I’m Justyna, owner of two Threadless Artist Shops, Fox Shiver and TRUFFLEPIG. I’m here to share some advice on how to run a successful shop that brings in money. When I started making designs, I was bad at drawing, had no followers on social media, and earned nothing. I didn’t even have any designs to add when I opened my first shop. It took me days to make one, and then weeks to add it to my store, because I didn’t believe anyone would buy anything from me.
But I kept making designs and adding them to my store. Now, I have over 200 designs and earn $1,000–$4,000 a month in passive income at Threadless. And I’ve been helping others to open their own stores and start earning money.
It took me a while to figure everything out, and I made mistakes along the way. The most important thing that led me to a stable income was my Artist Shop, but I neglected it in the beginning. To help new and fledgling Artist Shop owners, I’ve assembled a list of 10 tips that have helped me make more money at Threadless.
First Thing’s First: Know Your Income Sources
There are three ways to earn money at Threadless. It all starts with your Artist Shop, but this is just the first step. As your shop grows, you not only earn more money, but also gain other income opportunities in the Threadless Marketplace and with third-party retail partners. Here’s a breakdown of the income sources available to you at Threadless:
- Your Artist Shop is your very own customizable, Threadless-powered storefront where you can upload, showcase, and sell your designs on a wide array of products. If you want to have a regular passive income from Threadless, you need an Artist Shop, which only takes minutes to build and is free to use.
- The Marketplace is a curated virtual catalog that’s separate from your Artist Shop. If you want Threadless to consider your designs for their catalog, you need to opt your shop into the Marketplace (more on that later). SPOILER: This is where I make more than 95% of my sales.
- Third-party retailers such as Target, TJ Maxx, and more may choose to sell your Marketplace designs in their physical stores and online catalogs if your shop is eligible for the Earn More Program. Hot Topic has been selling my designs for the past few years, and every quarter I get huge royalty payments from them.
For more details on each of these income sources, take a look at this Creative Resources post.
How to Run a Successful Artist Shop
Your Artist Shop is the most important element in earning money at Threadless. It leads to all other income opportunities. That’s why it’s crucial to invest time into making your Artist Shop as attractive to customers as possible. Here are some important practices that have helped me earn more money.
1. Make lots of designs, and add them ALL to your Artist Shop.
You might think that some of your designs are not good enough—don’t worry about that. Add them anyway. I’ve created a lot of designs that I wasn’t entirely happy with, but I published them anyway. And good thing I did—they ended up earning me thousands of dollars. You can never predict what’s going to sell well.
When I first opened Fox Shiver, I rarely added new designs. I now know I should’ve done that much sooner. As it was, I had to wait months for my first sale, because hardly anyone stumbled upon my poor little shop with just a few designs. But over time, I kept adding new designs, and now my Artist Shop is the reason I earn so much money.
The more designs you have in your Artist Shop, the greater the chance that people will buy something from you. It also makes it possible for retail partners to select designs they like and sell in their stores. Remember, your income depends on your Artist Shop.
2. Add tags and descriptions to your designs.
Always add tags. The more the better. Thanks to tags, customers are able to find your designs in the Marketplace. If someone searches for “cat” designs, and you added the word “cat” to the tags, your design should pop up somewhere in the search results. Keep in mind, some customers might not search specifically for “cat.” Instead, they might search for “kitty” or “pets” or “black cat.” That’s why it’s necessary to include a variety of relevant tags. I think 8 tags are the absolute minimum, but I usually add around 15.
Writing descriptions is more difficult. Instead of writing a description when I add a design, I prefer to batch these tasks together. Every few weeks, I go through my designs and add descriptions if there are none, and improve the descriptions I wrote previously.
3. Make your designs available on as many products as possible.
T-shirts are the most popular product at Threadless. But there are over 100 more product types available, and if you don’t enable your designs on them, you will miss out on potential sales.
It’s also not enough to just add a design to your shop and be done with it. Every few months, Threadless adds new products, and you should enable them on your older designs. For example, when the pandemic started, Threadless introduced Face Masks, which quickly became bestsellers. I made sure all my designs were displayed correctly on masks and uploaded new art files when needed.
