Sunday, August 12, 2012

Starting a Brand?: Be Honest

This isn't the first time I have attempted to design t-shirts and sell them. One of the lessons I have applied this time around, that I learned from earlier attempts, is to be honest with myself.

When I started designing tees this time around, I wanted "top of the line" everything. Hem-tags, size tags, hang tags, American Apparel, Alternative Apparel, custom packaging, high end web site, high res photos, models, stickers... You get the picture. I quickly learned, if I was going to ever release a design, I would have to be honest with myself about what I could afford.

First off, I did my research. A lot of research. I shopped around for prices, I compared samples of tees and considered ALL brands. I talked to other designers and got their opinion on print shops, I bought tees from other local brands, I studied them. I networked, I attended events, I met people who can do custom packaging for a good deal, I met printers, I met other bloggers. Researching is so vital to starting, and running, a brand. That is a topic that deserves it own post.

After researching I took my findings and applied my budget to the final cost of what I wanted to do. I found that I could not afford to do a lot of things I was hoping to do. So naturally I had to start compromising. That wasn't easy. But by doing my research and being honest with my budget, I was able to produce a final product that was both affordable and satisfactory to my vision.

Everyones situation is unique. If you are starting a brand, your skills may differ entirely from mine. Your connections are totally different from mine. So in effect the things you compromise on will be different from what I did. That said here are some of the things I did to make my budget work:

Photos: I simply could not afford to pay someone for pictures. I don't have a high res camera and I don't know anyone who would simply hook me up. This is something I still struggle with. One of my next goals is to find photographer at a good price, I think I have a good plan for this. For now I use either my iPhone or my Sony CyberShot. Like I said, I still struggle with this, I sometimes cringe at the pictures I end up with, but I had to be honest with myself and accept the fact that this is where I am at. (above is a photo I wasn't very happy with, but this ended up on my store and is currently my best seller)

Website: This was a no-brainer for me. With all the free Ecommerce sites like Blogger, Storenvy and Bigcartel, a high end website was something I could wait on. So, one day I will be able to get the site exactly like I want it, for now I'm fine.

Hemtags: This is something I still want to add to my tees, but it is ultimately a luxury. Its an added expense that I was willing to do with out. This might be something you can't do with out, but for me it was easy to wait on this.

Blanks: I started with American Apparel 100% cotton blanks, the 2001 tees. In the beginning this was a must for me. I knew I wanted American Apparel for the fit and quality. I made my budget work for American Apparel. Then, people started complaining, "they shrink" "they fit funny." So I started looking into other brands. I found that, for me and my customers, Next Level brand tees (100% cotton) are not only the best for fit and staying true to size, but they are also less expensive. You might find a brand that works best for you and your customers, all I am saying here is higher price doesn't always mean better. See what works for you. (for triblends American Apparel is far and away the best for me)

Custom Printed Size Tags: This was/is an absolute must for me. I don't know, it just completes the tee for me. As a new brand this might be something you can live without, I couldn't. I made this work for my budget. When getting quotes on printing, be sure include this upfront.

Stickers: Another thing I did not skimp on. I use Stand Out Stickers, they are high quality and have a great turn around time. I did die cut stickers with the weather resistant coat. Nothing worse than a sticker that doesn't stick.

Chances are, that like me, you can't afford everything you want to do for your brand. Thats ok. Don't let that stop you. Use your resources, research and be honest with yourself and you will just fine.