How To Dominate T-Shirts Online

How To Dominate A T-Shirt Trend (And Keep The Competition At Bay)

Last Updated: April 10, 2017

Wouldn’t it be great to dominate the next big T-Shirt trend?

Trends come in all shapes and sizes – from serious political statements and movements to trivial fly-by-night jokes.

But one thing that is almost certain: there’ll always be trends.

Pop culture moves fast – and that’s good new for T-Shirt designers – because the T-Shirt is one of the most popular and versatile mediums for communicating a message (whether that’s support for a particular political candidate, or knowledge of a specific pop culture joke).

But how can we dominate in a trend when there is so much competition – with new sellers and new designers entering the market everyday?

I don’t pretend to be an expert at this, though I have had some limited success.

I can’t tell you how to predict the next big trend (I wish I could – but I don’t have a crystal ball) – but I can give you some tips for ways to maximise your earnings from the next big trend – especially if you have spotted it ahead of the competition.

Don’t Chase Horses That Have Bolted

We all know the online T-Shirt market is a busy place, where designs that sell well are easy to spot – and so they get ‘jumped on’ by other sellers and designers.

Some of this is legitimate competition, other times it is copyright infringement (or ‘copycats’).

But the point is that this does happen, and is unlikely to change. You can’t stop someone creating a similar design to yours – and if your design is about some trending or popular topic and it’s sales suddenly go through the roof – you are going to attract a lot of competition.

What you don’t want be is one of those competitors.

You don’t want to scrabble around with hundreds of other late-to-the-party sellers (where you have to compete on price) – you want to dominate the trend and be the person everyone else is following and imitating.

So don’t try to hop on a trend that’s already hit – unless you spot a very specific opportunity that no-one else is taking advantage of.

Instead you want to develop techniques and strategies to get ahead of trends; ways that will drive sales for you that aren’t easily eaten into by the copycats or the competition.

So rather than chase already popular designs – let’s talk about how you can be ‘in front’ of the competition.

On Predicting Trends

First off: I can’t really give you a ‘5 step guide’ of how to spot trends (because I don’t have one).

It’s a very nebulous and imprecise process (at least for me), and the 80/20 rule would certainly apply (more on that here) – you probably only get a few ‘hits’ for every 10 trends you ‘spot’ that never actually materialise into T-Shirt sales.

(For some ideas as to where you might spot current or up and coming trends, check out this link from Chris Green’s ‘Merch Research’ site).

However, I will offer a few tips and thoughts on trend spotting / prediction:

1. Reverse Engineer

Take a look at what is currently selling well (eg. on Amazon or Redbubble), and reverse-engineer from that.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What kind of design is it, and who is it buying it?
  • Was there any possible way to predict this trend a month or so before it hit? If so – what information would you have needed – or in other words – how could you have predicted this trend? (The answer might be ‘I couldn’t’ – but other times there will be reasonable ways to have done so).

For example – last month was Halloween, and it hit just before a US presidential election.

You could have put those 2 bits of information together (way before October) and made an educated guess that people might want to go to Halloween parties dressed as Hillary or Trump.

Add in the fact that people often look for easy costumes such as ‘costume shirts’ around Halloween – and you could have come up with some Trump/Hillary ‘costume’ type t-shirts.

Oh look – somebody did! (Not me btw):

Hillary Pantsuit T-Shirts

(Links to these are here and here, respectively).

…and around Halloween time, such designs sold pretty well.

It’s not a ‘monster’ of a trend by any means, but if you have some regular hits like that you are going to start making a decent income.

2. Broaden Your Horizons

Don’t just look for ‘headline’ trends (Pokemon Go, Black Lives Matter, Deplorables etc.).

Trends happen within almost all niches and communities.

News stories and hot topics will catch on in the gamer community, and completely different trends will take hold in the vegan community.

If you dedicate some time to familiarise and immerse yourself in a certain community, then you will notice and become better at predicting and hopping on trends as they happen. You may also have a better insight into what is coming down the tracks.

3. Not All Trends Become T-Shirts

Just because something blows up, gets millions of google searches or dominates the news cycle for weeks doesn’t mean it will translate to t-shirt sales.

