Starting your own artist merch shop can feel overwhelming, and lately Ive gotten a few questions asking for advice on the matter, so I wanted to compile the knowledge, experiences, and resources I have to help other artists get started. There are plenty of similar resources out there but they are usually vague, and dont name specific businesses, or when they do, they are very clearly sponsored by them. So here I will provide direct links to the companies I've used, or looked into using, and review our experience with them, none of them have payed or sponsored us in any way.
It's important to note that Im not an absolute expert in these topics, and Im always looking for new tips and resources! So if you have something you feel could be helpful please leave it in a comment below!
Choosing a Platform:
Our first advice: start small! You dont always need to start with a dedicated website immediately. For small order runs using your social media or google forms can be good enough.
As your orders increase though, it can be harder to keep up with everything, making you more prone to mistakes like missing an order or writing the wrong address. For that, dedicated platforms make managing all the information a lot easier.
In the beginning the main criteria for choosing a platform will probably be cost.
Options like Shopify, Storenvy, Bigcartel and other less commerce-oriented website builders like Wix and Squarespace, offer a lot of personalization and sleek looking themes can be very tempting, but have bigger upfront costs.
On the other hand, sites like Etsy charge fees for each new listing and on each sale, making it a more suitable choice for smaller creators who want to minimize initial investments. The total fees is around 10% of the sales price.
Etsy also is in itself a marketplace, which means potential views and new buyers who are actively searching for products on the platform vs Shopify where you have to generate the leads from your social media accounts. This is particularly beneficial for artists without an established following.
However, Etsy has left a bad taste in the mouth of many artists, as a publicly traded Company, they make their profit margins their first priority, and that has led to some sour decision making along with questionable ethical choices, like supporting AI art.
Once you have an idea of your monthly sales volume, having your own website may become more viable. It provides greater flexibility in terms of personalization and customization and can help give your business a more professional feel.
Shopify costs us $390 per year plus a personal domain that adds another ~20$/year. This platform has a great back interface, allows for a personalized look, accepts external add on apps, and the back end systems are easy to set up, yet allow for a lot of specificity, for example, the option to divide and keep track of product stock between multiple warehouses. Which has offered us the best experience so far between the platforms we have used in the past; Etsy, Wix, Shopify.
Deciding on Merchandise Types:
When determining the merchandise you want to offer, starting with stickers is often a safe and low investment choice. There are numerous reputable companies that offer a wide array of sticker options, and the minimum order quantity is usually around 25- 50, which makes it a manageable expense. They are small, easy to stock and ship. Instead of investing in large stock amounts, prioritize design variety, because its very likely that you will outgrow your first designs, and you dont want to be stuck with a bunch of stickers you dont even like anymore. Moo.com , for example, allows you to divide your order among different designs without incurring extra charges ( only round or square shape stickers though).
Manufacturers we have worked with : Zap Creatives, Rockin' Stickers, Sticker Ninja ( recommended for sticker sheets, because they dont charge per cutout) and Moo.
We also have worked with StickerMule in the past, but will avoid doing so in the future. They offer undeniably good offers constantly, but the politics they support go decidedly against our own, and have been called out for questionable and rude behavior.
Enamel Pins is probably a great next step once you have saved over $200. There are many more details about enamel pins so I will make a new blog post for them in the future.
I have never done a crowdfunded project but many artists manage to get the finances needed for their Enamel pin designs like that!
Finding Reliable Manufacturers:
The process of finding trustworthy manufacturers can be scary. The research time one needs to dedicate to know which companies to trust can be offputing.
Many artists are open to sharing the manufacturers they've used, so dont be afraid to ask directly! Collaboration and knowledge sharing within the artist community is an invaluable resource. Here is for example a comprehensive spreadsheet with recommendations from fellow artists LINK
As your merch shop grows, order fulfillment can become time-consuming, but there are fulfillment service providers that can make things a lot easier. Currently, we are collaborating with White Squirrel, whose team manages warehousing, order fulfillment, and customer service on our behalf.
I hope you found some of the information shared here useful! We will try to keep making blogs delving into more specific topics, like Enamel pins, Shirt printing, etc