Making things from scratch, cultivating them by hand, and carving out a living by selling and trading them—these are the inceptive transactions of commerce in America.
Commerce has evolved in the past few hundred years, with the biggest changes coinciding with rail transport, the manufacturing boom, and the Internet. As far as we’ve come—think same day shipping and chat-based selling—the roots of commerce remain firmly planted.
Today, thousands of Shopify merchants still produce made-by-hand goods—some with traditional and primitive methods—selling them at craft shows, pop-up shops, and through their online stores worldwide. Ecommerce gives makers more reach, and apps help keep their businesses running more efficiently, letting them focus on what they do best: their craft.
But maybe you’re not quite sure what to make and sell. Maybe you’re looking for a new hobby to busy your idle hands (and make a little cash on the side). Or maybe you’re not crafty at all.
10 Things to Make and Sell
We’ve compiled a list of things to make and sell, something to appeal to everyone from the advanced craftsperson to the creatively-challenged, from skilled trades to relatively hands-off ventures. Each idea will include a link to a comprehensive guide, as well as a Shopify store to inspire your own.
1. Bath Bombs and Soaps
A simple Google search returns pages of tutorials to teach you to make your own soaps, bath bombs, and other beauty products at home. They range from simple recipes for bath salts to more complicated formulations requiring emulsions and preservatives. This business idea has low creativity requirements—soaps and bath bombs can be made using commercial molds—but packaging and branding are important in beauty, so consider hiring design help.
Get inspired: Honeybunch Handmade on Shopify [Case Study]
- Keep your inventory tight—fresher bath bombs have more fizz, and natural ingredients (like essential oils) in soap can expire.
- Investigate your raw ingredient sources to ensure they’re beauty-grade and safe for skin. Shopify merchant Salem Essentials recommends understanding the basics of chemistry.
- Check with your local government to ensure that your production facility (even if it’s your own kitchen) meets health standards. In the US, for example, the FDA sets guidelines for ventilation, air control, and surfaces.
2. T-Shirts and Printed Merch
This is a maker business for the non-maker. Your original idea can be designed (this is where the “made” comes in) and printed onto various goods like t-shirts, mugs, tote bags, and dog bandanas, and shipped directly to your customers. It’s a hands-off business that has a very low barrier to entry.
Get inspired: Startup Drugz on Shopify [Podcast]
- T-shirts and printed merch can supplement an existing business. Gyms, musicians, and charities, for example, can sell branded swag to current audiences, and help to build the brand.
- Not a designer? Use Fiverr, Creative Market, or Upwork to find talent to help you turn your ideas into designs for your t-shirt business.
- Use a print and fulfillment app like Printful or Teelaunch. They integrate with your Shopify store, and automatically print, fulfill, and ship each order.
Jewellery is another business idea that can range from simple and low-tech (say, beaded necklaces and woven bracelets) to skilled trades with special equipment (say, silversmithing). It’s a saturated market, so doing your homework up front is important—how can your designs stand out? Is there a niche market to target?
Get inspired: Biko on Shopify [Video]
- Fashion is fickle. Validate your idea by tracking trends in jewellery—use Google Trends, and follow popular fashion blogs and influencers.
- Photography is extremely important, but also difficult because of the scale and reflective qualities of jewellery. Invest in great photos by hiring a pro. You can save money by partnering with complementary apparel brands to share the cost of lifestyle shoots.
- Consider adding apps like Jewelfie and Online Ring Sizer to help your customers with fit.
4. Curated Gift and Subscription Boxes
A gift or subscription box business is a great idea for those who are less crafty but have an eye for curation. Contrary to print-on-demand t-shirts, curated box businesses can be very hands-on. Assembly can be a tedious task, but the business has its advantages: subscription boxes are usually packed all at once at the same time each month, and in the same size box, making the shipping process simple.
Get inspired: Present Day on Shopify [Case Study]
- Calculate your storage and assembly needs. Can your home accommodate your business, or do you need to rent additional space?
- Ease your customers into commitment. Offer a substantial discount to those who pay upfront for subscriptions, or offer the first month free.
- Use an app like Recurring Orders and Subscriptions to manage subscriptions.