State of the Shirt, 2020

Jan 13, 2020 — Welcome to Day of the Shirt’s yearly “State of the Shirt” where we look at trends in the graphic t-shirt industry and how we’re responding as the largest t-shirt aggregator on the Internet.

Here’s the condensed version

  • Across the industry:
    • People have more choices than ever before, but the perception of quality has declined.
    • Artists and sites have it easier than ever to get started, but it’s harder to become self-sustaining.
  • On Day of the Shirt:
    • People can track more sales and designs; we’re improving our tools for better discovery, recommendations, and searching.
    • Artists and sites will see more data, trends and reports for popular designs and themes.

Here’s the details

Let’s start with the T-Shirt Industry.

T-shirts are hot. It’s been 9 years since I created Day of the Shirt and there are people who email me every day to say they’re delighted to discover this online community. Our most popular t-shirts of 2019 track some iconic events from popular culture.

**There is a wealth of fandom icons, maybe too many. **No singular event has topped the. Breaking Bad finale of 2013. The current “universe” style of fandom, as well as the multitude of new TV/streaming series, has led to lots of icons, but less standouts.

Customers have more shopping options. Walk into any major retailer or big box store and you’ll find a huge selection of graphic t-shirts for Star Wars, Marvel, Pokémon, Dragon Ball and more. Major retailers are competing more with online-only sites. There’s also a shift in online browsing habits. Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter are taking up greater amounts of people‘s time online and are enabling e-commerce to happen directly in their platforms. People are visiting independent websites less. The habits of regularly checking websites for new deals are declining.

The online t-shirt business is consolidating. 2018 saw the merger of RedBubble, TeePublic and BustedTees, and major changes at ShirtPunch and TeeFury.

Sites are expanding their design catalogs, and embracing digital POD (Print On Demand) over batched screen-printing to effectively offer any design, ever, printed on anything, from hoodies to aprons. Woot stopped The Reckoning designs in 2014; Threadless moved to POD in 2017 . Large sites have more designs but less differentiation with the same designs for sale at the same time across multiple sites. Sites also push larger numbers of featured designs – for example, Woot now frequently offers 10 or more “designs of the day”.

Despite broader catalogs and deals, search, curation and discovery tools have not kept pace. Searching these websites is frequently mentioned as a major source of frustration. The perception among shoppers is that overall quality is declining. We believe this is largely a result of poor curation and discovery, not the absence of amazing designs. They’re just harder to find.

On the small site side, Shopify and social media advertising are enabling artists and entrepreneurs to quickly launch sites with a small catalog and a modest budget. Shopify is the default hosting platform for t-shirt sites. Two-thirds of the sites aggregated on Day is the Shirt are powered by Shopify.

The accessibility and effectiveness of online advertising on social media platforms is driving sales. There is more online t-shirt advertising than ever before. But it’s not a level playing field. Small sites are bidding against the major sites for the same advertising eyeballs, with economies of scale favoring larger budgets. Paid advertising is becoming an ever greater cost of a t-shirt sale beyond blanks, printing and shipping.

All together this results in a frustrating situation: Artists and sites have it easier than ever to get started, but it’s harder to become self-sustaining. While nearly anyone can create a Shopify storefront or artist page on TeePublic, Threadless, or RedBubble, the hard work of marketing those t-shirts remains. As a result of changing customer behavior, that is increasingly more a function of one’s advertising budget than anything else.

We have not seen any breakout organic tactics such as SEO, search structured data (eg Google Shopping or AMP), newsletter signup popovers, mobile app, or experience development to specifically recommend. We continue to recommend fundamental customer development to help drive sales:

  • Creating unique and identifiable designs (shout out to TeeTurtle and The Yetee
  • Developing an audience through online communities, social media, and email newsletters
  • A streamlined checkout process and robust order-status notifications
  • Visible and responsive customer support
  • Relevant customer follow-up and appreciation, segmenting engaged shoppers from old or inactive contacts

Now let’s talk about Day of the Shirt.

We will expand the number of sites Day of the Shirt aggregates in 2020. Last year, in 2019 we largely paused aggregating new t-shirt websites because we observed a large number of t-shirt business failures, unfulfilled orders and unhappy customers. We will unpause and begin evaluating and aggregating new sites.

We will improve discovery, search and curation on Day of the Shirt. We made several small changes in 2019 to better surface popular and trending designs. In 2020 we will continue more ambitiously to better surface trends and recommendations, and make it easier to search for specific designs and themes.

We will improve trends and reporting tools for artists and small sites. I’m frequently asked and always happy to advise artists and business people on the t-shirt industry. My advice comes from my experience running Day of the Shirt since 2010 and observing how customers respond to the hundreds of t-shirt designs that flow through our site each day. We will surface more data and trends to help inform artists and small sites of industry trends and shopping behavior. So, let us know what data you’d like to see.

Let’s wrap it up.

2020 will be a good year—though not an easy one—for t-shirt shoppers, the t-shirt industry, and Day of the Shirt 👍

Thanks for reading! I’d love to chat. Send me an email at [email protected] or tweet at @dayoftheshirt .

— Ben 👋

Day of the Shirt makes it easy to discover amazing graphic, pop-culture and fandom t-shirts by aggregating sales and designs from 40+ popular t-shirt websites.

Thank you to Angelina, Matt, Martin, Ramy from TeeTurtle , and DraculaByte .