My Name is Ray, I run, design, and own Lowdtown Friends & Freaks.
A lot of you guys curious in starting a clothing brand have probably read my article “How To Start A Clothing Brand”
Those series of blog entries have really taken off since I first wrote them, but I feel like I can talk way more on the subject now than I could back then, and I feel like it’s probably a good time to revisit them. Perhaps some of the old articles still stands true, but I’m going to try to give a fresh perspective on it, because I’ve been working a bit more intimately in the industry and I think I’m a bit wiser on the subject.
I’m not going to break it down into the “amateur, indie, and professional” categories, because they aren’t that relevant anymore. If you’re thinking about starting a serious clothing brand that has the potential to succeed, it only needs to be broken down a single way.
Ok so here it goes… starting a brand costs a lot of money! Fuck what you think about being like Nigo and selling at the club, because that doesn’t happen anymore. Unless you have really famous friends or know a shit load of important people, you’re going to need money if you want to be serious. The fact of the matter is that the indie t-shirt scene is incredibly saturated, more than you would even believe. Trust me, unless you do something really really special no one is going to give two shits about your “awesome” label. There are labels popping up every single day saying that they’re the next big thing, but unless you have the means to impress, no one is going to care.
Ok, so now that that’s out of the way, let’s try to think rationally about how much money you’re going to need. If you don’t have enough money to start a brick and mortar store, the most important thing you need is a website. Unless you’re a rockstar web designer yourself, getting a custom e-commerce site made costs a lot of money. Unlike blogs and other sites, it is essential for an e-commerce site to have excellent UX/UI because it has to be as easy as possible for someone to choose and buy your product. The site has to showcase your products well. If you’re selling something, you want the product to be the highlight, and not be distracted by the intense illustration in the background. The aesthetic of the website has to look professional and complement your brand. If I see a dope t-shirt, but it’s paired with a shitty website, I’m going to assume that the shirt’s probably bad quality too, regardless of the design. With a crazy nice website, you can even charge a premium for the same t-shirt, because people will think that the quality must be superior to Clothing Brand X with the shitty website.
However, this obviously does not come cheap. If you’re looking into getting a top of the line site that shows everyone else that you’re serious, you’re looking at a couple thousand. But if you’re willing to put down that amount and get the proper professional treatment, I guarantee you that you’re already better than 90% of the new brands out there, because it shows that you care. Nothing’s worse than a cookie-cutter default BigCartel or Storenvy site, because you’re automatically dropping yourself into a sea of the thousands of other mediocre brands. I’m not saying that BC and SE sites are always bad, I’m just commenting on the fact that if it’s not completely customized, you’re going to automatically be relegated into a list with all the other shitty brands.
The next thing that comes to mind, even before the actual products is the photography. I can’t believe how many brands overlook such an essential part of branding for your company. How are you going to create the sickest shirt of all time, and take a fucking cellphone picture of it? That’s just stupid! Instead, get your talented photographer friend, or hire a professional to take good quality photos of your products. Also, consistency is key. I cringe when I check out the shop page from a t-shirt website, and I see different proportions and sizes of the product photos. If you’re going to take a photo of your product one way, keep it that way, and if you’re going to switch it up, you better change it for all of them.
And finally, you’re obviously going to be dropping a dime on your products. Being a designer with an ego, I realize one of the hardest things to admit is when you’re not good at designing something. I know I’m not the best illustrator in the world, and it’s important to be able to hand over your design concept to a more suitable artist. Pay a professional designer to do a design that you know you couldn’t do yourself, because if you try to do it yourself, you’re going to end up with a half-assed design. Obviously you can art direct, and make it perfect, but if you’re not the best designer, acknowledge that and learn to step away from the reigns from time to time. Be willing to pay the premium when it comes to professional designers, because that’s what they are and do. If you hire Cheap Artist X from Myspace to design your shirt for $50, you’re going to get exactly what you paid for, a $50 design that looks like shit.
Another important lesson is to learn how to test the waters. Even if you think you’ve produced the most solid line on the planet, you don’t actually know that until you see the results. Instead of making 100 pieces of each design, try getting the minimum quantity, and once you’re selling them, see what’s actually popular and what’s not. I’ve learned this the hard way from having not enough of one design to having too many of another and not being able to sell out of them for a year.
Quality is important, which shouldn’t even have to be said. If you’re not making a quality product, why would you sell something that you’re not satisfied with? Spend money on quality, and don’t cut corners. If you’ve got your own printing set-up, and you can print just as good as the professionals, congrats to you. But if you’re not at that level, don’t pretend that you are; leave it to the professionals.
If you want your brand to be taken seriously, every bit of branding matters. Make professional stickers, hangtags, polybags, mailers, etc. You need to spend money to make money. It’s all about looking at your brand objectively. We all fall in love with our own products, but can you look at your own brand from the eye of the consumer? What looks unprofessional and poorly done, what could be improved on? Those are questions you have to ask yourself before presenting something as a finished product.
If you’ve managed to follow everything on this list, I’m hoping that you’re in the top 5% of new indie clothing brands out there. Summarizing everything we just looked at, I hope you understand the weight of starting a serious clothing brand. We’re talking about: $1500+ for a professional website; $1000+ for professional branding and logo design; several hundred for photography; $1000+ for designs; however much you’re spending on your products; and money for mailers and stickers. In total, I’d look to have at least five grand, if you want some decent capital to start with. Obviously these are just my thoughts on the subject, and there have been brands that have cut corners and succeeded, but not everyone would be able to do that. If you’re starting up your brand as just a hobby and for shits and giggles, that’s fine by me, but if you’re seriously saying that you’re going to be the “next big thing,” you better be backing your words up with the quality. Good luck!
Note from Jon Kruse:
Ray knows his shit and I agree with everything except the money it takes. You don’t want to cut corners but at the same time running a successful clothing company isn’t just about having an awesome site, great designs, and your final product. It’s a business and with any new business you need to learn how to run it and manage it. If you gave me 5 grand when I started I probably would have foolishly spent money on things that weren’t necessary. No matter how much money you gave me I still wouldn’t know how to sell shirts, you just have to learn. I have a good article called Fail Fast, which I would suggest any people new to the t-shirt world to read.
If you are a veteran though, by all means go all out. You know how to do it.