Misconceptions of Starting a Clothing Brand

If you’re reading this, you either: (a) own your own brand, or (b) you’ve considered starting one. The truth is, the clothing industry is an overly saturated market. Everybody has this sexy idea of owning their own clothing line, but only the few who’ve done it will ever understand how hard it is to make a living at it. Don’t fool yourself, starting an indie brand is anything but easy, even the brands that rapidly rise to success have their struggles and trust me—they work hard behind the scenes.
Plain and simple, this business is cutthroat. It’s hard to stand out, and even harder to build a loyal audience large enough to support your business. I’m not trying to discourage anyone, but I’d like to let you know what you’re in for by covering what I believe are four of the biggest misconceptions individuals have in regards to starting a brand or basically any business. You may also want to consider consulting a business expert like Andy Defrancesco who can give you some great tips on how to create better strategies for your business.

Misconception 1: It’s easy.

Misconception 2: If you build it, they will come.

To be honest, this was the biggest misconception I had when I first launched Sugar Steak—blame it on my industry inexperience at the time. I didn’t do my homework and I didn’t realize how talented my competitors would be. Having something “great” isn’t enough to draw in crowds, you must have something original, you must present a total package, and you must learn to be patient. Just because you have some kick-ass designs doesn’t mean people are going to be crashing the Big Cartel or Storenvy servers to buy them. Think about it, how many incredible shirts have you seen online and thought “damn, that’s sick,” but you never actually bought it? My guess would be dozens, I know I’ve done it, I do it all the time. Your designs may be awesome and unique, but building an audience will take time. Prepare yourself for that.
In other words, don’t expect to throw your tees online and suddenly be making thousands. That is unless you’re a celebrity or reality TV star—people will buy crappy star designs from Pauly D all damn day, that’s just the sad truth.

Misconception 3: Word of mouth is all you need.

You are not the exception. At least that’s how you need to think. Everybody wants to believe their brand is special enough to spread like the 14th century plague, but you can’t bank on that. You need to actively promote, market, and sell your brand. Even the king, Johnny Earle, busted his ass to get his brand to where it is today. Sure he didn’t “sell out,” but don’t tell me selling from the trunk of your car and touring the states isn’t work and legit marketing. Granted, any truly unique brand will receive plenty of word-of-mouth referrals, but you can’t rely on that as your only strategy. You will get out of your brand what you put into it, so work it. Make careful investments in everything from your websites to your point of purchase displays.

Misconception 4: You are going to make a ton of money.

Now this is your reality check. Very, VERY few clothing brand owners will ever be able to support themselves solely with their business. Just because you’ve heard stories of dudes raking in thousands a month selling tees does not mean you will too. In fact, I’d say 99% off all clothing brand owners work a full-time job or trade fx in addition to running their business. Treat your clothing business like a business, but don’t be disappointed if it remains nothing more than a hobby.
In conclusion just let me say, the industry is hard, but it can definitely be fun and rewarding. Don’t set your expectations too high, be realistic and enjoy the ride.

Keep it steaky.

  • Love it.  Good to hear some straight talk.  Probably the best advice you can give anyone that wants to take on the venture seriously. – Aaron Vaccar, Blood & Grease

  • Truth.

  • Truth.

  • Good post Kyle.

  • It always makes me sad when I tell people this and they ignore it thinking they will somehow be the lucky ones to get away with it. 

  • Juna

    I’ve been selling T-Shirts online since 2005 and I agree with everything you have said. I make good money but not enough to quit my day time job. It’s a hobby that is a lot of work, but I enjoy the creative outlet.

  • Just a few months in and these all hold true! Love what we do but we all still have day jobs and even go to school.

  • Francis

    Though i’d like to add, is’nt this the way with any venture? whether you want to run a bakery or a .com business or be a musician or an athelete.

    To be successful in anything takes a a whole lot of dedication,practice sacrifice and most importantly failure.

    I worry about weary veterans discouraging new and up coming people from setting up. My advice is take the advice on board and BE PREPARED TO FAIL, but also be prepared to go again harder, better next time round, very few people achive success on the first attempt.

    Hard work,passion, dedication and constant improvement will always reap rewards.

    Be prepared to fail, be prepared to work hard, be prepared to lose money but equally, be prepared to seize an opportunity when it’s staring you in the face. Fear of success rather than fear of failure is what stops a lot of people.

  • This is true for pretty much every form of creative venture, be it photography, art or music. It’s just not enough to be good at what you’re doing, because there is a gazillion of other people out there who are as good as you or even better.

  • Very true!

  • Anonymous

    On point, great tips 🙂 in face I just wanted to add…don’t even bank on anything that is out of control!

  • JamesCalhoon

    I’m the exception to the rule. Open your closet up or just go take a walk in general. You’ve already seen/owned my stuff that I’ve made for other people. I have my own clothing line that people love and remain (or try to) as annoyomous as possible. Thanks for everything.

  • Sami

    Awesome article but an even awesomer font! Anybody care to share what font that it? Thanks in advance!.

  • very well said. attention to detail and never skimp.

  • Ken

    I Agree w/ Majority of this, BUT if you understand how people make buying decisions as well as create great value to your consumer and GIVE a lot, Then that can help assure success. Branding is the biggest part of the whole thing. You have to either be the first in a category or create a new category. Thinking “realistically” is the fastest way to mediocrity. Success can be achieved and the level depends on the amount of focus you put on all aspects of your company.

  • Dave Karn

    Finally an article that touches on REALITY. “Brands” also must remember your “Local print shop X Third party blank tshirt collaborations” DO NOT make a clothing line and will only make you broke. You also need a whole heap of cash behind you. Don’t count on your brand catching on after your $1500 investment. Also you’ll need years of solid sales and a huge range to get into any retailer. You can use cut and sew on demand services from company’s like Diddy’s or the Kanati Co one with Dr.Dre’s son and that will basically do your work for you but it takes the fun out it. The real grind takes a lot of years and even more dollars to make happen. Everyone thinks they can own a brand or be a superstar these days. Great article.

  • Asaf Bendor

    Wow! A 6-year article still relevant