Written by Ray Masaki
I’ve hinted in previous posts that I have lost a lot of money from deciding not to use designs. In fact, I hired a couple designers to work on a collaboration that is going unused. This brings me to the point of knowing when to not use a design.
One of the hardest things to do when you own an independent t-shirt business is waste money. However, in my opinion, one of the most valuable skills as a clothing business owner is having a perceptive eye. For example, say you paid a designer $250 for a t-shirt design for your new line. Turns out that it’s an awesome illustration, but it doesn’t fit the rest of your line aesthetically and conceptually. As a clothing brand owner, you have to be able to evaluate if printing the shirt would be worth it. I try to picture my brand as a collection of clothing that work with one another rather than individual pieces. In my opinion, it’s the cohesiveness that makes a brand more memorable. If you’re able to look at a t-shirt and know what brand it is, they’re doing something right. Also consider how much it would cost to put the shirt into production. My thoughts are that it’s better to lose the $250 than hurting the value of your brand by creating a collection you’re not completely satisfied with. You can always recover the money that you spent on the design with other sales, but it’s hard to fix a tainted image. Consider how many brands just start over with a new name and a new brand. It’s because it’s easier to create something entirely new than to fix a tainted brand, because the image associated with it is hard to change.
In a lot of the newer brands, I find that there is simply a lack of good concepts. Calling your brand Donut Kings, and having a line full of donut inspired designs, to me, is not a concept (I apologize if there actually is a donut-themed clothing brand, I was playing Dilla and it was the first thing that came to mind). There’s a lot of people who collectively hopped on the Johnny Cupcakes train, and thought that if they use the same formula of making a whatever-themed clothing brand, they could reach the same success. Wrong! Seriously, come up with an original concept that you can envision creating a unique style. It might have worked for JC because he was one of the firsts to do it, but now that there have been hundreds of the same idea, it’s becoming played out and I guarantee that it probably won’t work for you. You can polish a turd all you want, but in the end it’ll always be a turd.
I’ve seen really polished clothing brands, that have nice designs, a nice site, nice logo, etc. but what was bored me was the concept. I consider clothing to be another form of story telling; what kind of story are you trying to tell? It’s hard to connect to a brand, when there is no solid ethos driving it. And quit all the benevolent bullshit. If you don’t truly believe in the cause you’re trying to help, don’t do it at all. People jump on that bandwagon, because they believe that people are more likely to pay if it’s for a good cause. Though that might be true, it’s wrong to take advantage of it to profit from it. The first thing that comes to mind is the mind-boggling amount of brands that do disaster relief shirts. The intentions of a lot of these brands seem vacuous, and for the wrong reasons of trying to make adjunctive sales. If you really care about it, and want to support something charitable, you truly have to live it. Don’t manipulate people by saying that it’s for a good cause, when you’re really pocketing the majority of the profits. Don’t take me wrong, donating to charities and trying to help people out is a fantastic thing, and I have a lot of respect for brands that do if correctly; I just don’t like the mindset of trying to make a quick buck off of manipulation tactics.
Hopefully this article has gotten some of your wheels turning. I am by no means trying to dissuade people from creating charitable brands, or creating themed brands. I just want people to really consider if his or her brand actually has an original and unique concept that is memorable and not another boring rehash. I also realize that I was being a little hypocritical in terms of the part about changing your image. The new Lowdtown looks nothing like my old Lowdtown stuff, but at the same time, I’m willing to take on that challenge, and hopefully people won’t respond badly to the change. Thanks for all the support so far, and good luck to everyone who is trying to do something good.
Note from Jon Kruse:
Ray is totally right. Even if you pay for a design, if you don’t think it’s going to sell well don’t print it. Printing costs are more then design costs. Sometimes you have to just chalk it up as a loss.