How to Build a T-Shirt Business: Week 1

Building a T-Shirt Business

Artist Shops is a platform associated with creatives, designers and artists, but it can be used for anything. What I’ll be attempting in this series is to create a new t-shirt business from scratch within the limitations of 30 minutes a day. Expect a lot of hacks, automation and stealing to get this done.

Want to read the other parts? Week Two & Week Three

Day One

Brand Focus

I’ve decided to focus on martial arts as a theme. I’ve trained in a few martial arts over the years and for the last four years have been training capoeira. I also watch a lot of combat sports and the UFC, so I’ve got a decent handle on the brand and lifestyle and it’s something I can build a t-shirt business out of.


Google Trends is a great way to see if an idea is on an upswing or a downswing. I wouldn’t use this as my only decision on whether to explore something but it helps to see where an idea is going.

Google Trends Research
Researching different martial arts terms in Google Trends



As you can see from the chart here, I checked trends on MMA (mixed martial arts), Karate, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Capoeira. We can see here that MMA and Karate are much more popular search terms than the others. That doesn’t mean you should pick the most popular trend. I suggest picking something you actually like and have interest in.

That said, I’m going to use the top trend and create an MMA brand. First thing I’m going to do is use Google Images to see what turns up.

Designs for MMA Shirts are rough.
Designs for MMA Shirts are rough.

Woah. So these designs look old and out of style. Since fashion goes out of style I’m going to use the search tools to filter down images in the last year.

Updating the search to 2016 is a little bit better.
Updating the search to 2016 is a little bit better.

Better. While those designs aren’t great they at least look a bit current. What I can see from these designs are that they consist of monochromatic designs on black, white or grey. This is normal across many, many brands of apparel due to cost and ease of inventory.

Next I’m going to look at a brand that I think has the best combat sports apparel design out there: Roots of Fight. Great classic feel to everything and they keep it simple and timeless. These designs will still look good 10 years from now. Since I don’t want to get too influenced by these designs so I’ll take some mental notes and move on (for now).

Brand Name

A brand needs a name an identity but at the moment nothing is coming to me. I’m out of my 30 minutes for today so I’m going to move forward on this idea without knowing what to call it.

End Day One


Day Two

I’m starting to rethink basing the brand on MMA (mixed martial arts). I’m wondering if a smaller, more refined niche is better. But I’m not going to let indecisiveness stop me so I’m moving forward with mixed martial arts.


I’m heading right into designs on Day Two. I prefer to sketch out ideas on paper for the ultimate quickness and flexibility. Since I’m on the train everyday, I’ll use some of that time to work on designs.

Working on the train.
Working on the train.

I had about 10 minutes to think of some ideas and here’s what came out of it. Nothing amazing but it has me thinking.

Brand Name

Finally, it’s time to start thinking of some brand names. There’s not much humor in sports or martial arts brands, but I’m not going to let that keep me from trying. A lot of martial artists aren’t as bro-ish as you might think. I like oddly juxtaposed names so I hit up some Name Generators and start a list:

  • Urban Legend
  • Half-Man, Half-Monster
  • MVP (Most Violent Player)
  • Meltdown
  • Battleheart
  • Swordhand
  • Molefang
  • Panther Bowl
  • Valor Ring
  • Bronze Age
  • Invasion Ball
  • The Mean Event
  • The Main Event
  • Anvil Sack
  • Detour
  • The Business
  • 4 Ounce Love
  • Piston Hondo
  • Eyepoke
  • Death Hurl
  • Martial Artist Shops (See what I did there)
  • VS
  • Versus

Nothing amazing here, but it’s a start and something I can build off of. Out of time for today but tomorrow more designs and more brand names.

End Day Two

Day Three


Alright, I’m back at the designs today. Sticking with phrases and text for the most part. This brand isn’t about illustrations but about making statements.

More t-shirt sketches
More t-shirt sketches on the train.





My 10-minute train ride resulted in more of this. You’ll see some inside fan jokes in there. I’m trying to stay away from slogans that you see everywhere but there are a couple generic ones.

Back to the Brand Name

  • For Glory
  • Fire with Fire
  • Ogre Tree
  • Super Defender
  • Attack Cat
  • Eagle Serum
  • Frost Giant
  • Super Mega Death Punch

I’m starting to like “For Glory” but there’s a fight promotion called “Glory”. That can get confusing and legally messy so I’m going to move on from it. Out of time already. Tomorrow I’m planning on researching and planning a little more.

End Day Three

Day Four


Time to head back into Google Trends to gather a little more information on who are the people who are potentially buying mma shirts. This will help me form a baseline audience when I start to advertise.

I’m going to do research on Roots of Fight. Like I said previously I’m a fan of their aesthetic and brand and I want to find out what people are searching and the demographics related to their audience. This won’t affect the actual look of the designs but will help me figure out who to advertise to. Here’s what they are showing me.

Related Search Queries for Roots of Fight
Related Search Queries for Roots of Fight

Not a lot of search query help. They have licensed names which probably won’t help me. I’ll check out the subregion.

Interest by Subregion
Interest by Subregion



This shows what states in the US these are coming from. This can be pretty helpful as to where the audience is. Again, I’ll be using this information when I start advertising.

There’s a lot of information here so I’ll started a handy spreadsheet to keep track of things. Remember to keep things organized!

Now, onto demographics. Luckily, the UFC is around and on Fox. There are going to be a lot of articles covering this so I’m going to go through a couple to make sure it’s what I think it is:

18-34 age range and male. I’ll take all that into consideration when advertising.

End Day Four

Day Five

Artist Shop

Time to create a new Artist Shop account and start getting that set up. I’m still not decided on a name but luckily I can change the name of my Artist Shop anytime I want. Right now I’m calling it “Panther Bowl”, because why not?

Panther Bowl is here.
Panther Bowl is here.

Done. Now it’s time to gather some assets. I’ve got a library of fonts and textures but for this project I’ll start looking for something new.

Freebies from the Vintage Type Co Blog
Freebies from the Vintage Type Co Blog


Vintage Type Company has a great font package that I might buy but for now I’m grab the free design assets off of their blog.

This brand is about statements so I’m going with making sure typefaces are strong and legible. It’s also based on combat so we need to “stay strong” so for now I’m sticking with sans serif and slab fonts.  One thing I want to do is make products look vintage and worn. I’ll treat everything with some textures and brushes while I’m designing. That’ll make it look like the screen print is peeling off after it’s been in the wash 100 times.

Alright, I’m out of time. Next week we’ll continue to build a t-shirt business with just 30 minutes a day.

End Day Five

Want to build a t-shirt business today? Artist Shops require zero out-of-pocket spending and allow you to build an online store with zero cost or risk. Open a Shop right now!

We’re an artist community built on the power of helping each other succeed — if you’re reading this and have tips of your own to share, please do so in the comments! Thank you!

Illustrations done by the amazing Katie Lukes

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