ads every time is that you don’t know what you don’t know. Maybe it’s a good channel for your product. Maybe it’s not. But why not spend a few hundred dollars to make sure?
If it pays off, you make an early return on your investment. If it doesn’t, you use the data to determine your best selling designs, the best keywords, use the opportunity to test live customers, and more.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
It would be silly for me to write a big eCommerce SEO section when a proven expert has already written one. Brian Dean (Backlinko) wrote the 2020 Definitive Guide to eCommerce SEO. You can access the guide free right here: https://backlinko.com/ecommerce-seo
Start by reading Brian’s guide and implement the basics on your website.
Although there are over 200 algorithmic factors that go into how Google ranks a website, my experience tells me that there are 2 definitive factors that move the needle the most: Content and Backlinks.
Build solid content. Build ethical backlinks. It takes some time. But organic rankings will come.
I started my first eCommerce site in 2003. I reached #1 (for my money keywords) in Google within just a few months. The result was massive traffic and sales that followed.
Although SEO has changed greatly, organic traffic is still the best method for online sales.
Get your First 3 T-shirt Designs Live Online
If you are selling your own designs, it is important to get your first designs up and live as soon as you can. The reason is that you can plan and plan when suddenly weeks and months have gone by and you haven’t sold 1 shirt yet.
Here’s what I would do.
Pick your first three designs. Set up with a print-on-demand fulfillment service. Get your online store up and running with a basic theme, or buy one of the apparel themes that have a look close to what you want.
Most of the on-demand fulfillment services will show you a preview of the design on the different color shirts that you select. Pick 5 or 6 colors for each design. Use the digital preview to create your first product images for your Shopify store.
You should now have 15 or so different shirts for your online store (3 designs x 5 colors). Upload the new products to your store.
Here is an example of an online shop I know from Beaumont, Texas:
Upload your logo to your new site from the eCommerce backend.
If you do choose Shopify, another advantage is that customer support is awesome and they have a ton of online resources, including videos and in-depth guides.
This is the quick tip on the eCommerce end. If you have any questions, message me, or email me using the contact link at the top of the page. I will be writing multiple posts about eCommerce.
Make Your First T-shirt Sales
Ok, your website is up. Products are online. Time to get some sales!
I remember people asking me the question, “When are people going to come to my website?” This was way back before Youtube and online guides. The answer was, “When you guide them there.”
We’ve discussed a little about Marketing strategy. Use one of those methods and sell some gear!! It’s a great feeling when you get your first sale. But that’s just the beginning!
Follow-up with Your Customers and Get Reviews
Have a plan in place to follow-up with your customers. There are several email service providers you can choose from. Shopify has integrations with a few of the providers as well. Read this blog post on the Shopify blog to learn more about email marketing and how to get started.
Many of today’s eCommerce platforms give new brands a distinct advantage when it comes to a holistic eCommerce customer experience. Their apps and integrations are built with a customer-first approach.
Be sure to ask for reviews in follow-up emails. If you don’t ask, most people won’t take the time to leave a review. Make it super easy for them to do or it won’t happen.
More reviews = higher conversions. Think about buying products on Amazon. How often do you look for what other people have to say? For me, the answer is always.
It is extremely important to communicate well with your customers. The happier your customers are, the more likely they are to leave reviews. And the ultimate best customer experiences create brand advocates.
For example, I have bought t-shirts from brands who sent me a handwritten thank-you note – along with a couple of branded decals in the package.
Other brands use unique packaging to create an experience. For me, it’s about an experience that doesn’t cut into your margins.
Tip: When you start out, you have time to write some handwritten notes, and pay for 1000 decals to giveaway.
Remember that customers love free swag they didn’t expect to get. And it might get your brand decal on some MacBook laptops or a car window.
Either way, that is extended marketing that you only pay pennies for.
Amplify Your Efforts
You’ve now gone through the entire process and sold your first shirts. Congratulations!!
Now it’s time to step up your game. Start implementing SEO for your website. Build content. Not the 500-word variety that looks like everyone else’s content. Build great content. This Brian Dean SEO content guide is a great resource to get you started.
If I didn’t say it before, BUILD GREAT CONTENT. I cannot stress this enough. Contact me about any content strategy questions. I will have an upcoming post on this soon.
Get pictures of your designs on models. Models can be young kids from church or college students. I had my friends’ kids (and my daughter) wear my designs and we had a photo shoot at an old historic train station.
It’s a lot of fun, and these pics are great in your marketing material and on the website (be sure and get everyone to sign releases, even if they are friends).
With those pics, you can create Lookbooks, even online catalogs.
Once you are consistently selling, and your process works, create new designs. Build slowly and consistently and have fun.
Be a student every day. Leverage all the resources you can to improve what you are doing. Don’t believe everything you read online (of course) but find a few trusted blogs & YouTube channels and learn. The more you learn, the more you can continue to build and grow your brand.
See what other brands are doing. Not so that you can copy them because if 2 stores sell the same stuff, it’s likely that store #1 wins every time. But how can you take what they are doing and improve?
Visit our “Top 10 Online Christian Clothing Stores” where we share some of our favorites. But we also feature designs from stores all over the web on our Top Designs blog posts.
One of the most popular designs right now is “Faith over Fear”. Visit this post and others to see which designs we’ve uncovered from the web and come up with ways to improve on the designs and the eCommerce experience that these stores have.
Don’t get frustrated if your first designs don’t take off or things aren’t going as great as you’d hoped. You will get there. Learn from your mistakes. The wisdom gained from mistakes is your best weapon to grow your business and be a success. Use your learnings to your advantage and success will come.