A while back, I wrote a series of posts about how to get t-shirts printed. There were posts about apparel and fabric, different types of printing, what designs work best on different types of tees, really juicy stuff like that.
Don’t go looking for them, they’re gone. I took them down (gasp!). Instead, I thought that having all that info in one place would be super helpful. So I combined them into a simple guide that covers all the bases about getting screen printed shirts. Besides, I tightened up the writing and added some new tips to make it even more valuable.
Years ago, when I started selling t-shirts online, I would’ve loved to get some secrets to help me sell more t-shirts. I would have saved a ton of money and lost less sleep.
So if you’re about to start an apparel brand, get t-shirts printed for an event, or just want to geek out on all the things that go into making t-shirts, this is for you.
It’s called Amazing T-shirts on a Small Budget: Learn How to Save Money on Your Printed Apparel and I worked really hard on making it for you. I know it’s going to help you get started, or if you’ve already been going for a while, give you some fresh, new secrets.
If you want the secrets, they are yours. Just enter your email address below. When you confirm that you’re a real human signing up, you’ll get a direct link to the guide. Your email address will never be shared. We’re vegan. We hate spam.
Picture this scenario. You’re all set up at the local music festival, selling your fantastically-designed t-shirts from your swanky, well-branded booth. Wait, what’s this? You have a sale! Someone just walked away with your well-crafted tee and paid you real money for it. High five, you!
They get their new tee home and what’s the first thing they probably do? Yep. Rip out the tag. Because… itchy.
A couple years pass, and they’re still wearing that awesome shirt you made. So cool. Someone stops them at the grocery store.
“Hey, that’s a cool shirt, where’d you get it?”
“Uhhh, I don’t remember, it was some booth at Stinkypaloozachella last year.”
And that’s how that works. You made one sale and that was the end of that. Hey, cool story.
But what if that one sale made you more sales over the years without you even doing a thing? The secret, which is actually not so secret and which you probably guessed by now because of the ginormous photo I threw up at the top and maybe also the title, is tagging.
Rather than sewing in labels (which can be ripped out), I’m talking about actually printing your own branded label on the garment itself. Not only does it go everywhere the shirt goes, it can’t be ripped out and it’s a subtle reminder to your customer that you exist beyond that sale. If you want to be seen as a premium brand, relabel your tees. It’s one of the best marketing tools you could utilize for your apparel brand. Before you go willy nilly tagging your tees, there are a few things you need to be aware of.
Laws and Stuff
Yes, there are actually laws about t-shirt labeling. I know, right? There are people not using their turn signals when they drive in front of me and this is a thing? But yes, it’s thing and it’s serious.
If you look at a (correct and legal) t-shirt label, you’ll notice that they list a few things:
Country of manufacture
Origin country of fabric
By federal law (in the U.S. anyway), those facts must be somewhere on the garment at the point of sale. After the sale, it doesn’t matter. Same as your mattress, you won’t go to jail if you rip off the tag once you own it. True story.
So what if you want to sell your tees without that annoying manufacturer’s label hanging off the neck? Well, you totally can. All you have to do is relabel the tee with that same information. You can replace the manufacturer’s brand name and logo with your own, but you must use your own RN number or keep the RN number the same.
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer (was it obvious?) and I’m not advising you in a legal capacity, but here are some links that will help you with actual legal requirements:
The most obvious place to tag your tees is the inside back collar. You’ve seen this on t-shirts in stores, right? It’s fairly straightforward for your screen printer to do. You might consider other areas of the garment to tag, just to differentiate yourself in the marketplace. If your tag is designed well (and I mean very well), you can even put all that info on the outside back collar area and make it part of the whole garment design.
You also have the option of doing a very faint tag or something bold (like in the photo up top). It’s really personal preference, but try to think of your t-shirt designs as holistic. Remember that you’re designing a whole garment, making it premium. If you slap a bunch of info on it to suit a legal requirement, you risk looking cheap.
If you really want people to remember your brand, you might consider sewing in embroidered labels on the sleeve or one of the lower sides. See Triple V Clothing, or brands like The Gentle Pit that do this well.
