So you want to start your own clothing label

And why wouldn’t you? On the off chance you weren’t gifted with Cruyff-like footballing genius, or the ability to knock out the odd anthemic rock masterpiece, how else are you going to spend your time between London Paris and Milan, wondering whether it’s time for your next facial? Your own brand, it’s the obvious answer.

You’ve generated some interesting imagery, you know where you can lay your hands on a bag load of T-shirts, Bob’s your Mother’s, next stop Geneva with your Louis Vuitton bursting with lolly.As I sit writing this over a coronary special at the Flying Sausage Road Kill Restaurant, A614, I have to say ‘I bloody wish’. Because as a T-shirt printer who sees on average 4 new label start up companies a week, if they’d half worked I’d have had a piece of that fashion action, and maybe at least been off to the Halifax with a bum bag full of tenners.Now I was going to go on to list the reasons why most of them sadly fail, but I am not as someone recently suggested a ‘glass half smashed’ kind of man, I’m half full, of something at least, so here are a few common themes that seem to apply to the winners:

They often go for the niche-totally obvious but certainly helps with the old online marketing. If you’re thinking of starting a general sportswear brand, you may have a few problems getting ahead of Nike on page one of Google. If however you have a penchant for ageing motorbikes, you’re onto a safe bet with the search ‘vintage motorcycle clothing’ – genius! Unfortunately this does not apply if you’re a campanologist. Surveys have shown a limited desire for fashionable tackle in this market, and you may find more success ringing your bell in the back bedroom.

More successful brands do also seem to know their customers. An old friend of mine once had an amorous bunk up with the founder of a now national retail chain (discretion naturally prohibits detail; your secret is safe with me Mr Halitosis). Said founder knew exactly how his customer voted, which newspaper they read, the football team they supported, and the direction they pointed their diddler on a trip to the tailors. Only my opinion, but you wouldn’t have worn any of his clothes to un-block a drain, but that didn’t seem to matter; he identified his target market precisely, took perfect aim and got a maximum score.

The brands on the up often deliver a subtle message or follow a particular line of thought, which pulls all the imagery together. The artwork I often see consists of nice pictures, which is….nice – your Mum will say ‘Look at what Torquil has drawn now, he’s so very very gifted you know’, and the rest of the world will wait to flush your head down the bogs at break. To stand out the front running graphics may have social, political or sexual undertones. If at a total loss, at least make no sense whatsoever to the point where people assume a brilliant hidden meaning – works for most new guitar bands.

On a selfish note, don’t obsess about finding the perfect T-shirt. I’ve looked, God knows, in a loin cloth with long hair on a diet of locusts….I found the Holy Grail, Lord Lucan, a sticky toffee and some fluff, but the Perf T is not out there. Do your best, then kick the gun across the floor to me and put your hands on the roof of the car-it’s over, but I may be able to get you into the T-shirt protection program.

Of most hefty importance however, the established brands refused to capitulate. When all his dearest friends and family invited him round for a surprise ‘let’s take the piss out of Nigel’s new clothing brand’ party, Nigel stood tall, finished his sausage roll and carried on regardless. I know Denholm Elliott look-alikes in stained cream suits, adrift in a haze of Sangria and social disease, who still believe their range of T-shirts will make it. And you know what, they just might. They’ve certainly got a better chance than the ‘I’ve had a crack at it and still no Porsche after six months’ posse.

The survivors also seem to spend their money well-they don’t blow all their financial beans on product development, but retain the lion’s share for marketing. And when this runs out, they recognise the value of celebrity chums. I know it’s wrong and I hate the way it’s going, but if you can even get a small T-shirt worn by a psycho poodle starring on ‘Dog Borstal’, it’s going to help, I think.

So you have relentless application and a niched product with message aimed at an understood customer endorsed by a celebrity hound backed up by a sound business plan and a marketing strategy supported by accurate financial analysis a full understanding of ecommerce and a following wind. All you need to do then is find a garment supplier who has some garments, and a printer embroiderer and re-labeller who hasn’t been close to so many chemicals that they walk backwards wearing a traffic cone – easy.

There is of course so much more to it that that, luck figures as always, but I’ve got to end somewhere and it may as well be back at the Flying Sausage. As she flips another bright pink (pantone 213) burger, I notice from the tattoos on Maureen’s fore arm that she is not only fond of her parents, but also enjoys the occasional pint of both mild and bitter. Maureen has never to my knowledge re-parented her inner child, there are no self-help books in this truck stop, but she knows who she is, and I wonder if that is the most important requirement of all for brand success?

Paul Stephenson
t-shirt printing, screen printing and embroidery

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