10 Tips From 10 Great Indie Brands

I have had the opportunity to work with 11 great indie tee brands over the last 4 months for the Indie Tee Spotlight feature here. There have been so many helpful tips that have come from these features and interviews. So in lieu of this weeks Indie Tee Spotlight (it’ll be back next week!) I thought it would be a great idea to put together a list of 10 tips from the last 10 Indie Tee Spotlights (unfortunately I am excluding our first spotlight, Linty Fresh, because I didn’t get to interview Eric Terry – maybe we can work with him in the future)!

Enjoy with tea and a comfy t-shirt!

1. Don’t Get Lost in The Shuffle, Be Unique. “I think the most important thing is to be unique. The last thing anyone wants to do is get lost in the shuffle. Very cliche but practice makes perfect, no one’s a hit overnight.” -Stephen Thompson of Pyknik Clothing

2. Sacrifice For Longtime Accomplishments. “You have to be willing to sacrifice for longterm accomplishments, and be willing to lose, over and over again.” -Jimiyo

3. Do Your Research Before You Start Your Brand. “Advice to all your entrepenureal readers, have your ducks in a row before you start. This was kind of a joke and reaction to some hilarious decisons while at a party and I started something with little knowledge or idea of what I wanted. So make sure you have your mind right. Also gobs of money and gorgeous women to model wouldn’t hurt either.” -Andy Meyer of Rethink Clothing

4. Be Passionate and Work Like You Have Something To Prove. “When you love what you do and are passionate about something, there’s nothing that can stop you, especially from your dreams and goals. I think sometimes your best work comes from when you’re the most down. Like you have something to prove.” Kyle Crawford of Electric Zombie

5. Goals and Accomplishments Take Time To Accomplish. “Man, we have so many goals that we would like to accomplish it just takes time.” -Daren Girdner of Never In Wonderland

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I Wear Your Shirt

How does this sound for an idea: wear a different shirt every day for a year and have people pay you to do it.

That’s exactly what Jason Sadler is doing at I Wear Your Shirt. The concept is very simple, you buy a day that you would like your tee to be worn, you ship the tee out and it’s gets worn by Jason and marketed on his blog, YouTube, Ustream, Flickr and Twitter. The hope is that for a day, your tee will go “viral” and thus putting your brand or company in the spotlight for 24 hours.

I personally think that this is a great idea and even wish I had thought of it! But will people be intrigued long enough to follow Jason for an entire year? 

“Days are sold at “face value” so January 1 is $1 and December 31 is $365.” Jason has already sold out of tee days up to March 2009. That means that the starting day price is at $90+. Someone has even bought the last day of the year, December 31, 2009 for, you guessed it, $365. If you do the math, and if Jason sells out every day in 2009 then he stands to make over $60,000!

Does the price tag warrent the rising day costs? Potentially. Especially if Jason becomes an Internet celebrity and is paraded all over old media (i.e. News stations, radio and magazines).

I would definitely say that if your company has some “change” to spend then this might be an interesting way to market your product. But for the rest of you, you might be better off spending 30 bucks for a months worth of ad time on a good t-shirt blog.

5 Things We Can Learn From The Johnny Cupcakes Story

This is the follow up to the 5 Things We Can Learn From The Threadless Story article that I wrote last month. People enjoyed it so I thought I would follow it up with a brand that one of my readers suggested – Johnny Cupcakes!

1. Hustle, It Pays to Sell Things Out of Your Trunk. This is how Johnny Cupcakes made his money initially, by selling tees out of his trunk as he traveled with his band at the time. More importantly, Mr. Cupcakes hustled a heck of a lot so that he could get his tees into as many hands as possible. More importantly, because of his hustle, he created word-of-mouth which caused people to search him out at different shows. The point is, do whatever you can to initially get your brand recognized and you can do this by making it easy for customers in your demographic to get your stuff (for Johnny Cupcakes, this meant selling at the various shows that his customers were attending). 

