So, you're an artist with ethical values looking to sell your artwork? Or maybe you have an already established brand and you're looking to shift to a more eco-conscious approach? Then this post will surely be of value to you. Some links may be affiliated, and you're not required to use my links. However, if this post is helpful to you I appreciate your support. You can also join me on Patreon for more insights into my creative business or buy me a cup of coffee.
Finding ethical suppliers
I have been working as an illustrator since 2018 and one of my steady revenue streams has been my online shop. Through the years I have sold my artwork on various merchandise with POD (Print-On-Demand) platforms. If you're familiar with my work, you'll know that my ethical values and concern for the environment come through strongly. Therefore I have pretty strict guidelines on whom I choose to work with for my products. There are many POD platforms out there with questionably low prices which may be lucrative for people who are just starting out, but if you look closer into their supply chain you'll realize that the cost that you're saving comes at the cost of the planet and other beings. If you're ever unsure about the environmental policy of a platform or service, just email them and ask. If they have no policy in place I would recommend you stay away from them.
The pros of using POD services
So let's get into it! In this post I will be focusing on POD services - a service that creates products with your art and ships them out directly to the customers as orders come in. This post will not be going in depth into bulk-ordering or solutions that require small artists to have a huge stock of products at home. The beauty of POD services is that you don't have to risk ordering a huge number of prints or products that might not sell well. With POD platforms you only pay for what you sell and produce. Yes, the profit margins are smaller, but I think that payoff is worth it to not have to deal with packaging, postage and warehouse worries. Plus, it's way more sustainable to only produce exactly the amount people want to buy!
I will take you through each platform and my history of how I started out selling my products online while staying true to my ethical values.
My first steps as an ethical artist
The first item I started selling were art prints back in 2018. I had little clue of how to do this, so I simply went to a local print shop and explained to them what I wanted to do. They gave me some print samples on recycled paper and scanned my artwork. I fixed it up in a photo editing software and the next day I had art prints to sell and ship out to people! If you have the chance, I always recommend to go local and support your neighborhood businesses.
This platform was where I opened my very first apparel shop in 2018. They are great for artists or non-profits who just want to test the waters and don't want to invest a lot of time or money into setting up a website with e-commerce features. Within 5 minutes you can have your shop set up on their platform and start selling your artwork on sustainably made garments. All you have to do is upload your artwork, choose your products + prices and you're done. They even have an integrated high-quality mock-up builder to make your products stand out. Check them out here.
At some point I was ready to scale up and wanted more control of my online shop. I moved onto another UK- based POD service that integrates with both Shopify and Etsy. This allowed me to run two online shops with more traffic, higher profit margins and bigger variety of products. At the time I signed up with Inkthreadable I received my samples in a plastic mailer bag which was a let-down. I told them that I can't use their services unless they switch to a more sustainable packaging solution. I received a quick and positive response and only a few weeks later they had integrated a plastic-free packaging solution. They are very transparent with their supply chain and overall an amazing team that I highly recommend. Any time I had issues with orders or products, I always received excellent service. They can print apparel, mugs, bamboo prints, bottles, totebags - they do it all! Check out their vegan product range here.
Die Umwelt Druckerei (DE)
The name of this company translates to The Environment Printing House which describes exactly what they do. They can make high-quality art prints on recycled paper as well as business cards, stickers, postcards and other stationary products. I used their services for several limited edition art print runs, and I was very happy with the quality.
Then came 2020, the year of disaster. At this point I had my own printer and I was printing and shipping my own art prints from my base in Germany. When Brexit came into effect I had to rethink my apparel business. I have a large customer base in the European Union and every time they ordered something from my British supplier it was a hassle. Long story short, I found a POD service based in Hamburg that stocked many of the same products as Inkthreadable. The profit margins were similar, and they offered extra perks such as warehouse space and being able to include personalized messages and business cards with each order. However, I had a couple of complaints from customers about their garment print peeling off after the first wash, which according to BrandCanyon was no fault of their own so they did not offer any compensation. This was a few years back however, so they might have improved their customer service at this point.
I wasn't satisfied with the customer service of BrandCanyon, so I looked out for other POD services based in the EU. I came across Tpop, a French POD service that I had discovered a few years back but this time around they had shifted their focus to being an eco-responsible POD service. They stock great products and I am very happy with the quality of their prints. They integrate with all major e-commerce platforms and you can fully automate the ordering process which is amazing for an artist who just wants to focus on creating more art!
So this is where I'm at right now. I'm using Tpop for my EU-based orders and Inkthreadable for the UK (this does require some back-end magic in my Shopify store but I won't get into that in this post). However, according to my customer stats, I have a huge audience in the US and Australia that I would love to reach. If I want to stay true to my ethical values I shouldn't be shipping a bunch of products to the other side of the world, right?
Global ethical POD service
For now, I have closed my shop and I'm in the process of creating products with a global POD service that has hubs in the UK, EU, US, Australia and Korea. So depending on where the order comes from, the product will get shipped from the nearest print hub. This service has a good variety of organic, eco-friendly products and I am very excited to work with them. I will save my review of them for when I have enough experience but so far it seems promising.
It's one thing to have an online shop and a whole other thing to get your offer out to your potential customers. If you're like me, you don't want to spend a lot of time on marketing and writing emails to try to sell yourself and your products. A game changer for me in email marketing was signing up for Flodesk. This is a relatively new email service that makes the process of email marketing way simpler and more beautiful than any other platforms I've used in the past. I was one of the first people to use their platform and as a thank you they gave me a code to offer you a lifetime 50% discount of your subscription of Flodesk. This is not sponsored by them and everything I've stated in this post is my own opinion and experience. With that said, I highly recommend Flodesk for anyone who struggles with email marketing and wants a more streamline process and create beautiful emails that people actually want to read. Check them out and sign up using this link. Note: the lifetime 50% discount is only valid if you sign up before 01/11/2022.
So, that's my story of starting out and maintaining an online shop while staying true to my ethical values. In the past I've faced criticism from anonymous people saying that I shouldn't create any new products at all if I'm actually concerned about the planet, but the fact is that there are always going to be some people out there who are going to buy new clothes. I've come to the conclusion that I want to give people an eco alternative to the fast-fashion shops and a chance to support an artist like myself. The most sustainable way to make garments is to only produce it if it has already been bought by a customer, right? If you have any thoughts or questions, feel free to leave a comment below or get in touch!