Back to School Marketing Tips for Custom Apparel

Selling Custom T-Shirts, Embroidery and Bling to Schools

According to the National Education Statistics for last year will see 50.1 MILLION kids enroll in public school. 35.2 Million of those are Pre-K to 8th grade and 4.9 Million will be enrolled in high schools all across the US. And that’s just PUBLIC schools; an additional 4.9 Million students will attend a private school.

All total, there are 55 million students in the US, each of them with parents, grandparents, family and friends. Hello HUGE market for custom apparel!

How can the embroidery business pro, bling expert or custom t-shirt printing shop take advantage of this big, recurring and constantly growing (literally) pool of potential little customers and their supporters? How do you go about approaching and marketing to students, schools and parents in your area? How can you ADD revenue to your existing School business?

Establishing the Opportunity – What can you sell to Schools

Just in case you had any doubt that you can make a successful business by focusing on the school or education market in your area, here are some examples of what you can offer:

  • Uniform Embroidery – according to recent statistics about 16.5% of schools require some kind of school uniform. Offering Polo shirts or skirts emblazoned with the school crest (especially for private schools) is a great entry into the school market.
  • Friday Tees and Trip Shirts – Many public schools encourage students to buy school T-shirts to wear on Fridays, on special event days or when they go on a field trip. This promotes school spirit AND gives you a built-in market for DTG printed or vinyl transfer t-shirts. A full-color print with a direct to garment printer on a simple white cotton t-shirt in kid’s sizes can be incredibly profitable!
  • Bling, bling, bling goes the cash register when you get into a school with custom rhinestone designs, spangle transfers or glitter vinyl. In fact, ColDesi has several customers that no longer advertise because they have 3 or 4 schools that they sell cheer bows, booster shirts and more too. Don’t settle for the obvious though; try putting rhinestones along with an embroidered polo in addition to the usual cheerleading and dance related items.  It can also be added to backpacks, gym bags, etc.
  • Offer parents and teachers everything you offer the kids. Teachers, Moms, Dads, Grandparents, and supporters of all kinds often want to show their support of their students and schools, so don’t neglect to offer adult sizes in everything you create.
  • Seasonal Shirts – Our Undercover Bling Success Story describes how one enterprising entrepreneur uses Teachers to sell shirts 3 or 4 times per year. She will create a school design for Halloween, Christmas, President’s Day or any other holiday that’s celebrated in a school or particular area and recruit a Teacher at each of her schools to show a sample and keep an order sheet. The entrepreneur picks up an order list and cash and delivers a free shirt to her “salesperson”. Great idea!
  • Club-wear – No, not the short skirts and loud shirts for the college crowd, your money could be in those after school activities that the college bound love to put on the applications or that the service oriented participate in for good and for fun. If there is a Computer Club, DECA, Future Business Leaders of America, Future Farmers of America, Key Club, National Honor Society, Yearbook, Thespians..whew… There are a LOT of clubs.. in schools near you. Their members and sponsors will want shirts or caps to wear, logos on bags and more.
  • Patches and Decals – are often more profitable than direct decoration and custom t-shirts! With a commercial embroidery machine like the Avancé, a rhinestone machine like CAMS or with a Bundle deal that combines embroidery, rhinestones, and vinyl you can add patches and decals to almost anything. How about selling embroidered patches for bags or backpacks? Offering rhinestone decals to put on those same items, gym bags, lockers or car and truck bumpers? Vinyl signage to add to car windows, school lockers or even athletic equipment? Visit for more information on patches and decals.

How to Market to Schools

It’s one thing to have the ability to use a direct to garment printer, an embroidery machine or create a bling design, and to know what you can sell, like embroidered bags or rhinestone decals, but it’s a completely different story to actually prospect schools.

Step #1: Find the Schools and the Contacts

If you have kids in school, or you participate in sports or after school activities in your community you have a built in “IN” with your prospects (potential customers). Just do a shirt for yourself or your kids and let everyone know what you do for a living.

One of the great things about the Education Market is that both public and private schools WANT to be found, and they want you to know who you should talk to. This is one market where finding your target customer is as easy as running a search on your “Google” of choice. Watch the video below to see how it’s done:

Step #2: Approaching the School

I’ve always found schools to be an easy group to approach. In general, teachers and administrators are some of the nicest and easiest people to talk to, maybe because they’re job description is to help. So that’s the approach to take, whether by phone, mail or in person:

“Can you help me find the right person to talk to about doing custom shirts for your school?”

Approaching in Social Media – Many schools today have a Facebook Page, and so does the PTSA (Parent-Teacher-Student-Association), and that’s a perfect place not only to identify people in the school community and organization members but to maybe pick up some extra business from the surrounding community as well.

For example, you could post “Can anyone help me find out who to contact? I’m in the custom rhinestone t-shirt business and did the school logo recently – looks awesome!” on the school or PTSA Facebook page. Everyone that sees that is a potential customer!

Sending Samples – One customer of ours has a unique system for prospecting schools all over the country. He’ll search for high schools and middle schools and digitize the school logo and slogan in Rhinestones. He’ll then send a scarf with that transfer on it and an introductory letter to the principal at the school. It’s an investment, but he said that about 3 out of 10 schools buy and selling 50 to 100 rhinestone tees more than makes up for the effort!

Dropping Off Samples – this is potentially the MOST effective way to introduce yourself and your business to a school and rack up some extra revenue at the same time.

First of all, recreate the school logo in bling, print or embroidery and put it on your favorite apparel; t-shirt, polo, school bag, etc. Then take it to the school personally and just show up in the front office to drop off the sample!

You might say something like:

“Hi, my name is ___________ and I do custom apparel for schools. I created this shirt/design for the school and would like to leave it here with my card, who should I leave it for?”

If the design or the garment is cute and appropriate you have a great chance of:

  1. Meeting whoever makes the decisions
  2. Taking orders from everyone in the office on the spot
  3. Recruiting your Teacher/Salesperson like our Undercover Bling Success Story customer

You may feel nervous the first few times you do this, but by and large, you’ll get a great response and even a busy office will take your sample and pass it up to the powers that be. Just make sure you don’t leave without the business card, name or phone number of someone to follow up with.

Custom School Websites

If you’re ready and interested in the profitable world of selling online, there’s an additional opportunity for you and for you school customers.

DecoNetwork is an e-commerce solution specifically designed for the custom apparel business, and one of their unique features is the ability to set up separate “stores” for YOUR customers. That means that if you start selling to ABC Elementary School you can set up a website just for them, branded with their school name, where they can log in and purchase items without you having to do anything but process the order.

Many schools will use this as a fundraising tactic. You set up a store for them; they send their students and parents there to buy school branded apparel. They collect a commission, you collect the profits!

For more information about DecoNetwork options visit Http://

But whatever you do, don’t put off approaching schools “until I do ______” start today!


Schools are a GREAT market for custom apparel, and the best part is how easy it is to find the potential buyers, how profitable it is and how receptive most schools are to what you do.

If you’re interested in starting a custom t-shirt business or embroidery business, visit us at or join us on Facebook at the custom apparel startups page.