How to: Starting a T-shirt collection

So as I mentioned earlier, I have started my own label (Non Existent the Label), more on this later!
I came up with this about a year ago and have only recently launched, and what I really started with was a bunch of t-shirts and went from there.

I've decided to write a little guide for anyone else who wants to start up their own t-shirt line and doesn't know where to begin. I personally had no idea what I was doing when I started, and although fashion school teaches you how to make clothes, we have yet to touch on the topic of producing your pieces or speaking with manufacturers.

The first thing you need to do is start with a design. This can be drawn on paper or digitally. I like to draw all my designs on Adobe Illustrator, and then transfer to photoshop if necessary. This is my first design that I started off with- the Blazed Tee (shop here). This one was actually one that I hand made and screen printed with foil in the beginning for a uni project but I loved the design so much I decided I wanted to make it into something I could sell!

I actually don't have a picture of the model with just the Tshirt itself - but here is the design I started off with, and how it ended up looking. The theme of this was "Fire and Water" and the "Blazed" Graphic is screen printed glue, with heat pressed gold foiling on top. The sleeves of the tee are hand dyed and the entire thing is hand sewn.

Blazed tee, lesimplyclassy, non existent the label, designer, sydney streetwear
Obviously I wasn't going to hand make a bunch of these t-shirts so I set out on the search for a supplier to make them. I really wanted to have them made in Australia but the price point was just way too high for me. I would recommend you get some quotes from local screen printers and makers before you take the international route. Who knows, someone with an amazing price might come up!

So the first thing I did was set up a design on production sketches.  I drew these myself but you should be able to find T-shirt templates on google. I made my own because I wanted the tee's to be slightly longline compared to what I could find. This is the Tshirt template I use now for all of my designs with the same silhouette, as well as my production design. Having two t-shirts on the page means you can do both the front and the back design, and then label which is which. 
Blazed tee, lesimplyclassy, non existent the label, designer, sydney streetwear, t-shirt template, how to start a tshirt collection
During the design process you want to make sure you save a high resolution version of the graphic you want on the t-shirt. You'll need this for the supplier to make a mould of the design on a screen to screen print it. Other methods you could use instead of screen printing are DTG, heat transfers, dye sublimation, etc etc etc. I would look into each method before deciding which to use. I prefer screen printing because its the method I've mainly worked with personally.

If you're looking at screen printing with just one colour (this was what I did, will venture into other colours soon enough!), you need to have your design in black and white, and then I would do a reference colour next to it or on your design specifications for which colour you want the ink to be. Obviously this isn't the only way to do it, just the way I was taught and have practiced in so preferred to use it in my first manufacturing experience.

You then will want to make up a design spec sheet to ensure everything you want is addressed to the supplier - this isn't a necessary step as we are only working on T-shirts but it does help when suppliers are in a different country and there is a language barrier, as well as if you want to work on custom garments.

Here's an example of the spec sheet I found on google, giving all the information on the garment you want (fabrics, sizing, measurements etc) as clearly as possible so there is not much room for error.
If you go this route, you want to have a spec sheet for each design.
Blazed tee, lesimplyclassy, non existent the label, designer, sydney streetwear, t-shirt template, how to start a tshirt collection
Image via FashionDesignSOS

After all your designing is complete, you need to find a supplier. I know a lot of people buy blank t-shirts and then another supplier to screen print them. I had a factory make the T-shirts and then print them as well. It can be hard to find a factory that you like and work well with, as well as that is within the price point you are after and understands your needs.

I clearly didn't have much luck after researching the old googles so decided to head to alibaba.com and check out what they had. If you just search up "custom T-shirt" or even just "T-shirt", you'll come up with a million suppliers who will do it for you. All you need is to choose a few that have product similar to what you are after and a price that works for you. 

I like to search by a minimum order number, as a one person business there is no way I could afford or even have the space for some of the minimum order the quantities the suppliers offer you. You'll often find suppliers with 200+ units as their MOQ (minimum order quantity), I know to avoid these as I only want a small run, but the more you buy the cheaper it usually is. #Wholesale


Once you've found a few suppliers, I would reach out to all of them and compare prices as well as ask for their MOQ. Always check if they can make you a sample first as the quality might not be what you're after. With a sample you can always make comments on fabrics and fit to give feedback to the supplier, and they can make a new sample. This might cost quite a bit of money to get the style right before you decide to make bulk, or even decide on which supplier is right for you. You could also make the sample yourself and have it sent to them to match the colour/sizing/fabrics/stitching/etc if you or someone you know is handy with textiles. Once you're happy with the sample the supplier sends you, go ahead and make an order!

Make sure to note that most suppliers on this website trade in USD, which is sad for us Aussies who's conversion rate isn't great right now. So if you're out of the states, be aware of this. I'm sure you can ask your supplier if they can trade in your own rates but no guarantees (I had no luck with this).

 Also be aware of any nasty customs charges if you are having your stock sent to you by sea from overseas (cheapest method), or buying a lot of stock. The best way to avoid this would be to check with your supplier if they have a courier account which can ship it straight to your door. This might be a bit costly but is definitely worth not having to deal with customs fees!

Once you receive your T-shirts you're ready to shoot it and get it up on a website! Here's what the Blazed tee currently looks like, all nice and pretty on a model and up my website!

Blazed tee, lesimplyclassy, non existent the label, designer, sydney streetwear, t-shirt design, how to start a tshirt collection

If you're after a bit more information on starting a t-shirt collection or a streetwear line I found a lot of advice browsing through this reddit page: https://www.reddit.com/r/streetwearstartup/
I honestly wish I had found this page before I started my own journey as there is a lot of tips and hidden goodness within these forums that I definitely could have used, rather than starting from scratch. 

Here are a few more of my t-shirt designs.
Blazed tee, lesimplyclassy, non existent the label, designer, sydney streetwear, t-shirt design, how to start a tshirt collection


Anyway I hope this helps you in any way, shape or form and if you feel like there is anything I've missed or have any questions please feel free to comment below and I'll do my best to answer!

Until next time xx







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