It's not you, it's your coffee shirt.

In my quest to find multiple streams of passive income, I decided to launch Northern Sunshine Tees just over a month ago to sell custom shirts and other apparel that celebrates the camping and cottage lifestyle. Clothes you’d be happy to wear by the campfire or while lounging at home on the couch. Northern Sunshine Tees falls under Northern Sunshine Ventures Inc.; the corporation I founded in order to buy short-term rental vacation properties in northern Ontario, so it all fits with the brand.

I thought this would be a quick way to make some extra money given all the articles I’ve read (like this one on CNBC) and all the YouTube videos I’ve watched about print-on-demand t-shirt businesses being a great passive income source. According to these articles and videos, I’d just have to create a few designs, post them in an online store, promote them on social media and watch the orders (and cash) roll in. Easy peasy, right? Not so much.

Northern Sunshine Tees Spring store.
Northern Sunshine Tees store on Spring.

Because I already had a great Northern Sunshine logo designed via Smashing Logo, I knew that would be used for one of the shirts. I had a few ideas for sayings (‘It’s not you, it’s your coffee‘, ‘I’d rather be camping‘) so I added those to the mix. Then I bought some images off Creative Fabrica to use (like this simple canoe). I originally wanted to use Amazon Merch to create and sell the shirts, but I was not approved for an account (and there is no way to find out why and you can’t reapply, which I plan to write about in the future). After some further research I settled on Spring (formerly Teespring).

Spring seemed like it would work well for my needs. They offer a wide variety of items to add your designs to and it was simple to get everything uploaded and created. I launched my Spring store in a few hours and I was happy with how it looked. After everything was up and running I started sharing links to items on the Northern Sunshine Tees Instagram account and Facebook page. I also spent a lot of time getting the products added to a shop on the Facebook page, which I found very time-consuming and not really worth the effort.

With everything done and out there I got a few likes and comments but zero sales. Figuring I needed to up my marketing game, I ordered a few samples and ran some Facebook ads. Got more clicks and likes on the posts because of the ads, but still no sales.

The samples ended up costing a lot more to get to me in Canada than I anticipated (on top of ridiculous shipping rates I had to pay custom fees). Overall, the shirts looked good, but one of the three I ordered had a hole in it, which Spring sent a replacement for without any hassle. All of this convinced me Spring was not the best choice and I decided to find another solution.

I did more research and came to the conclusion that an Etsy Shop would be best to get this to work. Etsy is extremely community focused and there are many ways to help generate sales there that Spring doesn’t offer. It’s also super easy to open a shop on Etsy. In order to get the new t-shirts designed and added to the Northern Sunshine Tees Etsy store, I joined Printful.

Like Spring, Printful is a print-on-demand service that handles all production and shipping for you. Their prices seem to be better than Spring and shipping to Canada is more reasonable. They also offer a good selection of items to put your designs on to sell.

Northern Sunshine Tees Etsy shop.
The Northern Sunshine Tees Etsy shop.

After getting my designs moved over to Printful and getting everything into the Etsy shop, I once again shared them out on social media and got a bunch of likes and comments, but no sales. (It’s only been a few days since I switched to Etsy and I am already seeing a lot more clicks on items than I did on Spring, so hopefully sales will soon follow).

I’ll keep trying to get this to work (and I’ll post an update if/when I do), but so far for a passive income side hustle, selling print-on-demand t-shirts has taken more time and money than it’s worth.

If you have any tips or suggestions on making a t-shirt business work as a side hustle, please leave a comment below or shoot me a message on my personal Twitter, Instagram or Facebook accounts.

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