If there’s ever a legit time to make things all about you, this is one of them. Take advantage of your options, don’t let people forget about you once they walk away.
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In February, we had the pleasure of printing for Saul Colt and Freshbooks for their February #IMakeaLiving event. Not only did we print souvenir shirts for guests right on the spot, we created an exclusive design for the event.
We also had a few designs of our own that were very popular. And yes, we had someone remove their clothing for us to print on. Again. It must be a vibe we create everywhere we go.
A few years ago, Jenni and I set up our t-shirt booth at a little vegan beer festival in Santa Monica called Vegan Oktoberfest. It was the first year for that event and the “little” festival turned out to be a major draw. We printed t-shirts live throughout the event and I don’t think we paused to breathe more than a couple of times that day. We also sold plenty of pre-printed tees. We may have been able to sample some food and beer… I don’t really know, it’s all a blur. A good blur, since sales were much better than we expected.
Over the next few years, we either attended or had booths at a plethora of vegan festivals all over Southern California. It didn’t take long to notice that with each festival, the number of vegan t-shirt booths grew exponentially. If there were two booths at one fest, the next event would have four. We’ve done our fair share of printing for many vegan apparel brands (we love them all) and our business in that area has grown as well.
Then there are the many vegan t-shirts available online. It seems like you can spit in any direction and find vegan-themed tees.
Does this mean that the vegan apparel market is too full? Has it reached its peak? Are we at oversaturation levels? Can we squeeze one more frikkin’ vegan t-shirt booth into the festivals? Are we at SHIRTCON 5? I’ve talked with a lot of our customers and festival exhibitors about this and I do hear some concern out there. As business owners, it’s smart to be concerned. But I don’t think we’re in any real trouble. I have reasons!
Reason #1: There’s Room for Everyone
When you’re sitting at your booth across from three other vegan t-shirt vendors, watching the 47th person walk right past you, you’re probably not thinking that there’s room for everyone. And yes, I know you were counting.
Here’s the thing, though. Would you say that the market for vegan cheese is oversaturated? How about craft beer? I certainly don’t see evidence of either. In fact, Facebook is filled with people in various groups shouting about their favorite vegan cheese. One person is over the moon about Follow Your Heart, but hates Miyoko’s. Another has never heard of either one (shocking but true), but they love this really obscure local cheese. That’s how it works.
When I walk through festivals, I see that just about everyone is either wearing or carrying a vegan t-shirt they bought. In groups of friends and family, I see several different vegan apparel brands. The secret is, people like what they like. Sometimes (many times, actually) you can’t change their minds. So don’t try and don’t sweat it. Just be you, don’t copy trends and be proud of your stuff. Which brings me to…
Reason #2: You are a Precious and Unique Flower
You are! Well, I really hope you are at least trying to be. Because the alternative is copying someone else’s style and people can spot that a mile away. Don’t be that brand.
Mom’s advice was spot on: Be yourself. That doesn’t just apply to your t-shirt designs, that means everything you do. Literally everything about your brand has to be uniquely you. From your booth to your products, to your personality, the best thing you can do is stay true to who you are. Are you a big hunk of ripped apart grunge, a militant vegan with no apologies about your farm sanctuary neck tattoo? Be. That. Thing. If that’s not you, if you’re a soft and sweet, My Little Pony of veganism, then don’t try to be that other thing. You’ll be fighting an inner battle the whole time and it will show in both your designs and the way you interact with customers. Awkward.
You don’t have to be blind to trends or ignore updates in fashion completely. Just make sure that when you spot something you want to try, it fits into your unique brand.
So figure out what you are, who you are, and go be that thing. When you stand apart from the crowd, people will want what you have, I promise. And some people won’t. I promise.
Reason #3: It’s Really, Really Hard to Maintain an Apparel Brand
Selling t-shirts is one of those things that’s easy to think about, and maybe even easy enough to start, but sticking with it over the long haul is rarer than vegan menu items at a Fogo de Chão. Maybe you noticed that those t-shirts everyone was flocking to at the last Vegan Beer Fest aren’t around anymore. Don’t worry so much about new apparel brands popping up. Many of them won’t be around in a year, but you will be.
