This is probably a topic that most, if not all, indie brands think about. I know most of you reading this and interested in starting a clothing brand have considered ways to spend less money while still looking professional. Unless you have some sort of substantial backing, chances are that you’re going to try to achieve that professional look by pinching every penny.
Being a well trained designer as well as the business owner cuts down a lot of cost, because you don’t have to rely on another person to do all the miscellaneous design work. Everything from stickers to business cards to hangtags needs to have a prepped design file. Those files are not necessarily difficult to design, but hiring someone to do simple tasks is not very cost efficient. Even if you don’t have the skills to create every t-shirt design yourself, knowing how to use the tools so that you can prep files and design simple things like business cards and flyers is really cost effective. But obviously, if you’re not the hottest designer, don’t pretend that you are. You’re going to end up spending a lot of time on some shitty designs just because it’ll save you money. The product always comes first, so if you’re not satisfied with your design skills, then don’t use them for professional products. Most of your money should be going into the products anyway, so don’t try to save money by hiring a cheaper, less experienced designer or designing it yourself, because you usually get what you pay for.
The same goes with silk screening your designs by yourself. I mentioned this in a previous article, but if you’re not a professional printer, you should leave the printing to the professionals. Sure it cuts down a lot of costs to have your own set up, but make sure you can get the consistency and quality with your prints that you’re looking for. It can also be dangerous if you don’t have the proper ventilation and facilities. Discharge inks, especially, should be used in a well ventilated space, as it creates harmful vapors and it can probably take years off your life if your set up is in your small apartment.
Another tip for creating a professional look in your e-commerce store is to have a more than one color option for your products. It usually doesn’t cost extra to print one design on multiple different colored shirts. Customers like to have options, so if your design looks good on another color as well, don’t limit yourself. However, a common mistake I’ve seen with smaller brands is that they over do the color options. I’ve seen brands release “10 new shirts” but it’s more like two designs with 5 colorways each. I don’t want to be going through your store, and see five shirts of the same design. Another mistake that smaller brands make in an effort to save money, is print a design that is intended for one certain colored shirt, but they print it on many different colors. For instance, if a design is a black print on white and has shading, it’ll look inverted and terrible if you print the same design as white on black.
You should also consider the affordable embellishments that make your brand just a little bit sweeter. Include business cards and stickers with your orders as a little bonus to the customers. Business cards, especially, are incredibly cheap to produce, and it’ll be worth the extra bit of money. I’ve also seen people use business cards as hangtags, which also adds to the professionalism. Folding your shirts nicely and placing it in a polybag, is probably one of the cheapest things you can do to add to your brand’s professionalism. When I receive a shirt in a polybag, it definitely feels much more substantial than just receiving the shirt in a mailer. Just consider what kind of embellishments are usually on a retail item. If your product can grab the attention from a guy in a store, that’s probably the kind of attention to detail you want to consider. Your hopes are probably to get your products eventually into some stores, so start branding your products to be high quality and professional, and people will remember you.
People also seem to respond well to embroidered labels. I think I’m getting a little bored of them now, because everyone seems to be doing it, but I can’t deny that it does make your brand a little more expensive looking without too much overhead cost. If you have any sewing skills, you can even sew the label on yourself which cuts down a lot of the cost. Like the colorways deal, just don’t over do it. I’ve seen some brands with some big-ass obnoxious labels on the bottom hem of their shirts, and it looked like a joke. I think the small and subtle ones are classy and look pretty fresh. A lot of people debate between getting the size tag printed inside the collar and getting an embroidered label sewn in. Even though the printed size tags are often more comfortable, I think embroidered labels just look more professional, so I usually opt for that option.
Again, as discussed in a earlier post, professional and consistent photography is something that is crucial to branding, and often overlooked. Make sure you’re not using your cheap point and shoot, and use a camera with a decent sensor and manual settings, and make sure the lighting is even and adequate. You can even rent a nice camera if necessary. One thing I would usually recommend is to not use mocked up images on your product pages. Sure it looks more consistent, but if someone is trying to buy your product, don’t try to deceive them with a photoshopped version of your t-shirt. It not only cheapens your brand, but it can also look different from the actual product, which will definitely generate some complaints. If you do choose to use mock-ups for your product shots, make sure that the size of the print and the print colors are extremely accurate and true to the actual shirt. If mock-ups are done correctly, it can turn out good, but more times than not, I find that it looks unprofessional.
There’s probably a lot more I can talk about, because I definitely had a tight budget when I first started. I’ll probably continue this series in a part two at a later date. Hopefully some of these suggestions have gotten you thinking a little bit. If you have any of your own tips for getting a professional look on a tight budget, leave a comment below. I’ll be sure to include it in the part two, and I’ll obviously give you credit with a link to your site; I’ll add my little bit of input as well.
The post was written by Ray Masaki. If you have any questions or comments, either leave a comment below or send me an email: ray [at] lowdtown [dot] com. Be sure to follow me on twitter for updates: @Lowdtown