Why Your Start-Up Brand Sucks

FruitoftheloomEST. MMMMMXXXCVVI

There’s been a huge surge in the number of young people starting up clothing brands at the moment. It’s hard to pinpoint whereabouts this sudden interest in the world of clothes, especially in the realm of streetwear, actually came from (though I’d put a large wad of it on twats like Bieber and the School of Snapback $WAG). I’ve got a few friends, myself, who are currently working on labels of their own at varying points in their development, and I’ve been very fortunate to be part of a network of people jumping through the hoops of creating and running a successful (or at the very least self-sufficient) clothing brand. Enclave Apparel has been picking up pace steadily under the direction of my friend Kyle, and they recently announced that their brand would be stocked in the renowned Parisian boutique, Pigalle. Other brands, such as Jilted Royalty, have managed to build up huge followings off of the back of a well-designed website with lots of fresh content that keeps bringing the customer back, and it’s been interesting seeing Jay Read developing his brand from an online store to being flown over to LA for photo shoots with Black Scale. Stories like those are pretty rare, and the biggest misconception of running a successful ANYTHING is that the good stuff just happens.

That being said, more and more I’m finding start-up brands on bigcartel websites with one or two lazy designs slapped onto a cheap blank, and you can instantly see where the faults are. The last time I remember it happening on this scale was a few years ago in the Scene hype of brands like Drop Dead and Abandon Ship Apparel (and countless other nautical-based corn factories) all whacking out the same designs of wolves and cats with brains hanging out onto American Apparel blanks. The problem is, these mistakes are still happening despite the idea that these people are doing it because they like clothes, not cat designs. Again and again. I don’t expect to be able to solve all of these accidents, but let’s hope that somebody stumbles across this page and thinks twice before doing any of these things to start up the brand.

1. You’ve printed on a Fruit of the Loom 50/50 Crewneck. Stop using salesman speak to make it sound better.

People aren’t idiots. They know what Fruit of the Loom and Gildan is and they know that they’re pretty bog-standard blanks that everybody uses. Phrases like “heavyweight”, “high quality” or “limited run” will not count for shit when the person opens their package, sees the Wholesale-brand neck-tag and realises that you’ve just hyped up your website acting like you’re giving people amazing quality at a reasonable price, only for them to find they’ve bought mediocre quality at a marked-up price. Just be honest in your descriptions and honest in your prices. When you can afford to provide better quality product, you can afford to charge a little bit more as well. For now, be realistic and stop hyping quality that isn’t there. If you’ve gone through the effort to start with decent product and quality cotton, maybe you should just play it cool and let people be pleasantly surprised and impressed rather than rubbing it in their faces. Maybe they’ll tell a friend. This is how hype works.

2. “Hurry! Once they’re gone, they’re gone!”

People seem to have gotten into this crazy mindset that in order for their brand to be successful, it has to be ridiculously hyped and have everybody scrambling web servers to try and get hold of some. You can see why, and it does get people talking when the next must-have item surfaces. But be realistic, if your stuff isn’t selling then stop trying to push people into buying by creating artificial hype. I can go onto your website and see that the full size-run is still available in all your tees. So it isn’t hype, so people aren’t falling off of their chairs in awe, so what? Focus on getting some sales in other ways, like building your online presence with a strong website. Go to a concert and throw some tees on stage when the artist comes on. Go into some independent shops and give them a few and ask them to sell them, for free, and let you know whether you get any feedback. Just, PLEASE, stop sitting on piles of t-shirts screaming about your limited runs. If there’s no demand, then your supply is limitless.

3. Exclusive collaboration with ‘artistic friend of brand owner’

No disrespect to anybody’s hustle. We all have different passions. I’m a musician primarily, but I also write a lot. I have friends who are really talented artists, designers, graffers, skaters, singers, drummers, DJs, you name it. But, let’s be realistic. In the grand scheme of things, nobody has heard of you. Nobody has heard of your friend. Your friends know your friend, they probably see them every fucking day and have already seen all of their work. It can seem like a really cool idea to ‘collaborate’ with a friend and put some of their work onto a t-shirt or hoodie, but then ask yourself; how big is my audience? How big is their audience? How much benefit and exposure is this genuinely going to bring to either of us? Collaborations can be an exciting way for people to bring their ideas together and put out an interesting product. Artist collaborations like the Alien Workshop x Andy Warhol or Obey x Keith Haring collabs are pretty cool because it’s a big label with a wide reach paying homage to another big name with a large reach, and the connections and correlations are pretty clearly visible between the two. There’s rhyme and reason. Is there any rhyme and reason for you here? Unlikely. Seriously, give them a shout on your website and keep doing your thing. If they’ve got good designs then give them some support in another way: pay them for the design and put it out off your own brand’s back. You gain a bit of their design expertise, they get financial gain, and the strength of the design doesn’t get diluted in some bullshit pretext of “here’s someone you probably haven’t heard of”. No, of course we haven’t, and one design on a wholesale blank isn’t really going to make us give a shit.

4. Patterned-Fabric Pocket Tees – DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE.

Tantum came out with a few back in 2010. They were cool. Selective Thread came out with a similar concept at around the same time in the UK, only making t-shirts exclusively to order (at a great price). These were both really good examples of the trend being done well. However, the market is saturated now. Tantum have gone from strength to strength developing their product and innovating as much as they can around the concept. Last time I checked, Selective Thread had dipped out of the forefront and were working on new products and concepts. My point is; it’s now been done very well by people and it’s unlikely you’ll do better. Please, focus your energy elsewhere, and by that I don’t mean trousers with patterned kneepads.

5. Quality / Quantity / Identity. Find the balance.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to output and presence – the number of designs with which to launch, the best way to establish yourself as a label, the strength of one logo tee over several graphics etc. All I’ll say is this – stores will not be interested in stocking your brand if you only have one or two designs. They need a broad variety of designs and styles to give you a genuine presence within their store to give you the best chance of selling well and to give them the best chance of having something to actually say about your brand. There are so few labels that have blown up off of one or two designs (such as Palace) but if you look at them, even they offered variations and the odd ‘wildcard’ design to keep your attention. On the flipside, if I visit a bigcartel store and see two mediocre logos with no real identity, I’m just gonna wonder what the fuck I’m looking at. My best advice; make a logo t-shirt. Make it strong, clear and legible. On the side, make some wildcard graphics as well. They’re your chance to show a bit of your brand’s identity and vibe without screaming your name in the hopes that it gets stuck in someone’s head. Everyone goes nuts for the Stray Rats logos when they come out, but people still remember all the funny logo flips and weird doodles as well because that’s the identity behind the logo. You need both.

6. IF YOU WERE ESTABLISHED IN THE LAST 24 MONTHS, YOU’RE NOT ESTABLISHED.

Finally, please, fuck off with the ‘Est.’ and countless roman numerals just plastered all over your shit. It’s literally the most crass, base-level attempt at giving your brand an air of class and prestige which you don’t have. You don’t. You’ve printed some graphics onto some t-shirts and you’ve managed to get enough money for a second run. What have you established? That you know how to make enough money to not fail at the first hurdle? Congratulations. Guess what. Some of the labels are doing slightly bigger moves. Want to know why? Because they’re established. Crawl first, run later. Save the Ms and Xs for when you actually have something to look back on.

Oh, and, one more thing: STOP using sans-serif italic fonts for your logos, you lazy shits. Best of luck.

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