The magic of TikTok marketing is that you never know what’s about to go viral.
In 2019, Charli D’Amelio was just a high school student who started posting videos on TikTok of herself dancing in her bedroom and the school bathroom. Now, she’s among the platform’s most-followed stars and top earners.
Or take the case of Jon Graziano. He started posting daily updates of his elderly pet pug named Noodle, declaring whether Noodle was having a “bones day” or a “no bones day.” In a matter of months his account blew up to more than 4.6 million followers.
Virality can strike at any time on TikTok and it always begs the question: How do you actually cash in? Monetizing a TikTok following is tricky, with some options limited to particular countries or follower counts.
But selling merch is something that you can start at any time, whether you’ve just had a viral moment or are gradually building a following. In the creator economy, expanding to ecommerce is a great way to bring in revenue while protecting your independence as a creator.
This guide will help you get started with making and selling merch on TikTok.
Table of Contents
- Why you should make merch for TikTok
- What to sell as a TikTok creator
- How to make merch for TikTok
- How to sell merch on TikTok
- Get views and make sales
Why you should make merch for TikTok
It’s a common assumption that getting big on TikTok automatically leads to revenue, but that’s far from the truth.
Instead, TikTok has the Creator Fund, a program that pays creators but is much less transparent than what can be found on other platforms. Creators with access to the fund are paid a fluctuating amount calculated by TikTok and based on view counts, view “authenticity,” and engagement.
Becoming eligible for the fund also has particular requirements:
- You must be at least 18 years of age.
- You must be based in the US, UK, France, Germany, Spain, or Italy.
- You must have a minimum of 10,000 followers.
- Your videos must have 100,000 views in the last 30 days.
- Your account must adhere to the TikTok Community Guidelines and terms of service.
That means if you have a single video suddenly take off but not many followers, or if you live somewhere like Canada, you are not eligible to apply.
Julia is known for her tiny, adorable illustrations and tattoo ideas. While she produces fine art as well, her tattoo idea TikToks are what first went viral for her account, and she now has 519,000 followers on the app.
Julia started her TikTok account last year, and within a couple of months, due to demand, she launched her Shopify store to sell stickers, apparel, and “tattoo tickets” for people to get a design they can take to a tattoo artist. Because of TikTok’s creator fund restrictions, this has been the only way Julia has been able to monetize her following, and so far, she says it’s been amazing.
“It’s crazy, it’s awesome, and I owe all of it to TikTok and Shopify,” says Julia.
Merch has also become a strategy for Jack Lee, known as @ruesaint on TikTok, and his partner, Stéphanie Cheng, known as @laparasian. Together, the couple have 3.6 million TikTok followers, and because they’re also in Canada, they’re not eligible for the Creator Fund.
They launched a shared ecommerce store, Ruesaint et LaParsian, as a source of revenue and have done a few merch drops so far.
Jack said merch is a smart thing to try as a way of diversifying revenue as a content creator and influencer, while also maintaining control of your brand. While they also take on sponsored content, they’re careful to only take deals that let them uphold their brand. Merch is a way to make revenue while owning the process from top to bottom.
It’s also a great way to connect with fans. Both Julia and Jack said it’s a joy to see their fans wearing or using their merch.
“It's incredibly fulfilling, seeing your fans actually enjoy the product,” says Jack.
What to sell as a TikTok creator
Apparel is the bread and butter of creator merch. Putting your logo, catchphrases, or artwork on t-shirts, hoodies, and tote bags remains a staple merch offering and is a smart place to start.
For the first merch drop with his partner, Jack hired an artist to create some cheeky bakery-inspired designs with the word “badonkadonk”—an inside joke on their channels. They sold those designs on t-shirts and hoodies then followed it up with a school-themed collection.
Julia also sells shirts and bags with her illustrations, but actually started with stickers. She got the idea to sell apparel after her fans requested it, which is why it’s a good idea to start with a small collection and pay attention to your fans on social media to find out what products they’d like to see. You can ask directly or see if you get comments like, “I wish I could have this on a hat.”
“I’ve done a lot of polls on my Instagram and even on my TikTok asking what people want to see,” says Julia.
The tattoo tickets were another request from fans, who wanted both permission to tattoo her work as well as high-res images to show their tattoo artist. From there, she’s since added an option to request a custom tattoo, which she can charge more for.
