If you are starting a brand and wanting to jump into the world of t-shirts, deciding how many shirts of each design to get made in the initial run can be really confusing.  I’d like to try and explain why getting at least 36 of each design is a great first order quantity.

Some print shops do offer 12 or 24 quantities, but 12 can be too expensive, leaving poor margins left for your resale and not enough inventory to judge what people want.  24 offers better pricing, but still not much inventory to truly give insight on what your customers like and want.  If a shop charges screen fees, your cost will bloat quickly on really low quantities.  There are shops like Acme Prints in Phoenix that don’t charge any screen fees, so, the price you see is what you pay and it saves you a ton!  Some shops charge $35+ per screen.  For example, a 2-color design would have an additional $70 added to your cost.  $70 split among 24 shirts adds $2.91 per tee!!!!

Out of the gate, you want to try and have some tolerable margins, while still wrangling in risk.  When we first start a brand, the truth is, we don’t have a huge customer base and that is perfectly ok to admit.  There is no reason to go out getting 100 of each design when the base of customers to buy them doesn’t exist yet.  By the time you may burn through 100 of a design, you possibly will be so sick of it and have progressed in what you release.  The truth is, most of our first designs aren’t the strongest.  That’s perfectly ok and normal while we get our feet wet, so having low inventory can be a smart financial move initially.  As you build confidence and customers, you can up those initial print quantities.

It is a lot smarter to print a number with low risk, such as 36 shirts to test how a design does.  If it sells out quickly, just make more.  It’s that simple.  If a design doesn’t do well, you only have 36 to sell through and don’t have to worry about huge stacks sitting in the garage for eternity.  If one design is doing a lot better than others, having demand is not a bad thing.  If it sells quickly again, maybe consider bumping up to 50 or 72 for future reprints.  Minimize risk, while still having good margins.

Knowing how to choose your sizing breakdown can be hard too.  Understanding your brands demographic is very important for this.  Who is your main focus for customers?  If you say everyone, you are wrong…trust me.  Is it skaters, streetwear, country music/lifestyle folks, indie/hipster kids, dungeons and dragons players, etc.?   These things may help you figure out what sizes you may sell more of.  Hipster brand?  You may want to make sure you have some x-small and smalls in the mix.  Street wear?  Large and X-Large may be more popular.

Some common retail ordering numbers are as follows, 1-2-2-1 or 1-1-2-2.  What does that mean?  1-2-2-1 = 1 small – 2 medium – 2 large – 1 X-large and they may order in multiples of that, such as 2-4-4-2, 3-6-6-3 of a design, etc.  Stores that cater to a larger demo will go closer to the 1-1-2-2 model.  These models exist for a reason and can be a decent base to guess a good starting point for your brand.  If you appeal to a smaller crowd, 2-2-1-1 may not be a bad choice.  Guessing inventory rarely ever flows perfectly, but knowing where to start can be very helpful.  I tend to do something close to 1-2-2-1 with miles to go and will toss in just a few XS and 2XL’s because my customers have continued to buy them consistently enough to be included.

If we look at possible sizing breakdowns for 12, 24 and 36, you will see why less than 36 can be hard to manage.  Also, don’t forget that you will most likely be pulling one of these to wear for yourself as well.

12 total shirts = 2 – 4 – 4 -2

If you wanted to add any 2X, XS or women’s sizes, there is no room and selling two small shirts leaves you out of smalls quickly.

24 total shirts = 4 – 8 – 8 – 4 or maybe 5 – 7 – 7 – 5, etc.

Not a bad start, but still not much room to test what sizes sell consistently over time.

36 total shirts = 6 – 12 – 12 – 6 or some variant that maybe adds in 2XL, like 6 – 10 – 10 – 6- 4 (2XL).

At 36 total garments, it allows you to really see what sells for you as you weave your way into your market, while still allowing enough inventory to not sell out of a size instantly.  This is also a sweet spot in terms of pricing for your garments.  If you want to sell for $20-25 and can keep your cost under $10 per tee, you are doing pretty well and haven’t exhausted your funds from day one.

Prices at shops are based off of how many colors and how many locations.  Each loaction you add is like a separate job in terms of the shops prep, set up and clean up which is why it can bump pricing sharply.  Dark garments often require an underbase (print of white under all colors) to achieve bright colors.  This adds to the number of printed colors.  For example, a black shirt with white and red ink may be White Underbase/ Red / Highlight White (3 colors), not 2.  The blank you choose has a big effect on your price per unit as well.  There are cheap brands like Gildan or Hanes, but if you are printing for a brand and not an event, I strongly suggest you check out nicer blanks like Next Level, Bella Canvas, Alternative or American Apparel.  If you sell a cheap quality product, people will not buy again and its always better to pay the extra $1-2 per tee for a nice product.  If your tee feels like junk, people won’t wear it and it goes against the whole point of the brand.

Greg Ker has run Miles to Go since 2007.

Now has helps companies manufacture pins through pingamestrong.com

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