Making our first $1000 in Cambodia t-shirt merch printing business

Paul Chris Luke
Mar 13 · 4 min read

Hi I’m Chris, I moved to Cambodia almost a year ago and have been working on an opensource marketing platform for nonprofits (and taking lots of naps). That’s not the point of the post, just know that I’ve been here for about a year now and knew the lay of the land and had some local connections.

This is Courtney, my cousin. She’s a dope manga artist and makes art like this:

She has 25k followers on instagram. Often, her followers would ask for physical merch like stickers, t-shirts, etc. Read: demand was there, but logistics are often hard, especially for artists. On demand “upload a jpg and have it printed/shipped to your customer” platforms for artists currently take a HUGE commission, up to 90% in some cases:

I convinced her to move to Cambodia in December to focus on her art, and help her build a business for herself rather than starving in New York City. The plan was to sell printed shirts of her art via instagram sourcing the materials from ethically printed Cambodia manufacturers.

The first step was finding a vendor, lucky for us, Cambodia is a still a very small town place… after you live here for a while, you get to know the local vendors/manufacturers, who produces quality products etc. People tend to form strong friendship circles, and support each other.In Siem Reap, many people use silk screen printing (yes we know their website is in trouble, we’ll get to it ;) ) Pricing is found here.

Living in a small town such as Siem Reap also has advantages in pricing. As Nathan, the manager explained, “If I give cheaper pricing to one person and charge more to another, word gets around… its easier if I just charge the same for everyone across the board…”

We decided to do a test run of 50 shirts at a cost of $191.25 (we had to expedite printing, more on that later.)

We used a small chat based ecommerce platform based out of Singapore. We chose this as we intended to sell exclusively on social media. I also liked the small team, who were quick to respond to support requests. They have some features missing such as label printing, and had ux issues resulting in some user confusion. However, the low fee of 1.5% and ease of launching made it a “set it up in a weekend for the first run test” easy choice.

One of Courtney’s friends, Sara, had come out to help her move into her new life in here. She was leaving in 14 days, so we decided to expedite the printing and load her suitcase up with as many shirts as she could hold on her way back to New York.

In the meantime we did Instagram marketing. Courtney posted about the process of printing the shirts, teasing them in her artwork and letting her followers discover the secret on their own. They were excited.

We priced the shirts at $25, and sold out in 2 days, her fan’s are pretty great :)

Sara managed shipping from the states totaling $211 to ship to customers. After eCommerce fees, shipping, taxes,and initial investment costs, we grossed $1,000.02¹

Courtney was able to pay down some of her student loans and buy *a lot* of water apples. It was a fun project, and we are excited to see how it grows. If we can figure out some sort of stable supply chain perhaps we could offer a platform that offers on demand t shirt printing that doesn’t take 90% of the artists profits in the end? Sounds like a fun project to me!

Hey. I’m Chris, I build best in class marketing software in Cambodia to support nonprofits and NGO’s around the world, for free. I sustain myself with consulting work, if you have big data problems, or want to be prepared for the ai revolution, I’m your guy.

Join Discord to meet the crew, chat, and get involved. (marketing, video, illustration, programming, etc.)

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¹we gave 5 shirts away for free or kept some.

Paul Chris Luke

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"Top 30 under 30 CTOs". Managed millions in budget in ad spend. Disrupting the marketing industry. Cambodia based.