You just have to be super strategic about your business and read #2 again.
I think it’s safe to say that despite the blossoming volume of vegan t-shirt brands, the market can never really be too full. Take yourself down to SHIRTCON 1 and breathe a little easier.
T-shirts are one of the best ways to get your company’s name into the world. Probably the best.
Of course I would say that, I’m a t-shirt person. If I were a billboard person, I might tell you to plaster your marketing message on Sunset Boulevard. But I’m a t-shirt expert so I’ll stick to that.
Okay, besides having a built-in motivation for evangelizing about t-shirts, I do have some solid reasons (and experience) to back it up. Pull up a chair and let Sparky lay it down for you.
Billboards rank pretty high on the visibility scale. Literally. So that’s wonderful, but one problem with billboards is that they’re stationary. You have to pin your hopes on people going by them and looking up (instead of texting, like 34% of drivers).
A T-shirt is fantastic for marketing visibility because the person wearing it is a moving billboard. Your marketing message is seen at the mall, the grocery store, the gym, and a bar, potentially all on the same day – for the same money. We’ll chat more about money in a moment.
Plus, it’s much more comfortable to wear a t-shirt than steel scaffolding and lights. You’ll have to trust me on that.
More Bang for Your Buck
Do you know how much custom printed t-shirts cost? Most people don’t. That’s because prices can range widely. All the variables in your design, colors, printing method, and quality of shirt make it hard to give a generic example. You can probably guess that my advice to you is to not go cheap. Of course you should squeeze the most value you can out of the deal. Just make sure you get the best quality you can afford. If you wind up with a box of shirts nobody wants to wear, you just blew your marketing budget on expensive dust rags.
When you factor your costs for your t-shirt marketing campaign, think about this: You pay for it once, but it keeps on sending your message for years.
Everybody Wears T-shirts
Quick, name someone you know who doesn’t wear t-shirts.
Okay, I know. There’s always that one stubborn holdout who swears, “I never wear t-shirts.” Hmm. Right. Well, the toilet has to be cleaned sometime, yes? I’ve never personally cleaned a toilet in a VanHeusen button down. I’ve cleaned one with a VanHeusen… okay, perhaps a story for another time.
Whether or not there are these rare t-shirt-eschewing humans walking among us, admit it: T-shirts are frikkin’ everywhere. According to a survey, about 81% of the US population will wear a t-shirt by the time of the next presidential election. So it makes sense that you should put your marketing message on them.
Don’t Just Brand it. Make it Cool!
There are certain brands and logos that people will always wear on a t-shirt. Coca-Cola. Apple. Orange Crush. Vans. Those lucky brands, right?
There are even a few local brands that can get away with a logo-only tee, like that burrito truck that’s always slammed at lunchtime.
If you aren’t one of those brands (be honest with yourself), you can’t just stick your logo on a shirt and expect it to get the same mileage. As a marketing manager, you might get tipsy over the idea of wearing the Harvey’s Insurance logo on your chest. Harvey might. Maybe his mother. The rest of the world, not so much.
So you have to come up with an idea for your shirt that goes beyond plastering a logo on cotton. Make it interesting and fun, something other people would actually wear. That’s a tall order, I know. Think about your customer base and what they might find funny or just cool. Be careful with humor, though. Stay away from religious, sexist, racist, or political jokes. Even if you think your customer base will find it funny, tread carefully there. Your company’s name will be on it, and you don’t always get to pick who wears it.
Which reminds me – yes, do put your company logo on the shirt. Just don’t make it the centerpiece unless you’re an established brand. Sorry, Harvey.
Because We’ve Been There
Over the years, we’ve made too many marketing mistakes to count. We learned the hard way. These days, in our custom t-shirt business, we see plenty of really smart people about to make the same mistakes. Thankfully, we’re always ready to draw from our personal lunch box of stupid and help them make a better choice. Well, we try.
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