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What Does Your T-shirt Say?

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Got offended or riveted to a message or a design flashed from somebody’s chest? If you haven’t, then you are missing a lot of what other people are conveying through this silent conversation!

Printed t-shirts are a real frenzy with youngsters and there are hardly any plain or design-less tees that go with somebody’s selection while buying. Kids, grownups, and even elderly people have joined this revolution of a segment that involves machines, fabrics, dyes and, of course, creative designers that can turn the requirement into a visual reality. Interestingly, designers are the main beneficiaries of this business segment.

Custom t-shirt printing is getting increasingly popular with lots of options to choose from. Different designs, messages and art-forms can be printed on order as low as for a single t-shirt.

Things required to start this business
  1. Substantial finance
  2. Website—with secure payment gateway and a method allowing the users to upload/choose a design
  3. Printing machines/inks
  4. Basic t-shirts of various qualities and sizes
  5. Courier service including logistics
  6. Creative team

There is no limit of what you can print on a t-shirt now. Digital art has removed all sorts of barriers. You can get really interactive with the customers and can make whatever they want to wear.

How does your business work?
Pring00 is into the customized products business where our customers can select designs and messages to be printed on t-shirts, mugs, canvas, posters, mouse pads etc. The things are required to set-up such a business are:

Arpana Priyadarshini

A website where people can design their t-shirt and that has regular e-commerce features like shopping cart, credit card transaction facility etc. In-house printing set-up as each t-shirt is unique and screen printing (mass production) is not possible. Good supply chain system/vendor relation for plain t-shirt, printing materials, ink, packaging stuff, shipping etc. And last but not the least, an effective and result-oriented marketing plan.

What present hurdles are there for this business?
There are three big hurdles:

Low penetration of e-commerce and Internet users in India. People are still reluctant to use credit cards online. Lack of awareness about customized merchandising in India.

What marketing methods are adopted?
Search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO). Seminars and ground activation. Newsletters and direct mailers. Online and offline contests. Regular college campus visits.

Choosing designs
At present, there are two options available to choose a design for a t-shirt. Both of these processes are for online customers only.

One way is the uploading of any text message or pictorial design. This method is adopted by providers that deal with varied products like t-shirts, mugs, key-chains, caps and other similar accessories. The customers can make an account on the website. Then upload a design, message or art-form and order for printing.

Kashyap Dalal and Navneet Rai
Founders, Inkfruit

Inkfruit follows the second model where a community chosen design in printed. Its CEO Kashyap Dalal responded to this questionnaire.

What is required to set up a custom t-shirt printing business?
There are two basic things that a business needs in the t-shirts segment. Firstly, a strong differentiated idea. There are enough players in the market and a lot of suppliers who just copy the designs seen on other brands. This approach is very detrimental to developing a strong identity and a sustainable business. What is needed is a sharply-defined theme on which a brand develops. In Inkfruit’s case for example, it is all about being a democratic collection of prints—where our 90,000-strong community of people at decide what gets printed in our range. This is novel and not done by any other brand and therefore differentiates Inkfruit from the rest.

Secondly, access to capital. In the initial stages this business does require infusing capital to fund inventory and the processes. Later, supply partners take on this responsibility, but in the early stages the business needs to finance the operations.

What present hurdles are there for this business?
One of the hurdles in this business is that at low volumes it is difficult to find quality vendors who can provide great quality and timely delivery as per commitment. Once a good scale is achieved, then supply can be managed through long-term tie-ups with supply partners.

Another is to understand the nature of the market and adapt with changing trends. A t-shirt is a very personal piece of clothing and it is important that products offered gel with current consumer trends.

What marketing methods are adopted?
In t-shirts as a category, the product itself is the biggest marketeer. If the designs are great and the quality is good, it will start becoming popular.

Inkfruit as an organization has stayed away from any above-the-line marketing campaigns. Awareness about our model has largely grown through word-of-mouth, where people who know about Inkfruit and designers whose designs get printed on Inkfruit, talk about it to their friends. We focus very strongly on keeping our members happy—for example our designers get their name on every t-shirt sold and feel very proud of this. Secondly, we focus very strongly on the quality of our products and ensure a great experience every time. Thirdly, we keep innovating and launch new products—like recently we launched color changing t-shirts, which change color when a person walks in the sun. Together all of these things create positive word-of-mouth for a business in this space.

The second method involves a community where a design contest or similar activity is followed to pick designs. It is very conducive for designers who want to make it big in the market.

Inkfruit, Myntra, Pring00, and Picsquare are some names in this sector following single or dual models of designs.

Marketing and innovation
To market your segment, you need to surprise. Youngsters are key focus for custom t-shirt printing and they can be moody and choosy. There is virtually no limit to this. Tantra started the concept of printed t-shirts carrying varied and funky messages but it does not cater to the custom design printing option.

Online marketing, word-of-mouth and viral marketing can be adopted initially. Once the brand has some attention, quality, variety and ease of operations makes it popular with the crowd.

Ranjiv Ramchandani, CEO, Tantra

What is required to set-up such business?
A little money and a lot of passion. To be successful however, you’ll need to have ‘talent’ too. You can start with as little as Rs.20,000,….but Rs.1-2 Lacs is ideal.

What marketing methods are adopted?
For Tantra, we did a ‘bottom up’ approach, i.e. MBOs to Malls to EBOs. However,
this need not be the case for every budding entrepreneur.

Reaching out to a wider market other than online users is usually difficult for this segment. People who do not use the Internet are less probable to buy a product that often includes messages related to IT or computer technology and concepts of digital art. Ramchandani from Tantra says, “one needs to be cognizant of the religious fanatics and the unofficial moral police.”

At present, the market for custom t-shirt printing is in its nascent age, but it is picking up quite vigorously. Already established players in different segments are extending their services for this segment and are picking up the market share. However, there is still more that remains to be explored by new players armed with new approaches and new ideas to surprise the young generation.

Comments (8)Add Comment
written by Jared, November 17, 2010
I agree printing t-shirts is so important for individuality. I also agree that in the future everything including t shirts will be custom and personalised. Even here in Australia too where the online custom printing stores are really taking off.
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custom printing
written by zain, November 10, 2010
Yeah I I too really endorse your custom printing ideal!!! In USA it's one of the most important marketing tool to consider!!!!!
Zain fromCustom printing
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Screen Printing On T-Shirts Industry
written by Mynampati Sreenivasa Rao, November 09, 2010
Screen Printing On 500 T-Shirts per day industry can be started with a total investment of Rs.13.00 lakhs.In this project we considered land & building on lease basis.We prepared project profile and project report on this project. Those who are interested to start this project can contact on mobile:
09866119816 or
Mynampati Sreenivasa Rao. Hyderabad
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screen printing idea
written by Mike Mathews, August 25, 2010
I also had the same idea as Ms Arpana Priyadarshini, long ago...
Great article, by the way.
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written by mbt shoes, August 21, 2010
hope to more opinion
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written by sivam, October 17, 2009
Excellent Review. In time everything will be customized. I blog about this in . The Indian market is at an early stage in online customization but has alive tradition of offline customization , shoes, dresses, houses etc - which the western world has long lost.

It will be interesting to see how it evolves.
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