Where Africa and Technology Collide!

4 Low-Cost Options for Setting up an Online T-shirt Shop

SR recently left a comment about t-shirt shops on my post So, You Want to Setup an Online Store. I specifically left the t-shirt shops out of that discussion, because they deserve their own analysis as they are a much different type of beast. In the online stores model you manage your own inventory, while in the t-shirt shop model you only worry about design and don’t give a thought to whether or not you have enough medium navy-blue halter tops.

How they work:
Most of these companies allow you to setup your own store. There are two business models that are followed. One is where you make a commission on anything that gets sold on your store, or by someone that you brought in from one of your links. The other gives you a base price for the products and you mark them up and pocket the difference. As you would expect there are variations of these two models as well.

It should be mentioned that though I call these t-shirt shops, because that’s what many of them started out as, many times they offer other accessories for you to apply your designs to. This could be anything from coffee cups to mouse pads, license plate frames to stamps.

Cafepress logoThe grand old daddy of this space, Cafepress was setup in the late 90’s. I set up an RVA Alumni store with them 2 years ago, when they were the only option, and have made a fair amount of money for the time spent working on it. Cafepress lags behind the other newer offerings in features and types of products that can be made. Their base price is pretty high already, so any markup you apply only seems to make your store seem outrageously priced.

Zazzle logoI rejoiced when Zazzle came onto the scene, primarily because there was finally competition and also because they offered colored shirts and the ability for the end-buyer to customize the size, color and design. Zazzle is a perfect example of how to take on an estabished competitor (Cafepress) who doesn’t evolve.

So, of course I setup an RVA Alumni store here as well, and was pleased with the commissions that came in. The prices are still a little high, but you don’t have to mark them up, you just make commissions on the sales – 17% to be exact.

Goodstorm LogoThe newest entrant into the online t-shirt store industry is Goodstorm. I have not had the chance to test them out yet, but their offering does look good. For instance, they offer a way to put your store onto your own website using an I-frame – just copy and paste a snippet of HTML. That’s good solid innovation.

You’ll notice that WordPress actually manages their store through GoodStorm, so in honor of the platform that this blog uses, I have to give it a nod. 🙂 (I will actually be trying GoodStorm out and testing it futher as soon as I find some spare time)

spreadshirt logoSpreadshirt is the most international of these companies, having started in Germany they have been around for a little while (2002), and they have a good size marketplace of stores both in the US and Europe. Like Cafepress, there is a base price for all items and you mark those up for each product you sell.

I have had limited interaction with Spreadshirt, beyond trying to setup one product. I found the process of getting a product up for sale to be a little more difficult than the others listed here. However, there are some big names who use Spreadshirt as their merchandise store, including BoingBoing, LinkedIn and Mozdev.org.


  1. Thanks for the info. I wonder how easy it would be to set up an online shop selling T-shirts with my caricatures on them. Any advice?

  2. Patrick, it’s quite simple really. There are only two basic requirements:

    1. You can put the caricatures into a digital format that doesn’t loose resolution when the size is increased. So, a jpg or png format at a nice size resolution (I go for about 10 inches wide) works best.

    2. The ability to upload the images to the service you choose.

    The good thing is that all of these companies send you checks once you’ve met a certain sales amount, generally $50. I might try Spreadshirt if you’re doing it from Kenya, since they seem to be the most international, but Cafepress might work as well.

    If you do set it up, let me know.

  3. Thanks. I’ll try out Spreadshirt (though they say I have to set up two shops if I wish to sell to both the US and EU). I’ll let you know how it goes.

  4. Spoke too soon. Looks like I require to have an address in either the EU or in the US to set up on Spreadshirt. Don’t quite understand why. Also it’s rather difficult to navigate their pages.

    OK. Moving on, I’ll give Cafepress a whirl and see whether they’re more Africa-friendly.

  5. Patrick, this is exactly the reason that I see such a need for an eCommerce solution that fits Africa. If you’re an African living in Africa, well you can’t use PayPal (outside of limited usage in SA), and it’s difficult to get checks mailed to you without an outside-Africa mailing address.

    So, though the world is open to you on the web, you’re still hamstrung. There is a virtual feast of eCommerce solutions sitting just out of your reach.

    Why can’t someone create a solution for this? Seriously, this is doable. There is no reason for the continuation of providing anti-African solutions in the marketplace.

  6. Too true. And I bet there’s a tonne of cash to be made setting something up. Reminds me of the way mobile telephony on the continent was pooh-poohed as a non-starter and now companies are raking in the billions. I think African web entrepreneurs should seriously explore this opportunity. What do you think the challenges would be?

  7. Hash:

    Thanks for the great info. I did not know that so many of these services were available for business people living in various parts of Africa. As you said it is quite interesting that these services do not extend the full range of benefits to Africa in the Diaspora, but I hope to hear about a service that does break that mold-soon!

  8. hash,
    Here’s the text of an email I got from Spreadshirt when I inquired about setting up a shop in Africa. Just reinforces what you were saying.

    Hello Patrick,

    Thank you for your email.

    We do not ship to Africa, so you would not be able to purchase your own products. Also, we only pay out commission through PayPal, so you would have to have a PayPal account which can receive funds in order to earn commission. You can be a Shop partner to our US site from anywhere in the world. To make sure you are eligible, please check our Terms of Service

    Signing up and setting up your shop is completely free and we give you discounts on the base prices of all Spreadshirt shirts to make your designs affordable to your customers. For a price list, please visit Products and Printing

    You can order just one item or hundreds of items at great discount prices, or you can sell your designs and make some money.

    To get started, go to Open a Free Spreadshop

    Please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions.


    Temple Williams
    Customer Service

    Spreadshirt – the world’s creative apparel platform!

    Phone: 1-800-381-0815
    Fax: 1-877-202-0251

  9. Okay, that’s not any good Patrick. There has to be another solution, I’m going to look into some things, then get back to you through email.

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