So you’ve spent a long time working on your t-shirt brand. You’ve gone through all of the necessary design processes and produced a great brand name and an initial line of t-shirt designs. Perhaps you have your own online store. Your next step is to get your t-shirts stocked in a few specialist clothing stores. This is the hurdle many designers stumble on. I’m Leslie Docherty, the founder of Fat Buddha Store, a successful urban clothing store in the heart of Glasgow’s city centre. For over ten years I’ve had hundreds of designers pitch their t-shirts to me and I know what works and what doesn’t. Have a read if you’d like to know how to pitch your designs to people like me.
Have a competent understanding of the store you’re aiming at
If you’re trying to peddle bold, all-over print t-shirts, then avoid approaching a shop that carries clean, minimal garments, similar to Cos or Norse Projects. And this obviously works the other way around. Visualise your products in the shop you’re targeting and ask yourself (and others) whether it fits well or stands out like a sore thumb. For example, we carry a range of Huf and Only NY t-shirts, some of which share a certain design aesthetic that means they sit well together, yet each brand has its own distinct style that separates itself from the other.
Have an original design, not THE current ‘original’ style
Maybe this sounds too obvious? Everyone wants to be original. But what I’m talking about is the common problem of seeing the most recent trend result in several new designers all doing something that’s only going to last for another year. The other problem is the rehashing of design tropes that already plague the t-shirt industry.
Ask yourself if this world needs more tie-dye prints with a ship’s wheel plastered on the front. Do we really need more tops adorned with filtered photos of cities that we’ve never actually been to? Will a store be willing to stock numerous t-shirt brands that utilise photography of scantily clad women?
For us, the answer is a resounding no. An individual and distinct identity is essential when it comes to crafting your own brand from scratch, as it shows originality as well as the tenacity to create something new and unique. Your clothing should exhibit a strong variation across the capsule while simultaneously sharing a common theme that ties in with the brand itself.
Samples and look books
Physical samples aren’t a necessity, but they can impress me more than an image or leaflet, so they significantly increase the chances that I’ll approve a design. Samples will show you’ve made an effort and also satisfy concerns of quality and craftsmanship that cannot be answered through mock-ups and look books. Although most shop proprietors will appreciate the effort put into digital mock-ups.
Other than a physical sample, there are few better methods to market your products than having models showcase them for you. If possible, provide look books from previous seasons to show consistency within your brand.
The brand name
Another massively overlooked issue is the brand name. This is the first encounter people are going to have with your brand and first impressions are notoriously difficult to dismiss. Calling your label “Birds & Bombs” or “Southside Narcotics Mob” is going to immediately isolate and pigeonhole your brand. A poorly chosen name will not sit well alongside companies with more mature identities. Can you really see your “Sexy Swag Kings” brand sitting in between SOPHNET. and Carhartt?
Avoid using disposable trends in your brand name such as ‘swag’ or ‘hype’; as with all buzzwords, their finite lifespan is almost guaranteed to limit progress in the future, when new trends inevitably takeover. It’s also a good idea to search the web for your brand name, as it may already be in use elsewhere. You’d be surprised at how often this becomes an issue for brands, both big and small. Any potential trademark issues will most likely surface after you have forked out on branding and marketing, so it’s best to deal with this at the beginning.
Think about how much money you’re making the shop
Investigate or try to guess the base price of other products in a shop’s stock. Compare this to the retail price and calculate what the shop actually makes from selling its t-shirts. Is it worth a retailer’s time to buy in t-shirts at £10 and sell them for £15? Is it realistic to include figures for buying in two thousand units at a time for an independent buyer? An accurate and reasonable pricing list will show competency with the financial aspect of your project and show a potential buyer you have done the research. Unfortunately, cheaper is not always better, avoid offering t-shirts at anything less than £25 – £30, otherwise your product is at risk of being deemed a budget brand. Confidence in pricing shows that you value your brand and that I should too.
Make sure your brand is consistent online
The first thing a potential buyer will do is search online for your brand. If the search brings up conflicting prices, you’re going to have problems. If the search shows your products are down by 50% in someone else’s store or even in your own sale, then you’re going to have problems. It’s hard for a potential buyer to feel safe in purchasing your t-shirts if there is no clear price for them to charge their customers.
Beware of the big retailers
It might seem like the big goal is to get your products on the shelves of some of the big retailers, such as ASOS or Foot Asylum. And perhaps that is the goal. The trouble is that it’s then unlikely that a niche independent will be able to accommodate you. Why should Fat Buddha Store stock your tees if ASOS also stocks them? How can we compete with them?
Pay attention to the little things
Small details, like branded care labels and swing tickets can be beneficial, as visual stimulants will make it easier for a potential buyer to visualise what your tees will look like next to others. This will also help you look like a complete brand, ready for shelves.
Give them an introductory incentive
An introductory incentive has the ability to increase your chances of approval tenfold. For example, if you offer a sale or return guarantee on a first order of, say a hundred (meaning any unsold units will be refunded back to the business), this shows that you have confidence in your product, and it also reduces risk for the buyer. The buyers are running a business, just like you, and the bottom line always matters. You may be thinking: “But what happens if the shop doesn’t sell any tees and we lose money?” Guess what: this is the first thought a retailer will have when approached by any new brand. Being able to avoid the financial burden is a major benefit for most independents. New business is inherently risky, but the benefits can be well worth it.
Be creative. Market your brand
A creative and unique marketing campaign can turn a good brand into something great. Going back to the look book aspect: finding handsome guys and cute girls to model your tees can make a huge difference when trying to visualise your product. Keep it tasteful, though; avoid unnecessary naked ladies or huge burly men. Although visually appealing to some, they are tacky, and pointless imagery will only demean and pigeonhole your brand. Originality can help when it comes to your marketing as well; maybe your look book is actually a beautifully crafted short video, or maybe your website consists mostly of bold model photography instead of standard t-shirt images.
Whatever you do, put everything into it. Be bold and you’ll be rewarded.
Founder of Fat Buddah Store