2. People Like Parody But Like Consistency More. Johnny Cupcakes has made a ton of money poking fun at pop culture. This isn’t new, parody has been around forever. The trick here is that Johnny Cupcakes heavily incorporated its “bakery” theme into his parodies. Everything about the Johnny Cupcakes brand is consistent with the “bakery” theme, from the designs, to the retail store to the outfits that the workers at the retail stores wear, to the website, to the packaging, and on and on. If you have a theme, push the theme 100%. People dig parody, but they appreciate consistency even more. 


3. Stay Away From Chain Stores. Mr. Cupcakes entertained the idea of selling his items wholesale and distributing them to various retail outlets and boutiques. In the end, Johnny Cupcakes decided against this. His argument was that people want what they can’t have and if they are available at every mall then eventually his brand would just become a fad that would fade quickly. Granted, had he gone the distribution route, he would have seen a quick return, however, it could have costed him longevity. So instead, he decided to invest in opening his own, themed, boutique. This worked out pretty well for Mr. Cupcakes. 

4. Extreme Pricing Can Be Enticing. Johnny Cupcakes is able to sell his T-shirts for $35+ because of three reasons: 1) he has built a cult-like following with fans that obsess over his tees, 2) he makes quality products, and 3) he treats these products as limited-edition collectibles (and markets them as such) rather than mass produced goods. Because of those three reasons, extreme pricing, i.e. $35 for a T-shirt, works for him. If you are able to replicate the three stated reasons above with whatever it is you sell, then higher than normal or extreme pricing may work. 

5. Don’t Forget Family and Friends. One of the most important, and probably most loyal, thing that Johnny Cupcakes did was hire close family members like his parents and close friends to work for his company. His mom is noted as handling much of the paperwork involving copyrights and trademarking and his dad is noted as helping him build and construct his first retail store. Not only was he able to keep the brand, “in the family”, but it also allowed people that were close to him to quit their day jobs and actually do something they loved to do (and earn a nice living doing it).

Photos courtesy of johnnycupcakes.com.

5 Things We Can Learn From The Threadless Story

Threadless was started by two guys that decided to invest in the prize money they won from an online contest. They created a business that allowed its community of diehard followers to create, hype and decide what products get made. There are a lot of things that indie brands can learn from the Threadless model, here, I present five things we can learn from the Threadless story. 

1. You Can Build A Business With Minimal Startup Funds. Threadless Co-Founders, Jake Nickell and Jacob DeHart started Threadless using the $1000 prize money won from another online design contest. If you have extra cash lying around, invest in it wisely, Jake and Jacob did and now they run a multi-million dollar business whose model is built on handing out cash to design winners. The point is, in the grand scheme of things, you don’t need large sums of money to start a business. If you are driven and you  have a solid idea then you will be successful – in one way or another. 

2. Community Can Drive A Business. The Threadless model is entirely built around it’s community of dedicated users. People submit designs and people vote. All the while, free hype and publicity for these designs are generated by the community itself. Threadless is a self-sustaining business, unlike old-school fashions brands like Levi’s, Guess and Quicksilver, that spend millions of dollars in marketing and print ads to generate hype, Threadless let’s it’s community take care of that for them.

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3. Make It Fun and Stick With It. Everything about Threadless screams fun. From the designs they select to the layout of the website. The point here is, if you have a theme to your business, push that theme hard and follow through. Even though the ongoing design contest is a constant, they still have smaller “theme” contests, like the current Threadless Loves Travel contest. Their product shots keep with the fun theme as do the weekly videocast. If your brand has a theme, stick to it ad push it hard. 

4. The Appeal of Limited Edition is Hard to Resist. Whenever things have the “Limited Edition” moniker slapped on it, people buy it up. I think that having a design available for purchase on a limited basis and then marketing it as such was a brilliant move by Threadless. “Limited Edition” provides a sense of urgency whenever a potential customer is deciding whether or not they should buy a tee and instills the idea of “I should buy it now or else it won’t be available next time I visit.” I’m surprised that there aren’t many indie tee designers that market their tees as being a limited prints when in fact they are, especially when they print just 50 or 100 of a particular design. I think independent designers should take advantage of the “Limited Edition” moniker. If you do, let me know if people start to buy your stuff up. 