4. Opt into the Threadless Marketplace.
This is important. If you don’t opt into the Marketplace, Threadless will not consider your designs for their virtual catalog. That means your sales will be solely dependent upon how much you promote yourself. It’ll be entirely up to you to direct customers to your shop, and we all know how difficult and time-consuming marketing is.
If Threadless chooses any of your designs for the Marketplace, customers will be able to find them when they browse the Threadless catalog or search for keywords that match the tags you applied to your designs. Do note, even if you make it into the Marketplace, you’ll still need to wait a bit for the sales to come in. There are a lot of designs in the catalog for customers to sift through. But after a while, someone will buy something. The more designs you have in the Marketplace, the more chances of someone buying from you.
I saw an enormous boost to my sales once Threadless added my designs to the Marketplace and they gained popularity. I still promote my Artist Shop on social media, but now over 95% of my sales come from the Marketplace, not my Artist Shop. That’s splendid news, because it means you can be as terrible at marketing as I am and still earn a lot of money.
5. Enable Managed Pricing and Promotions (MPP).
Customers love special offers and promotions. We would all like to sell our products at full price, but that won’t always happen. In fact, most of your income will be generated when there’s a sale, and there’s no fighting that. When you enable Managed Pricing and Promotions (MPP), Threadless will automatically run sales in your Artist Shop for you during times of increased online shopping. That way you won’t have to think about when to run sales or what kind of discount to apply. You just need to spread the word whenever you have an MPP sale.
6. Promote yourself!
When I started making designs for my Artist Shop, it was my friends who first bought t-shirts and hoodies featuring my art. They also followed me on social media, shared my posts, and voted on my designs. I never ask my friends to buy anything from me, but it doesn’t surprise me that they support my creative projects. You most likely have people in your life who will be happy to help you, too.
In addition to support from my close peers, I share my new designs on Instagram and Twitter. My artist friends swear by Pinterest, though. That’s where they get most of their customers. If you only have time for one social platform to promote your designs, focus on Pinterest. I also write for my blog as a way to both get better at writing and promote my Artist Shop.
7. Take part in Threadless Design Challenges.
I’ve never actually won any Threadless Design Challenges, though I took part in many. The reason to participate is not only to win, but also to get more people to see your designs. Some people who vote on your design will then follow you either on Threadless or on other social platforms. In the future, as your following grows, it will gradually get easier to promote new designs. When you submit a design to a challenge, it’s added to your shop immediately so that anyone who loves your design can buy it.
8. See what’s trending to find inspiration.
Check which topics are popular and think of a design that would be related to one of those topics. To see what sells best, visit Threadless and check the most popular designs. You will notice right away that customers like designs that feature animals, nature and hiking, space, food, etc. I wouldn’t force myself to draw something I don’t feel like drawing. But every time I browse the most popular designs, I get new ideas for things to draw.
9. Analyze the sales data.
Pareto Principle states that 80% of the output comes from 20% of the effort. That applies to designs as well. 80% of your income will come from 20% of your designs. Once you’ve been running your store for a while, check which designs sell best, and which ones don’t sell at all. When I analyzed my sales data, I realized that funny designs were generating most of my income. That told me what I should draw more of.
10. Be consistent.
If you simply open a shop, add a few designs, and then forget about it, your store will fade into oblivion. Sure, you might still sell a t-shirt or two. But to keep earning money, you need to be consistent and add new designs regularly. It gives potential customers a reason to revisit your shop. Even if they don’t like your new design, they might browse through your older ones and find something they like.
That’s how I earn money on Threadless. I focus on my store, add as many designs as I can, and promote it in my spare time. Threadless then selects designs to add to their Marketplace and shows them to their retail partners—but I don’t really worry about any of that. My part is to draw, publish, and add tags.
Joining Threadless has been one of my best decisions, and I hope it will be for you too. I shared with you all the steps I’ve followed to earn passive income on Threadless. Do what I did. Open an Artist Shop, don’t overthink it, add your designs. Then make more designs and add those too. Most importantly, don’t ever, ever, ever, give up.