How do you start a successful t-shirt company? Ask Shari Neal from Bon Bon Vie!

Bon Bon Vie is a popular graphic t-shirt company that you can purchase online. Shari (pictured above) is the founder of Bon Bon Vie, and she exclusively tells Charcoal Ink all about how you can start your own t-shirt company. Shari is from Chicago, Illinois in the United States of America. A self confessed music nerd, Shari loves fashion and typography and her skills in design are clear from the gorgeous designs from Bon Bon Vie.

On her background:

I am a front-end web/Flash developer at an advertising agency by day, so I felt like I wasn’t using enough of my creativity. For me Bon Bon Vie serves as a hobby as well as a creative outlet.
On t-shirts:

I decided on shirts because I love graphic tees and I think they are very universal.  I come up with all of the designs myself. I’m open to taking on designs from other people, but it just hasn’t happened yet.
On choosing a price point for the t-shirts:

I wanted to choose a price that was affordable and seemed reasonable to me. I don’t really like spending a lot of money on t-shirts myself, so I didn’t want to turn around and create a “luxury” t-shirt line. I want it to be accessible to the masses.
On the customer demographic:

I don’t discriminate, my ideal customer is anyone 🙂 But I suppose I do have a target demographic…so I’d say people who embrace their natural beauty, are positive, work hard & love pop culture.
On what the business grind is like:

Hmmm…I guess everyday is a highlight. I never imagined that my tees would be as successful as they are. Do date, I have sold hundreds of shirts (out of my bedroom at that!), and that was only when I had 3 items. Now I have much more, so I’m just excited to see what the future brings. But most of all, I love interacting with my customers, they are so gracious and give me really good feedback. As I mentioned, I have a 9-5 job, so I stay up pretty late some nights and wake up early to handle Bon Bon Vie business. I do the designing, social networking, emails, packaging & shipping, etc. all myself. I have a daily ritual that at 8 am every morning, I mail packages at the post office and then I head to work. Recently I brought on 2 part-time employees/good friends to help me with the PR and marketing end of things.
On the design of the t-shirts:

To me, the key to a great shirt is something that is simple, but not obvious. I love clean design that gets right to the point. Even though I am a web developer now, I got a degree from the University of MIssouri-Columbia in Journalism with an Advertising Emphasis. I also interned as a designer/art director after college. I bring this up because, my advertising & art direction experience shapes the way I design my tees. I approach each tee as if it were a logo or advertisement. I want it to be something that a person can look at and get immediately, and if they don’t, they are compelled to know more about it. I like to create things that are easy to recognize and easy to remember.
On how to break into the t-shirt business:

To anyone who wants to start a fashion company, the first thing you must know is that it is HARD WORK. I researched for months about printers, types of shirts, business plans, etc. before I started this business. I took screen printing classes so I could understand the process of making a tee, even though I don’t do the printing myself (due to time constraints). I asked many people for advice and read a lot. It’s demanding, but very rewarding. And you will fail at certain things, but you just have to pick yourself up. Running a business is often trial and error. Also, make sure you have some sort of plan or blueprint to follow. Business plans are not static things and they change, but it’s good to have a general idea of what you want to accomplish.
On money:
How much money you make is completely dependent on your business, what your volume is and how much your expenses are. You can make $0 or you can make millions, it’s all relative.

What do you think of Shari’s business? Does this inspire you? Let us know in the comments. You can purchase Shari’s t-shirts here.


4 thoughts on “How do you start a successful t-shirt company? Ask Shari Neal from Bon Bon Vie!

  1. very straight to the point on how to start..i have my own t-shirt line but i want to expand to more social media sites and also learn a little more on the graphics part of it

  2. very informative! it’s nice to see a woman starting out on her own, as i am planning on starting my own t-shirt/pajama business and want to do most of the work on my own as well…thanks for sharing your experience!

  3. excellent piece, very informative… i have even past it on….i have plans to design shirt… in fact i have started with the graphics, just looking for a printer or company to hook up with….

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