5. The Physical and Online Worlds Can Mesh. Threadless was able to build a physical store from the success of its online store. Johnny Cupcakes did the same thing. The physical and online worlds can mesh if there is value in both. The online community is the strong point of the online Threadless store. The physical Threadless store is able to incorporate things that they otherwise would not be able to do on the online store, for instance, the Threadless Art Gallery. Building and maintaining an online store is relatively cheap compared to opening and managing a physical store. A physical store might not always be necessary, but, if your brand can grow and if there is added value to the physical store than it might be something to consider.

Was this article helpful? Let me know. Have your incorporated in Threadless techniques into your own business model? If so, how? 

The Return on Involvement

In this post I talk a little bit about how you can invest in being involved with social medial and your customers. The return on involvement can be a tremendous one with word of mouth being the catalyst of that return. 

These are just 5 tips that I thought to list, based on things that I have read and based on past successes. There are potentially tons of ways that you can become involved with your customer base. Attack every one of those opportunities. 

If you have additional tips on how, as a brand, you can be more involved then please list it in the comments. I will be sure to use it in a future update post!

1. Bloggers Are Your Friend. As a brand in 2008 you need to know how to maximize your presence throughout InternetLAND. One of the best ways to do this is to build relationships with bloggers within your niche. Build a list of all the blogs that you can find, within your niche, and get to know the blog, the writer(s) at that blog and that blog community. As a blogger I love it when people within my niche contact me regarding feedback/suggestions, product announcements, or requests. More times than not, I will oblige to the request and if that request means mentioning a new product that that means free advertising for the person that took the time to contact me. Now imagine if that person contacted 10, 20 or even 50 other bloggers – and at least half of those bloggers made a blog post with the request. Bloggers = free advertising.

Real World Example: This one happens all the time with me, brands send me promotional items and I am more than happy to make a quick post about the product or their sale. I sometimes even do a quick Twitter post. In fact, it usually goes a step further and I end up doing a much larger feature on that brand. 

2. People Like Free Swag. If you’ve got extra stock lying around, why not give some away. The return on that investment will be well worth it. Instead of having that old tee sit around, unpurhased and unadored, ship it off to a t-shirt blogger, hand it off to a friend or even a random person. You may even want to try and send it to a famous person that you know wears styles similar to your brand. It’s about creating buzz and involvement so when you give your free stuff away remember to mention a little about your brand, where they can get more (i.e. your online store or website), and any “new” products that you have available. People like free stuff and so when they get free stuff they tend to talk about said free stuff with family, friends, and co-workers. Word of mouth is a powerful tool and giving away free stuff will get that word of mouth ball rolling.

Real World Example: Please Dress Me is doing this now by giving away free tees daily as way to promote their new T-shirt search engine.   

3. Build Mystique. Flyers are great but they often get tossed – I’m guilty of doing that. One thing that people, especially in the 18-25 year old demographic, would be less likely to toss would be stickers. Many indie tee companies have stickers printed with their logo, brand name and address of their website. Instead of plastering your site address on the sticker, i.e. www.lintyfresh.com, why not just have your logo and brand name on the sticker. The psychology behind this tip is that people can be complacent at certain times, when you give them too much information they take it for granted and will tend to forget it. Give them a piece of the puzzle and build mystique. Provide just the brand name or even just the logo and, if interested, they will definitely (I know I would) be more inclined to do a Google search on the brand or ask around about the logo. Same can be said for other promotion materials like buttons. Make them work a little. Mystique builds interest and that interest will pay off.  

Real World Example: Never In Wonderland (NIWL), recently featured in the Indie Tee Spotlight, plaster stickers wherever they go. The stickers just say NIWL on them. All it takes is one kid to see that NIWL sticker and then Google them and then a potential sale is born.