We only want to find trends that actually make sense as shirts. For the big BIG stuff (not saying you always should focus on this – see point above) – this usually means political stuff, sports stuff or maybe ‘generic’ novelty jokes that ‘do the rounds’ online and in real life.

So don’t waste time trying to make a shirt about a certain story just because it’s the most viewed thing on buzzfeed today.

Trickle Down Theory

In order to dominate in any given trend, you want to have a foot-hold in multiple spaces -especially those that are most likely to return sales.

So looking at the example below – you want to ‘own’ as many of the glasses as possible to collect those sales and royalties:

Trickle Down Traffic

(For more information on how my income breaks down and the various sites I sell on, see this article.)

The idea is that – as a trend hits – the flood of traffic it generates will drip down from the main recipients (eg. Google) – to other places – amazon, redbubble, etc.

Obviously this isn’t always the case. Many people will go straight to Amazon (or another website they trust) and search for a trending topic on there.

But many will search on Google to begin with – or return to Google if they can’t find what they’re looking for on another site.

Note: I realise my analogy here isn’t great – because people don’t actually go from Amazon to Etsy or whatever. My point is that the traffic collects in different places – so it makes sense to own as many of the ‘glasses’ as you can.

So – we aren’t putting all our eggs in one basket and hoping that just one design on one site will pick up sales.

Instead we’re stacking the deck in our favour by dominating this particular search term on any number of sites and marketplaces – before the trend ever really hits (at least that is the plan).

Tips For Domination

Assuming your chosen trend does materialise (you’ll get better at this over time) – do you just want to be one of many people with shirt designs out there, picking up some of the traffic and sales?


you want to OWN that space. You want people to have to try really hard to buy a shirt about this topic without you getting some money!

So how are you gonna do this?

Multiple Designs

It’s hard to dominate when you only have a single design about any given topic.

So do some variations. Don’t just spam it – actually think about it and develop some genuine alternative versions that make sense.

I would recommend no less than 2 designs, but no more than 5. You could re-use designs and invert the colours (for different coloured shirts), vary the artwork size, change the font or the layout – things like that.

And once you have multiple designs, don’t just use the same listing info.

For example – vary your titles and keyphrases;

  • Hillary Halloween Costume
  • Hillary Clinton Halloween Shirt
  • Hillary Pantsuit Costume Tee

..and so on.

Finally – vary your prices. Make your simpler designs cheaper, and your better or more detailed designs more expensive.

Think Outside Of Merch

We know Merch By Amazon is lucrative due to the natural, organic traffic that gravitates directly to Amazon whenever a trend hits.

Merch does have some limitations though – for example it has policies against bad language, and against designs about certain controversial topics and the like. Trending topics are often controversial – so you may simply be unable to get a design onto Merch By Amazon for these reasons.

Also – as perviously stated – people will also be Googling for the trend – eg. ‘Hillary Clinton Halloween Shirt’.

So we want to dominate within Google too. How can we do this?

  • List on sites that show up in the Google Shopping Feed. Redbubble and Etsy (if you enable google shopping ads) are two that do this. This means we will get a Google Shopping Listing when someone searches something like ‘Hillary Clinton Halloween Shirt’ – and it usually appears at the top of the Google search results.

Redbubble Google Shopping Listing

  • List on sites that have good natural rankings within Google. For me this is usually Teepublic, Redbubble and Etsy – but you may want to try others. Basically the more the merrier. (The more results you have, the more likely you are to get the sale).
  • Dominate Google Images! Simply listing on the majority of products within Redbubble – plus a site like Teepublic – means you should get good coverage within google images for your design. It just means more exposure, and another way to get hits and sales.
  • Have your own website. This can help boost the rankings of your print-on-demand sites (If you link through to them) and again should just give you another spot in the Google results space.

So there you have it – a bunch of ways to help you dominate in any given trending topic.

There’s no sure-fire way to predict the future, but if you follow these strategies then you should be able to maximise your sales from any designs that do ‘take off’.

And if you’re going to create these designs anyway – wouldn’t you rather get everything you can out of it?

By using these techniques you’ll be squeezing every possible bit of earnings out of your work.

So don’t just compete – dominate!

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Published by Michael Essek