Earlier this month, The Great Discontent, a quarterly magazine focused on creators, and the Artist Elle Luna started The 100 Day Project. They challenged artists, designers and makers to create one thing for 100 consecutive days.
I decided to take up the challenge and create, print and sell one new t-shirt design every day. While the monetary aspects of a market like t-shirts is a great reason to take on this challenge, I’m actually doing this project for many different reasons…
1. If you want to get noticed, do something worth noticing
One of the most common questions, I get asked from brands or budding designers who are picking my brain is, “How do you get press?” My response, “Do something worth writing about.” This is a slightly over simplistic answer to the question, but it is one of the driving factors of my work.
When my brand LÉON first launched, I was coming from the world of menswear, having worked with CFDA Award Winning Designer Robert Geller for the previous five years. In a calculated move, I decided that my first leather jacket design was going to be for women.
The press ate it up. The headlines read: “Former Geller designer making a women’s leather jacket.” Guys began contacting me and asking if I planned on launching a men’s line too. Girls who didn’t enjoy the extreme cropping and “girlification” of clothes were into my menswear point of view.
I didn’t even have to pitch the 100 days of T-shirt project. Within the hour of sharing my new project, publications like Complex picked it up. The result was the most massive response I’ve seen in the last couple years yet – my mailing list almost doubled in just 24 hours.
Many designers make the mistake of just designing clothing and sending out lookbooks. They often miss out on ways to generate more exposure for their brand. Remember, the press, both big and small, have jobs of their own, which is to make their publication look good by reporting and sharing interesting stories.
Designers have to imagine what story the writer is going to tell. Designers and brands in the Maker’s Row community have the chance to push the “Made in the USA” narrative, but should do so creatively.
We all have unique stories to tell. If you want people to be interested, you have to get interesting. Your background, your materials, your process, your inspirations, your favorite foods, personal style, all blend together into a unique point of view that is begging to be told.
Think about Tom’s Shoes and Warby Parker’s charity narrative and how it’s woven into their brand story. On the deeper end, think about the stories of high-end brands like Carol Christian Poell, who have buried their leather goods in the desert in the past to give it a certain effect.
Which headline would you respond better to?
“Locally Made T-Shirts” or something more engaging like, “Designer is making 100 new t-shirts for 100 days, each for sale for just 24 hours.”?
2. How to grow your email list
Email mailing list have gotten a big boost in marketing over the last few years for good reason. In the age of constantly refreshing live streams of social media, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, email has become the last sacred “noiseless” spot.
There’s no better time than now to be an independent designer, with tools like Maker’s Row to find manufacturers, services like Shopify and Gumroad to build online stores, and Shyp, that will pick up, pack and ship your goods for you. You’ve essentially replaced the middle man. And who were these middlemen? They were shops who had a list of customers they contacted and sold to; the keyword being list.
Nearly 80% of my sales come from my mailing list. The reason for this? Customers who’ve purchased from you three times are 54% more likely to buy from you again (check out the study here)
I always stress to designers selling online that their number one goal shouldn’t be finding the perfect font or setting up a Twitter account, it should be building a mailing list.
I use two main tools: Mailchimp, a mailing list service, and SumoMe, a website plug-in with tons of customization and functionality. The two apps I use within SumoMe are called List Builder and Smart Bar, which are both free.
There is a handful of great guides on building a list using these services, here are some of my favorites:
- AppSumo: What We Learned Helping You Collect Over 100,000 E-mails
- OkDork: How to Get More Subscribers
- E-mail1k: A free 30-day course on doubling your e-mail list
3. Learn how to analyze and respond to feedback
As you start receiving attention and comments on your work, you have to beware of false feedback. Designers rarely prepare themselves for how to handle reactions from the public, and this will sometimes lead them to make bad choices that affect their work.
Feedback is a double-edged sword. A ‘like’, retweet, and a favorite are all great, but a sale would undoubtedly be much nicer. Comments saying that your prices are too high shouldn’t dissuade you about producing in America. If this aspect is an important part of your brand’s values, then it’s something you shouldn’t compromise on.
The people that buy usually just buy. The rest often decide to have a conversation about why they aren’t buying, or more often, why they want to. It’s important to take this into consideration and make sure that what you’re focusing on is what’s important.
Considering that my background is in fine arts, historically, my designs don’t fall in line with common street wear themes, a popular market for graphic t-shirts. My line, LÉON, is produced in Factory 212, a high end factory in Midtown Manhattan that I found while using Maker’s Row, which means that my t-shirts were going to be priced higher.
Following the general trend and designing something more “streetwear” would’ve been a bad move. Taking the common route would’ve meant going against the type of shirts I wanted to make, wear, and sell. I saw my designs and my price points as a way to filter out the audience I wasn’t targeting. If your goal was to run the best high end cocktail bar, it would be a waste of resources to start serving coffee just because a few people requested it. Yet, a lot of designers tend to make similar sacrifices with their work.
Beware of false feedback, and let your work and vision draw in the right customer.