4. Be Accessible. If you’re an indie tee brand then try your best to be as accessible to your customers as possible. You’re not a multi-million dollar company (yet) so you can’t afford to have a dozen assistants answering emails and phone calls. You need to do this on your own. You need to be committed to doing this. Creating and building a good rapport with your customers is very important for 1. word of mouth and 2. trust. Consumers, myself included, trust independent sellers that much more when they know they can get their questions answered. Imagine a potential buyer, unsure about sizing, who emails you and asks whether or not he would fit a medium or larger based on his measurements. If you don’t answer this potential buyers email that might lead to a lost sale. Answer that email and 1. the chances of that potential sale increases and 2. word of mouth (yes, again) – he goes off and tells friends that “the owner is accessible”,”I’ve talked to him”, “you don’t need to worry.” One email can impact multiple sales, remember that the next time you think about skipping or auto-deleting an email. 

Real World Example: Gary Vaynerchuk, host of the very popular Wine Library TV, is noted as answering every email he receives. If he can answer emails in the hundreds and thousands, there’s no reason that you can’t. 

5. Non-Issue Replacements. InternetLAND is a very loud and vocal arena. Make ONE customer angry and that might lead to negative publicity and the loss of multiple sales. Imagine a customer that contacts you regarding a “missing” t-shirt in his order. You can deal with this customer in two ways: 1. call bullshit and assume he is lying, or 2. take the risk on the bullshit and assume he is telling the truth. Option 1, assuming you did not offer a refund or replacement, might lead to an angry customer that expresses his anger on multiple blogs and forums with a negative review of your brand/company. You save $20 on a replacement tee but potentially lose hundreds or thousand of dollars of lost sales based on one customers angry review. Option 2, assuming you sent a full refund or replacement item, might lead to that now happy customer (whether or not he lied is a moot point) to post on multiple blogs and forums about how great the customer service at your site was. You lose $20 but potentially gain hundreds or even thousands of dollars in sales because of one happy customer (remember word of mouth?). Upset one customer and they might lead to an enormous amount of lost sales. Make one customer happy and you’ll see a return on your investment.

Real World Example: ”Best Buy didn’t want to honor the sale price of the 2GB flash drive Matt ordered through their website, so when Matt arrived to pick-up his purchase, the store’s assistant manager called customer service and, pretending to be Matt, asked to cancel the order.” Needless to say, the story ended up on the Consumerist and on Digg and was seen by millions of potential buyers. 

5 Tips That Will Improve Your Online Store

Places like Big Cartel make it easy for anyone interested in selling their custom merchandise to folks in InternetLAND. Big Cartel offers a slew of options and the ability to customize individual stores. Here I offer a few easy tips that people can use to enhance their online stores, like the ones on Big Cartel, and a couple of more complex tips that can be used by people that have coded their own shops and built their sites from scratch.

Each of these tips will hopefully increase user interaction and improve the way that people browse and purchase tees from your site!

1. Large Previews. One of the things that annoy me the most about online stores are small previews. If I can’t get a nice large view of the product then chances are I won’t buy the item. Thumbnails are too small to get an idea of the detail of the design. Threadless uses nice and large preview images for each of the shirts that they sell. They use previews that are 640 pixels wide – this is a nice size, anything larger might be overkill. 

2. Actual Product Shots. Photoshop mockups are great and look nice but what’s even better are actual shots of the printed item to supplement the mockups. You can do this by doing you own photo shoot or you can make it interactive by encouraging buyers or fans of your brand to send you their photos. Another idea would be to set up a Flickr account for your brand and have a Flickr group so that your customers who are Flickr users can upload their photos directly to your group. 

3. Make Your Site Social. Comments are great to building a community. Why not have the ability for users to make comments on individual product pages. iTunes does this quite well by allowing members of the iTunes community to comment and rate tunes that they purchase. Wouldn’t it be great if you could leave a comment and even rate tees that you purchased on the product page of the design you loved? 

4. Top Sellers List. Having a section that lists the top 5 or 10 designs in your store is a great way to sell even more of your most popular items. People tend to gravitate toward items that they know are popular. These can either be based on sales, ratings or a combination of both. Having a Top Sellers or Popular Items list points these customers in the right direction! 

5. Out of Print Gallery. Indie tee designs are pieces of art and they should be treated as such. I often wonder what out-of-print designs from my favorite designers looked like. Why not have a section set up that showed off your designs that people can NO LONGER buy. Make people want what they can’t have! This will make people want to buy items that you currently have in stock (in fear of them being sold out and gone forever) and will provide word of mouth (they’ll start talking about your old stuff that they can’t have).

