Me, Myself & Teepublic.com A Story
Teepublic.com is an online digital t-shirt printing company. Boasting millions of users and billions of designs from which to choose. Its one of the premier e-commerce websites that allows anyone to upload their design and have it purchased. Designers need not worry about hiring a printer, sourcing shirts, shipping and other costs. Teepublic.com, and sites like it, do all the heavy lifting for you. Is Teepublic.com an entrepeneur’s dream? Read on true entrepreneur and I will tell you a tale of commissions, shipping costs and even piracy!
Rise of the T-shirts
My t-shirt “business” began in 2011. I was asked to “do a t-shirt” for a meme I had posted on Facebook and I got so many requests I decided, “what the hell. I’ll do it.” I used to have a guy print one color designs on shirts I bought and sold them for very little out of my car. I sold all with a very small profit. I thought, this is pretty cool. I decided to go bigger and then the problems started. I had requests for vests, and different colors, and different styles, and I couldn’t get them. It was difficult to get the same type of t-shirt style, and make, each time. The quality was too inconsistent from local suppliers. I was working a full-time job at the time and I had no time to effectively devote to doing this.
The prices of the shirts also varied and I had difficulties maintaining a standard price point. I prefered to sell all t-shirts at one price and vests and polos at another. A large t-shirt and a small were so different in quality and price, it was near impossible for me to track costs. I was also getting increasing requests for custom styles and designs. I sold the last of my locally printed t-shirts in 2012.
I was still intrigued by the ease I had of coming up with ideas and what people wanted on a t-shirt. I started doing some research. If I could design and someone else produce the shirts then maybe this could be a profitable venture.
While searching for Star Wars images for my other Facebook page The 8 Bit Dark Lord I stumbled onto Teepublic.com and that design above. I immediately decided I loved the image so much I’d buy one on a t-shirt. I found the delivery a little steep but the process was quite simple. That shirt lasted for wash after wash, after wash and never lost quality. It passed the test. Now to start the Teepublic.com adventure.
I set myself a goal. One new design every two weeks. and in the beginning this worked out pretty well. I already had a library of designs, especially Star Wars fan art that I could just turn into t-shirts. Remember this is a hobby, nothing more.
Teepublic.com’s money comes from the shipping. The shipping price is extremely high. For example to buy a normal t-shirt from Teepublic.com you pay $20 for the shirt and $7 is the cheapest shipping rate, want it sooner? Pony up $20 for 3-5 days shipping delay! All the artist gets is $4 from the sale. Teepublic.com really makes a huge profit because the shirt and shipping would cost a lot less.
The Empire Strikes Back
For a couple of months things went well. I had no real sales, but I was just starting, also I wasn’t marketing these shirts at all. But friends bought a few and one has commissioned quite a few for himself, but when I put up my Lord of The Rings design, the sales started trickling in but mainly from outside of Trinidad.
In 2015 Game of Thrones Season 5 premiered and I designed a shirt around Tyrion Lanister’s quote “I drink and I know things.” The minute I uploaded that image I received what is called “A Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) take down notice” or as its known as “A DMCA”.
I was taken aback. All my artwork is based on some sort of other intellectual property. Looking at Teepublic.com’s site it’s filled to the brim with other IP’s “fan art” and there was nothing initially apparent that you were expressly forbidden to use a Star Wars, or Star Trek or even a Game of Thrones design. But I got one nonetheless.
I decided, no more Game of Thrones designs, even though a few days later the site was flooded with designs of that quote. So, I thought, it’s not good for me but ok with everyone else! Ok. Price of living in the Third World, I guess? The DMCA’s continued. All my Star Wars and Monty Python designs.
All gone. Teepublic. All gone.
Then it dawned on me. It’s the keywords stupid! Teepublic.com allows you to tag the designs so that the internal search can offer up your designs. So I did an experiment I uploaded two Star Wars designs but added tags unrelated to Star Wars. They are still up. No one has bought them though.
Many artists on forums and Facebook groups complained of the sudden upsurge in DMCA’s. But if you don’t use the tags your design would never be seen. I figured, what if I advertised the designs directly on Google and Facebook I might get more sold, unfortunately that was a good idea that fails against the cost of doing business. As stated earlier the artist’s margin of a sale is quite low, so unless you established yourself on Teepublic.com early, and your designs were very popular you would be fighting an uphill battle to make capital to pump back into marketing. It’s the problem every small and medium business faces. You need to advertise but you have no capital to do so, but to get capital you need to sell more product and the only way to sell more product is to advertise. And around we go.
Cheap ting no good, especially if they are knockoffs
Then there are the pirates. In the last year I have spent every month searching through “new” similar websites that sell t-shirt prints in the same business model as Teepublic.com and found at least one of my designs there. It’s a constant battle of doing my own DMCA submissions to have my own designs removed from sites such as teespring.com and even redbubble.com itself. Teepublic.com has acknowledged this and has tried to help content creators by putting watermarks and a search tool that finds your design on other sites. However there will be a at least a hundred “cheap knockoff sites” popping up and disappearing with your design. Even Amazon sellers have had this problem in last few years. You can’t catch them all, all the time.
So what’s next? I am at a crossroads. I get some money trickling in through PayPal from Teepublic.com However, my new consultancy business and current work load has made it difficult to maintain my two-week design goal. With DMCA take-downs it’s also difficult, there are designs that have nothing to do with IP’s and they get taken down. This requires a long process to have Teepublic.com challenge the DMCA and then it’s reinstated. Ain’t nobody got time for all of that.
In reality its impossible to sell my Teepublic.com designs locally as the price is uncompetitive especially now with the shipping tax on incoming goods via PO Boxes. Will I stop designing T-Shirts? Of course not. Will I sell them as my main business? No way. In order to make this successful a lot of investment and capital will have to go in to secure a solid supplier of standard quality tee’s and printing and even though two of my friends Deftment and DariUS Fashions have seen success locally, I’m not seeking to be another T-Shirt printer entrepreneur. But if you wish to hire me to design for your business no problem. Click here and let’s talk.
I hope anyone seeking to get into the business of t-shirt sales and printing would now come away with some info to make an informed decision. Teepublic.com is easy to set up and easy to use, but making money?
So far that’s only but a dream.
Ian loves fashion and designing for fashion, but has no money to buy fashion. He’s hoping this website will give him capital to buy fashion. You, also, should wear good fashion. You should also contact him to build websites and graphics. Let him help you with your online presence and business. Get in contact here