Salted fish and tobacco are traded for fur and feed grains. A block of raw wood is whittled into a toy horse and sold in a stall at a local artisan market. Watermelon seeds, sowed and tended, become full-fledged fruit before exchanging hands at a roadside stall.
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.
- Consider adding apps like Jewelfie and Online Ring Sizer to help your customers with fit.
- 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. Doing it yourself? Purchase a portable light kit like Foldio:
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.
The candle business in the US is a $2.3 billion dollar industry, and within that there are several niches to explore: religious, birthday, eco and natural, scented, beeswax, novelty, and more. Like with soap, there’s no shortage of DIY tutorials for novice candle makers, and basic melt and pour methods require little to no previous craft skills.
Get inspired: Wax & Wick on Shopify [Podcast]
Get started: How to Make Candles
- Get insured and use safety labelling. Due to the nature of candle use, and the increased risks of injury or fire damage, be sure to protect your business from civil suits that may result from the use of your product.
- Tap into a niche to stand out in a crowded market. Frostbeard Studio appeals to book lovers with cleverly named candle-scents and copy filled with literary references.
- Pay attention to branding and packaging. Candles don’t differ much from an ingredient perspective, but your product can stand apart with beautiful packaging and strong branding.
Candy, cookies, baked goods, chocolates, and jams. Sugar can be spun and dissolved and baked into endless things to make and sell. This is a category with unique complications—legalities, labelling, and shelf-life—but also with lots of room to get creative. Niche markets include: holidays and occasions, custom, novelty, catering, and gift baskets. Be sure to investigate the viability of selling your product online. Are fragility and refrigeration barriers to shipping?
Get inspired: Sweet Mission Cookies on Shopify [Podcast]
- Trace the supply chain, says food lawyer Glenford Jameson. Carefully select your raw ingredient suppliers to ensure that what’s on your label is what’s inside.
- Consult with a lawyer or food inspection agency to be sure that your labelling meets local requirements for nutritional content, ingredients, and allergy warnings.
- Rotate your inventory, says craft brewer Casandra Campbell, and stress the importance of doing so to everyone who handles it.
7. Art and Prints
Forget the story of the starving artist. It’s never been a better time to create the art you want to create, and sell it (without selling out). Whether you’re dealing in fine art, or reproduction prints, you can access far-reaching audiences and sell worldwide.
Get inspired: The Art Pillow on Shopify [Podcast]
Get started: How to Sell Art Online: The Ultimate Guide
- Work with an established gallery like Shopify-powered Spoke Art to show your work in person and help build an audience for your online store.
- Have your work professionally photographed, or as a low cost option, scan it on a flatbed scanner in pieces and stitch the image together in Photoshop.
- Consider reproducing your art in multiple formats from prints and cards to t-shirts and mugs. Do it yourself through a print and fulfillment company, or licence your work to other ecommerce brands.
8. Digital Products
The digitization of goods shows no signs of stopping. The digital music industry alone was valued at $6.8 billion in 2016. Making and selling digital products like font licenses, wedding invitation templates, webinars, or Photoshop actions requires a little up-front work, but is relatively hands-off once you get started. The overhead costs are very low, and some typical pain points that come with physical goods (inventory, shipping) are non-existent.
Get inspired: If I Made on Shopify [Case Study]
Get started: How to Sell Digital Products with Shopify
- Choose a delivery method. Apps like Digital Downloads and Sky Pilot integrate with your Shopify store to automatically deliver digital goods, or provide a download link to each customer.
- If you're hosting files on Shopify, make sure files are each 5GB or less. For larger files, try compressing them into .zip archives.
9. Enamel Pins
Enamel Pins have exploded in the past year and are still on a strong upward trend. It's not to late to cash in. You’ll usually work with a manufacturer to make enamel pins, but the design component can be as involved as you make it. Design your own, or work with a designer to illustrate your vision.
Get inspired: Tuesday Bassen on Shopify [Case Study]
- If you choose to design your own pins, use Photoshop, Illustrator, or free alternatives like Pixlr and GIMP. Stick to solid colors (no gradients) and avoid fine details.
- Whether you manufacture overseas or locally, be sure to ask the right questions of your manufacturer:
- What are your clasp and material options?
- Can you send me physical samples?
- What packaging options do you offer?
10. Traditional Handcrafted Goods
Leather tooling, wood carving, embroidery, and pottery are all traditional mediums with thriving markets. The backlash against mass-production is driving trends back to slow food, one-of-a-kind and bespoke goods, and artist craftsmanship. Many of these disciplines require skills honed over time, but you can access your inner maker and learn these skills via online tutorials, local workshops, and trial and error.
- Much of the appeal of crafted goods is the story behind the maker. Weave your own story into product pages, a compelling About Page, and even packaging.
- How will you scale? If your idea takes off, consider how you will maintain the handmade nature of your goods while producing in large quantities: can you hire contract makers? Can certain components of the process be outsourced to a manufacturer, then finished by hand?
Do you make and sell things on Shopify? Share your story in the comments below!