How to Test Your T-shirt Designs on Etsy

If you’re looking to start a t-shirt brand, you may wonder how to get your designs in front of potential customers. You may also wonder if your t-shirts are even good enough to sell.

You can answer both of those questions on the Etsy marketplace.

While Etsy is not just for clothing, it’s been a popular platform for independent t-shirt brands to sell their products for many years.

I will tell you how I have used Etsy over the years to test my t-shirt ideas…

How Do You Know if Your T-shirt Designs are Good?

I’m sure your t-shirt designs and ideas are fantastic. But remember this: you don’t know until you know.

Have you ever seen American Idol, where the people auditioning believe they are amazing? And they are really awful? (I realize that reality TV is scripted to some extent). But some of these people believe they are really great.

This happens to t-shirt startups all the time. I’ve had people send me designs who were looking for advice. One particular guy sent me something that I knew would never sell. I gave him my honest opinion. Then I offered some advice, along with designs (in that niche) that were selling well on Etsy and online stores. But he ghosted me.

If you want to succeed in the retail apparel business, you have to be willing to listen and accept constructive feedback.

How To Use Etsy to Test Your T-shirt Designs

I’ve sold a ton of t-shirts over the years. From heat transfer vinyl to print-on-demand, there’s a market for any type of decorated apparel.

Once I have an idea about my target audience, and I know what my designs are generally going to look like, I have to have a plan to start selling t-shirts.

If you plan to screen print your designs and keep an inventory, you can’t afford to print a ton of designs that may not sell. You also don’t want to waste the time and effort setting up a store on Shopify, only to find out that none of your designs are resonating with your audience.

That’s where Etsy comes in.

You can upload your designs on Etsy and get them to market in just a few minutes. All of this without spending money on a Shopify account, and without printing a lot of designs you haven’t tested.

Even if you plan to use Screen printing as your main method of imprinting your tees, I highly advise using Printify or Printful first to do a “test-run” of your apparel and see how customers resonate with the brand.

I’m a veteran, and I like veteran apparel, so here’s a popular veteran t-shirt from my Etsy store…

A shirt from my Etsy store

And here are some of the early reviews from the above veteran t-shirt after I launched it:

Screen Shot 2023 03 26 at 6.31.08 PM

Once you start getting some sales on Etsy and some feedback, you can decide which designs you want to “double down” on.

Why Use Etsy to Test New T-shirt Designs?

Etsy is the perfect online marketplace to test your designs quickly. Here are some of my whys:

  1. Etsy has a ready-to-buy audience of over 81 million active buyers, many of whom are specifically looking for t-shirts and apparel.
  2. Etsy has a simple setup and low fees. Setting up a shop on Etsy is easy and affordable. While some sellers complain that Etsy’s fees are higher than Shopify, it should come with the caveat that Shopify doesn’t come with an instant audience. You have to grow your Shopify site with SEO, paid marketing, and more just to get your first sale.
  3. Etsy has been around since 2005 and has built a reputation as a trustworthy marketplace. Customers know that when they buy from an Etsy shop, they’re buying from a legitimate business. This can help build credibility for your t-shirt brand, especially if you’re starting out.
  4. Etsy encourages customers to leave feedback and reviews on their purchases, which can be incredibly valuable for your business. Like Amazon, Etsy reviews help you sell more products.

Once you’ve started selling your t-shirts on Etsy and are receiving great feedback through reviews and messages, you may want to consider moving some of your designs to an eCommerce website.

I’ve done this, and it works great, but continue selling them on Etsy. You can keep selling your designs there while you begin building your Shopify store with the designs that are doing best on Etsy.

Screen Shot 2023 03 26 at 6.35.32 PM
316Tees Shopify Store

Many t-shirt brands continue to sell on Etsy even after launching their own website, as it gives you access to the Etsy audience in parallel with your own branded eCommerce site.

I recently sold my 6-figure T-shirt brand that was on Shopify. While I was barely working on the Etsy store leading up to the sale, I also made 5-figures from my Etsy store, where I carried many of the same designs.

Also, there were some designs (seasonal ones) I didn’t want on my Shopify store. But Etsy is a PERFECT place for seasonal designs, especially since “nine out of ten buyers say they bought a gift on Etsy in the last year.

“Nine out of ten buyers say they bought a gift on Etsy in the last year.

Etsy Survey

Get Out and Test-Drive Your T-shirt Designs

If you want to know what t-shirts are selling, visit other Etsy stores and see what they have reviews on. It’s super easy to find out which designs are performing on Etsy. That’s a great way to give you some ideas about your own new brand.

Selling on Etsy can be a great way to get your t-shirt brand and designs in front of a ready-to-buy audience. It’s a quick way to get your first sales and a perfect place to “test-drive” your new t-shirt brand.