Before you start designing anything, you'll want to check these resources out. They each have their own requirements for designs that go on their products. Nothing sucks more than to create a design that turns out to be too small for the shirt or item that you're designing for. Once you choose one of the resources or platforms to create your swag, then you can move on to the actual design process per their requirements.
As promised, I said I would provide a list to get your started. It is important to note that this is not an exhaustive list as new companies pop up every day and some don't stick around. So the list below is a list I have comprised of companies that have been in business long enough to be known and stable, they are in no particular order. If you feel that I've missed one please drop a line in the comment section.
- Spreadshirt - Spreadshirt has been around for a while. They are constantly upgrading their system to give more to their shop owners. You have the ability to create your shop directly on their platform without the need for a dedicated website. They do not just offer t-shirts. They offer all kinds of items such as; phone cases, hoodies, hats, and accessories for men, women and children (even babies).
- Print Aura - Print Aura not only allows you to design multiple products but they take it a step further to help you build your brand. They include FREE custom packing slips, tag removal from shirts and application of your own brand's label to the shirts. They also allow you to customize the shipping labels. Your customers will get apparel from YOUR brand from beginning to end. They do have some paid options that you can add to your products and even allow you to send them stuff to be included in your packaging (like stickers, business cards or additional gifts for your customers).
- CafePress - CafePress is another company that has been around for a while. They've grown and even expanded the items they offer. They allow you to customize and brand everything from clothing to board games and stuffed animals. They also have jewelry that you can design. I used them back when I was a teenager to make a few things here and there but never went full scale business with them. That's not to say their stuff isn't good. I was just too young to really think about starting a business let alone my own clothing line at the time.
- Printful - Printful is very similar to Print Aura. They drop ship directly to your customer and give you a few limited options for the packaging. They also allow for tag replacement so that your shirts have YOUR brand tag on them. They seem to be a little lower cost than Print Aura however, which means that you'll get more profit from each of your sales. Another added bonus is that they have a tool that allows you to create your own product mockup photos so that your products look more professional when showing them to your customers.
- CustomPlanet - CustomPlanet is an awesome resource for products. They only do apparel and they are a little expensive with the final product. However, to try them out, I designed a flat brim cap and ordered it. The first impressive thing was that because my design was a little too big on the hat, they actually sent me a text message to let me know. They continued to communicate with me via text the entire time until the design was right. Although their custom products are a bit more expensive than the others in the list, the product I got was top quality and the company cared about it being right.
This list will get your started. We aren't done however. Creating your swag is only half the battle. Luckily these companies handle shipping and all that for you so that you don't have to keep inventory and with all of the above, it doesn't cost you anything. You simply sell your product at a markup for profit. When your customer orders a shirt, you place your order with one of the above companies, pay them their fee and keep the rest as your profit. That takes some expense and headache off of your plate right from the beginning. A few of the companies listed, even do the record keeping of your orders. Yet another headache you won't have to deal with. Believe me the fashion industry is full of headaches so it's good that these companies eliminate some of the biggest ones for you.
So what's next?
Models and Photos of Your Apparel
Believe it or not, simply showing a generic picture of your shirt is not going to have customers beating down the door. Sometimes even my suggestion here isn't going to help. Not only do your designs have to be on point with the current trends, but people want to see other people using or wearing your gear. After all, if no one else is wearing it, then it's not appealing as a social trend.
Some of the companies listed above do have tools to let you create these kinds of mockup photos. They have mockups of just the product and a few even have mockups of models wearing the product. This is great, but as I'm sure you've already figured out...a lot of other designers use these same mockups. Trust me, this is not a big deal, but rather than overwhelm your customers with generic photos they've seen before, you'll want to take it a step further and present your apparel in the environment it should be worn, by models who fit the look that your product is marketed to.
Are your shirts for kids? Then get your little niece or nephew in one and get their picture. Are they targeted to skaters, musicians, teenager, etc? Then get your friends/family in one of your shirts and get their photo wearing it. You'd be surprised how people are more susceptible to photos like this. It shows them that others are wearing and enjoying your product, which get them to hopefully try it out as well. If you can get decent video for youtube or even your own self edited commercial, do that too.
Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram are by far your best sources for marketing. After all, people who are friends with you are more likely to buy your swag if they like it. Use these sites wisely however. People don't like to be advertised to constantly and if you do that, they may begin to feel a disconnect from you and as such, will never buy a thing from you even if they were on their last breath and you were selling free oxygen. So make sure you engage personally with people. Post your shirt pics or ads for your product, but in between make sure you engage people with conversation. If you know a lot about something that pertains to your clothing line....for example....if your clothing line is all about cats...it may be good to put content on your social media pages about actual cats and not just your shirts with cats on them. In other words, if you can give advice to others about your passion, then do it and engage them.
Hopefully this is enough to get you started. I started with much less. If you have any questions, please post your questions in the comments.
If you get your brand started, I'd definitely love to hear about it and check it out!