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Advice on Purchasing Wholesale Shirts for New Printers

Thousands of different t-shirts, brands, and markets exist. How in the world do you even begin to pick and choose? Ryonet's printing experts shared their insights and experience on researching and selecting shirts, finding vendors, and some of our favorite brands and shirts.

shirts on a rack

Photo by Bella + Canvas.

WHAT IS A WHOLESALE SHIRT?

Wholesale shirts are shirts that are meant to be decorated on to be sold to others. Garment decoration includes everything — screen printing, embroidery, bedazzling, etc. 

RETAIL VS. WHOLESALE

There is a difference. Wholesale shirts are meant to be decorated (whether it's screen printing, embroidery, bedazzling, etc.). Retail shirts are not. Retail shirts have special coatings on them that help repel dust and other things. Some have coatings where when the shirt goes through the dryer, the shirt scorches.

Some retail shirts can be printed on, like a 6-pack of Hanes Beefy Tees from a Walmart, but you'll be spending much more there rather than purchasing the shirt from a wholesaler. 

Don't buy retail. Buy wholesale.

LEARN T-SHIRT VOCABULARY

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A SHIRT AND/OR BRAND

When looking for shirts, find a consistent brand. Look for a brand that has very few factory defects. Find brands that are able to maintain colors in each batch. Pinpoint established brands that have diversity in their garment offerings. 

If you had to pick one thing you're looking for, it should be consistency. You don't want to order a sample of a red shirt to then order a big batch and have it be a different shade of red. Receiving shirts that have varying lengths, sleeves are different or necks are sewn at differing sizes will frustrate you (and your customer) to no end. Find that brand you can rely on and you'll save yourself a ton of headaches in the future. 

blue shirt with a print that says okey dokey

Photo by Golden Press Studio.

Alright, but how do you find a consistent brand? Again, find a company that works with you. You'll be able to discuss what you're looking for with your rep and they can help pinpoint exactly what you need. They'll send you samples and if you get big enough, they'll come out to your shop and show off new stuff to you. Establishing a relationship is essential.

Selecting garments will also be heavily dependent on what your customer wants (if you're screen printing for others). When discussing their order, ask what they're looking for. Is this shirt meant to be given away at an event? Is the shirt meant to be worn forever? Are they trying to sell it for their own clothing brand?

If it's a shirt they plan on giving away, stick with cheap shirts like a Gildan Beefy Tee. Want something in the middle? District is great for that. Top tier shirts come from brands like Bella + Canvas or Allmade Apparel. 

It's a good idea to research to get an idea of a few brands and specific shirts for each "tier" of shirts — good, better, best shirts or cheap, decent, top stuff — so you have an idea of what to offer for customers based off what the intended use for the shirt. In the end, it'll be up to your customer.

"It's all about making your customer happy," Creative Director and 15-year Printer Ryan Moore said. 

Insider's Tip: Stock up on samples of brands and different types of tees your customers order the most. When new customers come in, you'll be able to show them options and let them get a feel of the shirts, which will help them decide what they want. 

Insider's Tip II: As you are slowly stockpiling t-shirt samples, shirt suppliers have catalogs for you to use. Whether it's online or a physical booklet, it's a good thing to have handy so you can show your customers their options. Having the catalog will make you look more professional.

graphic comparing ringspun threads to carded

Image by Bella + Canvas.

Two types of shirts exist — ring-spun and carded open end. This is a whole other topic that we could discuss in depth, but we'll keep it simple for today. 

Ring-spun shirts are fashionable fabrics or tri-blends: brands like Allmade and Bella + Canvas offer ring-spun shirts. Ring-spun is naturally softer because it's made of finer threads. Carded open end shirts are the standard shirt. These shirts are more bulky, and cheaper.

Carded shirts are easier to print on, but they're not a premium shirt. Ring-spun shirts are high-quality t-shirts, but they're harder to print on because they're soft and flexible, which means you can't do a heavy print on them. Just another thing to think about when researching and ordering shirts!

Insider's Tip: Buy a few extra shirts and do test prints on them. Try different inks. Watch and discover what works well on certain garments and what doesn't. Keep the shirts so you have a reminder in the future of what to do and what not to do.

