In recent years, the global market for custom t-shirt printing and other unique items of clothing has rapidly expanded. Valued at some $3.64 billion in 2020, this global market is expected to swell by nearly 10% year-over-year by 2028. This is because, while screen printing has been around for more than a thousand years with roots dating back to China’s Song Dynasty, digital printing — or direct-to-garment (DTG) printing — is a much more recent innovation; less than 20 years old, in fact.

Despite only becoming commercially available some 15 years ago, the evolution of DTG printers has allowed virtually anyone to invest in a DTG printer and create their own custom apparel business. These ventures can rapidly become highly lucrative, as taking custom orders on demand can quickly build in quantity, and all it requires is enough space for your apparel printer.

In this post, Henry Ma, CEO of Ricoma, helps to discuss five of the main reasons why you should start your own custom apparel business, including:

  • The custom apparel industry is continuously growing
  • Custom apparel businesses are often low-cost and low-risk
  • They can be used as an extra revenue stream, even for your existing business
  • You don’t need to be an artist or designer to get started
  • Younger generations love custom (and sustainable) clothing

1. Take Advantage of a Rapidly-Growing Industry

The demand for t-shirts, hats, and other items of clothing with custom logos, slogans, and designs has exploded in recent years, but particularly so over the last decade. Part of this is because of increases in general consumer or commercial market demand, but also due to the number of start-up ventures looking to grow their outreach via branding and marketing strategies. Sporting shirts or other clothes with a custom logo, slogan, or even a QR code to your start-up’s website is a fantastic way to generate organic buzz around your brand.

With this increase in market demand, the global custom apparel industry is projected to grow some 10% annually between 2021-2028 to over $7.5 billion, and is expected to break $500 million this year in the U.S. alone. This data shows that there has hardly been a better time to start a custom apparel business, as the market both globally and domestically seems to grow every day.

2. Low-Cost and Low-Risk

While investing in a professional DTG machine can run anywhere between $15,000 and $800,000 or more (depending on the quantity and quality of product you seek to output), investing in a printer does not necessarily need to cost so much in order to start your own custom apparel business. Many options are available for lower cost DTG printers that run under $1,000-2,000, and besides the cost of ink – as well as the blank clothing items themselves – your custom apparel business will have virtually no other costs.

Similarly, there is also the option to outsource or subcontract your custom designs or logos to an existing printing business or print-on-demand service providers. In doing so, you don’t even have to worry about buying a printer, ink, or clothing. The only downside in operating your business this way is that you won’t make quite as much revenue, due to paying your subcontracted printer a portion of the money you make in sales. However, many find that having a printer who handles all aspects of their custom apparel business’s supply chain more than makes up for this difference.

3. Create Extra Revenue Streams

Throughout the height of last year’s COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans found themselves out of work. One analysis from Reuters found that the pandemic caused more than 3 million Americans to lose their jobs permanently as the economy ended 2020 with nearly 10 million fewer available jobs compared to 2019.

Whether you’re a student in between graduation and a career search, a stay-at-home parent looking for an extra source of income, or even an accomplished entrepreneur looking to further diversify your income, starting a custom apparel business is a great way to make some extra cash. If you’re an artist or graphic designer, starting a custom apparel business can also be another way to build your brand and gain organic public exposure while making extra money.

4. No Artistic Skill Required

Whatever your specific situation may be in wanting to start your own custom apparel business, the best thing is that you don’t necessarily need to be an artist to get started. In fact, you don’t even need to have any previous experience or skills in design to begin selling clothing through your own custom apparel business. The only technical skills you’ll need are the ability to change colors, reposition text, and crop or resize graphic images.

Though this can be done easily in softwares such as Photoshop, other platforms such as Canva and Stencil offer extremely easy and user-friendly ways to accomplish these tasks. The best part? They’re also free for new users, so you can get started playing around with their design capabilities and get familiar with them faster. Time is money, after all!

5. Millenials and Gen-Z Love Custom, Sustainable Apparel

According to research from Deloitte, more than half of all consumers express interest in purchasing custom apparel products. Of those, about 1 in every 5 are also willing to pay a 20% premium for custom apparel. Both Millennials and Gen-Z are highly interested in personalized clothing like apparel, footwear, and other accessories; the difference between the two groups is that, while Millennials are more interested in personalization as a way to feel more connected to the brands they purchase from, Gen-Z’ers – according to McKinsey – are more interested in standing out and sporting the newest unique product.

These two demographics do share another common factor, however. As environmental sustainability and personal accountability has become a more prominent social focal point in recent years, particularly within the textile and fashion industries, both Millennials and Gen-Z’ers alike are willing to pay more for clothing and apparel that is sourced, manufactured, and delivered through eco-friendly and sustainable methods.

This means that opting to start a custom apparel business that uses techniques like embroidery as its main feature can easily attract a larger number of customers from these demographics, since there’s no water or ink involved. Embroidery also provides lower energy outputs and lasts much longer than prints on textiles, making them more sustainable in the long run. Subsequently, recycling any water or excess materials from your custom business can be used as a key selling point to both Millennials and Gen-Z.

Concluding Thoughts

Overall, the process of designing, printing, and selling custom t-shirts and other clothing items has never been easier than it is today – and it’s expected to only get easier as DTG and screen printing technology continues to evolve. With that said, the flip side of this coin is likely to manifest in a more saturated market, meaning that the earlier you start your own custom apparel business, the sooner you can start building your own brand, earning extra income, and certify yourself as a tried and true entrepreneur.