Entrepreneurship marketing Thoughts

Is the vegan apparel market too full?

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.