[Startup Bharat] 1, 10, or 1,000? This Madurai-based customised T-shirt startup will fulfil your order
The world was introduced to T-shirts in the late 19th century, when labourers would routinely cut their jumpsuits in half to keep cool in warmer months. Since then, these articles of clothing have become a closet staple.
The fact that there’s a T-shirt for every kind of person has ensured that this garment remains popular across the world. And if there isn’t one that suits your taste, Madurai-basedpromises to customise one for you.
Launched in 2012 by Rajesh Kannu, Tee Labs began life as a wholesale T-shirt distributor. While attempting to make a custom logo T-shirt for his marketing team of three people, Rajesh realised that most of the apparel industry was taking only minimum order quantity (MOQ) of 100 pieces per design.
Inspired by a local tailor who made shirts with custom fits and patterns, Rajesh decided to enter the customised T-shirt segment with “no quantity restriction” with an investment of Rs 40,000 that was borrowed from his friend.
This is his Rajesh’s third startup after two failed business in poultry and supermarket segment.
With no prior work experience, he started learning the process of T-shirt printing and customising with the help of YouTube and other channels. The team printed its first T-shirt in November 2012 with the Tee Labs logo.
“Custom design on custom sizes is the best combination. Tee Labs was built on the idea that you should not need graphic design skills to create your own T-shirt. Our designers make it simple: if you can send a text, you can design your own T-shirt,” Rajesh says.
The startup uses a variety of printing options for customisations, including rubber printing, high density, pigment ink prints, direct to garment printing, vinyl / sticker print, foil, glitter print, embroidery, and appliqué. It has an in-house team of designers, and uses screen, digital, and sublimation printing.
“We focus on exacting standards and pay tireless attention to detail. Whether you want 10 pieces or a 1,000, Tee Labs is equipped to take your order and deliver it at your doorstep. Our supply chain spans various cities, including Chennai, Trichy, Madurai, Tirunelveli, Nagercoil, Tirupur, Bangalore etc.” Rajesh says.
Apparel that fits you to a T
Tee Labs offers T-shirts of all sizes and styles; the range includes sweat shirts, polo shirts, hoodies, round neck tees, and more.
The startup received its first order of five T-shirts from a group of school friends for their farewell party. Even today, Tee Labs primarily targets small startups, colleges, schools, family groups (below 25 individuals), and companies in Tier II and III cities.
How does it work? Tee Labs get inquiries through its website, and an executive then sends designs and prices, based on customer requirements. The business development team reaches out to show samples and finalise the order. Prices depend on quantity and print design.
“We charge a premium price as we are doing a lot of small quantity orders. Our customers are ready to pay a little extra to get their custom T-shirt. We charge a little extra for small quantity orders and market price for bulk quantity orders. We work on a profit margin of around 30-40 percent,” the founder says.
When people of Isha Yoga wore Tee Lab's customised T-shirts I Image credit: Tee Labs
With a team of 30 people, Tee Labs today customises around 600 T-shirts per day, with 30-40 orders on average. It claims to have customised around 7.5 lakh T-shirts, around 50,000 different orders, since inception.
Its client list includes NCR Corporation in Chennai, K7 Computing, Ford Motors, Shell, HCL, Amazon, and educational institutes like NIT, VIT, SRM, and IFMR.
The market and the future
The customised clothing market is fast growing in India. According to Rajesh, the customised T-shirt market is still untapped in small towns and is mostly controlled by unorganised sportswear makers.
Reports suggest that the global custom T-shirt printing market size was valued at $ 3.4 billion in 2019 and is expected to register a CAGR of 9.6 percent till the year 2027.
Rajesh says, “We now have two-three organised custom apparel makers in every Indian state. Large players like iLogo Mumbai, Alma Mater Store Bangalore, Vistaprint India etc are big competition, but we are ahead of them with our branding techniques and no MOQ for T-shirt customising.”
He adds that the competitors orders only take up direct-to-garment printing orders in existing T-shirt colours and sizes.
Team at Tee Labs
“We, on the other hand, customise T-shirts with the client’s required size, colour, and high quality screen printing and embroidery. We are the only T-shirt maker doing screen printing for even one T-shirt.”
Rajesh adds that starting and running a custom T-shirt company is much easier in Mumbai or Delhi than in Tamil Nadu where there is “ huge competition from Tirupur T-shirt manufacturers”.
Going ahead, the Tee Labs team plans to open offline stores in Tier II and III cities in Tamil Nadu. Customers can walk in to customises their apparel and promotional items. “We are also working towards a drop shipping model,” Rajesh says.