LEARN MORE ABOUT ECO-FRIENDLY SHIRTS

 shirts on hangers

WHERE TO BUY WHOLESALE SHIRTS

Many t-shirt suppliers exist. Our experts suggest first looking for local vendors. Local means you'll get shirts quicker, and you're causing less harm on the environment since the shirts are not traveling as far. Like when Sales Representative Nate Oskar (aka RyoNate) lived in Arizona, he went to McCreary's Tees for shirts. 

When researching shirt suppliers, find ones that work to create and maintain a relationship with you. It'll go a long way. For example, Nate had a great relationship with his rep at TSC Apparel. If he received an order where a few shirts were missing, all he had to do was text his rep and they sent him out the missing shirts immediately. Find the suppliers that'll go the extra mile to make sure you got everything you need in a timely matter.

It's important to note that the volume of shirts you purchase will affect the pricing of the shirts. The smaller amount of shirts a printer orders, the higher the pricing will be. Order loads and loads of shirts, you'll get great prices. When you obtain case-quantity pricing, you're set. Whether you order a few shirts or a hundred, the supplier will still charge you the cheaper price because you have proven to them that you move a lot of shirts.

shirtspace logo

If you're placing low quantity orders and do not have a business license, head to a supplier like ShirtSpace. As stated on their website, the company offers "a huge selection of apparel, with over 2,000 products and more than 100,000 styles, colors, brands and sizes. And because ShirtSpace sells wholesale apparel, we have a vast selection of products at competitively low prices. Thanks to our lack of order minimums at ShirtSpace, we make it as easy and affordable to order one t-shirt as one million." ShirtSpace is great for hobby printers or printers simply starting out and getting the hang of the craft.

When you're ordering hundreds and hundreds of shirts a week, you deserve better pricing. When you're first starting off, many suppliers want to see how much volume you push through — each company will have its own timeline — before offering you better pricing. The more you move, the cheaper shirts you can get. Again, if you find a rep at a vendor and you two develop a good relationship, you'll be able to have those conversations on when you can get better prices on shirts.

sanmar logo

Our number one pick — SanMar. They have basically every shirt and brand under the sun. Plus, they have a ton of stock in a ton of different facilities (which will be more important later down the road). They're super friendly and great at communicating with their customers.

Insider's Tip: Remember that consistency is key? If you're printing for customers, you want to ensure that you print their artwork exactly how they want it on their chosen garment. Purchasing shirts from a wholesaler increases the likelihood of providing and maintaining the same, exact shirt.

As you've probably discovered, tons of shirt suppliers exist. You need to decide who will work best for you. Here are a few distributers Ryonet's experts have had great experiences with:

  • TSC Apparel
  • S&S Activewear
  • Independent Trading Co.
  • Alphabroder
  • Los Angeles Apparel

To make an account with these suppliers, you'll need to have a state sales tax license number/resale certificate/business license to be able to purchase from them.

Insider's Tip: Establish accounts with several different suppliers. Your customer may want a shirt that your go-to supplier is out of stock on. It's a good idea to have backups so you can ensure to satisfy your customer's wishes on time. Still have a "main" one so you can prove you move volume and therefore, get better pricing. If you are in an established tier with your main supplier, you can mention it to other t-shirt suppliers and they might automatically put you into that tier with them. 

What about mill-direct? Mill-direct means buying shirts directly from the brand. You could do this, but it's usually cheaper to buy the shirts from a reseller. It's a good idea to still have accounts with your favorite brands in case a customer has a very specific request and your shirt suppliers do not have that shirt.

Insider's Tip: When buying shirts, always buy a few extras. For one, it's always good to have a few extras just in case you mess up. Two, there may be some shirts that have issues like holes or poor stitches. Lastly, when you order more in the future, it's always good to have a good backlog of shirts in case something crazy happens. 

 a green shirt with a print that says allmade with a white face mask on top of it

Photo by Allmade Apparel.

SOME OF OUR FAVORITES

  • Allmade Apparel — tri-blends baby
  • District
  • Bella + Canvas — 3001
  • Royal Apparel
  • Next Level — 3600 or 6210
  • Gildan — g500 is an industry standard
  • Alternative Apparel
  • Anvil

Expert Colin Huggins said it perfectly: "It's part of your job now to understand this segment of fashion." Find suppliers who want to have a relationship with you. They'll be there if something goes wrong with your order, share insights on garments, and help you obtain better prices. Read reviews. Reach out to other printers and learn about the experiences with vendors. As you can tell, there is ton to learn about the garment industry. If you need any help, we are here for you.

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