Do you run your own online store and have tips that you would like to add? Feel free to mention them in the comment section below! Think these ideas suck or wouldn’t work – let me know why!

Use MySpace To Market Your T-Shirt Designs

The popular social networking site, Myspace, is a regular stomping ground for the T-Shirt loving demographic. Heck, MySpace has an Alexa rating of 7 so you’ll be able to reach a much wider demographic than simply T-Shirt loving young adults. 

While browsing one of my favorite tee sites, Emptees, I noticed that a lot of the designers there are utilizing MySpace to maximize their brand name and get the word out about their trendy designs. Here I outline 5 methods of how you can utilize Myspace to maximize “branding” efforts. These tips are potentially useful not only for indie tee designers but anyone selling something cool, hip and fun (it is the Myspace demographic, after all). 

Also remember that Myspace is not the only social network out there. There are literally tons of other social networks out there, like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube that you can register at and have access to their user base. By networking on these sites you can help to get your brand recognized. 

1. Make Stuff Easy.

Once you’ve got your Myspace set up, be sure to have all information necessary that visitors will need to buy your stuff, like sizes available and pricing. Be sure to have tons of pictures that link to your shop (given that you have a site/store outside of Myspace. If they see a tee they like, there’s potential that they will buy the shirt. Make it as easy as possibly for them to buy that shirt. The “easy” mantra should also guide the design of your site. Make the site too busy and people will be annoyed and leave. Make it pleasing to the eye and easy to navigate and you’ll have happy visitors who’ll spend more time checking your site out. 

2. Be Personal.

Matt Rupp from Emptees suggested that you be as personal as possible and I could not agree anymore with this point. If you want to get your designs out there then you not only have to promote your company or tee line but you have to promote the hell out of YOURSELF. Rupp suggests that:

“Instead of being some man behind the curtains, I expose myself and show people who I am and what Im doing. People love to know who is actually running the show and what they are up to. So it helps to be very personable and friendly with potential customers.”

3. Guerrilla Marketing.

Be a guerrilla marketer and visit the MySpace sites of larger more developed clothing lines and brands. Look for people who are super enthusiastic about their designs, you can spot these people from the comments that they leave on the site. Message them. Comment about their comments. Say what’s up. Be their friend. Once you’ve pulled them in, let them know about your clothing line and send them links to your Myspace or your tee designs. Offer them special deals or discounts. Ask them how much they would pay for your tees. According to levi! of Emptees,

“I carry on about 15 convos on a myspace a day just by that and alot of them turn into orders. some not that day, maybe the next or they say when the paycheck comes in. In that case, you ask if you can hold them to it. and get a date that they will have the money and right it down. on that date, message them back and ask for the order. that has never failed for me”

4. Comments, Comments, and Comments!

Leave as many comments as you can (without being obnoxious) on other MySpace pages. Be nice when you comment and remember always, always have some kind of link back to your site. This can be as a signature with a simple link below your comment or a fancy banner. If you have a store or site outside of MySpace then be sure that your signature links back to that site. I, and I’m sure that you have, numerously clicked on links that people leave in comments. Be interesting and be nice and people will click and find their way to you!

5. Friend Adders. 

This is the most controversial MySpace method so please turn to the right and ask that little angel what he thinks then turn left and get the devils point of view. As a MySpace user, I hate these things. You get friend adds from people that you don’t know. BUT, as with everything else, there are some people who like to be reached out to. These are the people who will click the golden link to your profile and hopefully be engulfed with feelings of wanting to buy your droolingly lovely tees. Friend adders are frowned upon by Myspace (and a potentially a TOS buster), but nonetheless, there are tools that can get this job done for you, and will add friends by the thousands. And of course, the old school way of manually adding friends works as well, albeit at a slower pace.

With your fingers crossed and a little luck you’ll have tons of traffic going to your Myspace page or online clothing store. And while you’re here, leave a comment and let me know what you think of these ideas! If you;ve got an idea as well, don’t feel shy – post it in the comments!