Jack has also experimented with different products, all of which have sold out. For his and Stéphanie’s most recent drop, they collaborated with a clay artist to make mugs with unique etchings that Jack and Stéphanie added themselves. That offers an even more personalized and unique product for fans to buy.
Other big names have been experimenting, too. Addison Rae, another of TikTok’s most-followed stars, recently released a perfume.
Jack said they’ve learned something new with each drop and are always looking out to see what’s trending and what they can try next. The first drop, for example, sold but didn’t make great revenue, which led them to adjust pricing.
If you’re just getting started, t-shirts, hoodies, hats, and other apparel are a great place to begin. Print on demand t-shirts are an especially popular option, which we’ll get to next.
How to make merchandise for TikTok
When it comes to merch, you can either have someone else produce the items, or do it yourself. There’s also a question of whether you or someone else will take care of shipping.
1. Make merch using print on demand
The easiest way to get started making merch is to try print-on-demand companies. These services take your design, print it on the product of your choosing, then take care of shipping for you. That means you don’t have to worry about sourcing blank t-shirts, keeping an inventory, or taking care of shipping.
Using print on demand, you can sell:
- Water bottles
- And many more items
To get started, you’ll need to create artwork. If you have the skills, you can do this yourself, as Julia did, or you can hire someone else. There are plenty of places where you can find artists who can create designs for you.
Next you’ll want to choose a print-on-demand company. There are numerous options that are free to set up. You’ll find there are multiple options for blank products, so you should order samples for yourself to ensure they have the feel and quality that you want.
Once integrated into your Shopify store, you can set a price for each item and you’ll earn any amount that is above the printer’s cost. If the printed product costs $10 to produce, for example, and you sell it for $15, you keep that $5 difference.
Jack said print on demand is a great way to test demand and designs and find out what your fans respond to. It’s a low-risk way to start selling merch.
2. Make merch yourself
Julia took a different tactic for her merch that demonstrates that deciding what you’ll sell can affect how you will actually make it. While you can have stickers printed on demand, Julia chose to print them herself using a specialized printer and take care of shipping herself. She uses StickerMule, but there are other options, like StickerApp or local printers. You can also make stickers at home using a standard printer and cutting machine, like a Cricut. Check out our full guide on making stickers for more ideas.
Julia also works with a local supplier to make her t-shirts and bags, and an online printer for her fine art prints.
The advantage of making your own merch is you have more control over the creative process and the quality of the final product, and you can even add personal touches in how you package and ship your orders.
The downside is there are more upfront costs and more of your time will be spent taking care of orders and packing shipments.
Ultimately, the method you pick for merch will come down to how much time, skill, and funding you have to start your first collection.
3. Collaborate with existing brands
While some TikTok creators make their own merch from scratch, others create a collection by teaming up with an existing brand. Emily Zugay, for example, teamed up with Panera for a line of holiday cups. Collaborations like this are a bit of an advanced maneuver—typically the TikTok personalities chosen for these already have a high follower count, or had a major viral moment.
How to sell merch on TikTok
Once you have merch to sell, how do you actually entice your fans to buy it?First you have to let them know it’s there. When you have an upcoming merch drop, you can start hyping it up with countdowns on social media and with TikToks. It’s also important to make it easy to find your shop by putting a link in your bio on TikTok and on other social media platforms.
Jack has also had success doing limited drops—releasing a small collection that’s only available for a certain period of time and in limited quantities. This builds hype by creating scarcity for each collection and adds an exclusivity factor.
He was inspired to do drops by YouTuber Casey Neistat, who has talked before about how it’s cool to see early fans wearing exclusive merch.
“The point of it wasn’t to make as much merch as possible, but to have a very limited number,” Jack says about their drop.
“So the people that supported us early, it’s a bit of a flex for them. We’re really proud of that, as well to see that people got that limited edition drop.”
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Get views and make sales
TikTok and ecommerce can go hand in hand. Jack says he and Stéphanis have sold out of every merch drop they’ve done, and Julia sees a direct link between her views and her sales.
“It didn’t take me long to start getting orders every day,” Julia says.
Now, Julia’s inbox is happily cluttered with requests for tattoos, and Jack and Stéphanis are already planning their next drop. Jack recommends just giving it a try, seeing what sticks, and learning from each new drop to optimize for the next one.
“I one hundred percent think that people should try,” he says.
Feature image by Gabrielle Merite