We have helped thousands of bands start and grow their merchandise empires, and have come up with a set of tried-and-tested guidelines to help you make the most of your merch budget, avoid costly mistakes, and turn your identity into a reliable revenue stream…
There are a number of band t-shirt designs which have become iconic, selling millions across multiple decades; and they are, almost without exception, quite straightforward single-colour prints (i.e. incredibly cheap to produce.) Nirvana, Ramones, Rush, Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Frankie Goes to Hollywood: classic examples of making a little do a lot.
Don’t overdo the colours
By all means use multiple colours in your design (it’s more profitable for us if you do!) but don’t add colours just for the sake of it; from a buyer’s perspective, a 3-colour print may be more “wearable” than a 6-colour print, and some colours just don’t play nicely with others (I’m talking about you, purple…)
It isn’t hip to be square
Please try to resist the urge to use a CD cover as a t-shirt design; a square print, however well-rendered, tends to look a bit rubbish on a shirt (evoking memories of terrible cheap transfer prints on dodgy market stalls.) A much better idea is to “quote” elements of the CD cover artwork in a design specifically made to work well on a shirt (i.e. not a hard-edged square or circle.)
Apart from a few specific genres (e.g. death metal), hoodies tend to work best with a small left-breast print rather than a full front print; if you’re ordering a batch of t-shirts and hoodies, we tend to recommend using the t-shirt front print as the hoodie backprint (thereby using the same screens, i.e. no additional cost) with a simple left-breast print on the front.
Genre-specific choices (brand/style)
With a vast array of subtly different t-shirt brands and styles available, it’s important that we pick the right one to suit your musical genre, as your audience will have certain expectations of your swag. For rock and punk bands, we recommend a standard jersey-cotton shirt such as Gildan Heavy; for indie or Americana we’d go for Gildan SoftStyle or another ringspun-cotton option; for rap and hip-hop we’d suggest something chunkier like Gildan Hammer or B&C #E190.
Genre-specific choices (size)
You also need to carefully consider your demographic when deciding on the size breakdown of your order. We’ll be happy to help with this; our recommended size split for a teenage emo band would be very different than for a 70’s rock covers band, for reasons which may politely be alluded to by the word “girth”.
Err on the side of larger
When considering the size breakdown for your batch of shirts, please remember that people will wear a shirt that’s a little too big, but not one that’s a little too small. If you run out of medium, they’ll buy large; but if you run out of large, they won’t buy medium. Nudge your size breakdown towards larger sizes, and you won’t be left with unsold stock.
Don’t forget the ladies
The major standard t-shirt brands come in a women’s fitted variant, and it’s worth considering whether you should include some in your order; don’t overdo it, though, as you don’t want to risk unsold stock (as above, women will wear “men’s” shirts, but not vice-versa.)
It’s definitely worth including a few outlier sizes (such as a youth medium, or an adult 3XL) in your initial order, just to test whether you have a market for them; if they sell, you’ll know to include a few next time you order; if they don’t, it’s cost you almost nothing to find out that you don’t need to order those sizes in future. That said, please remember that ordering smaller sizes (such as youth or women’s sizes) can limit the maximum print size; we can advise on your options once we’ve seen your artwork.
Up the ethics
While all the garments we supply are from independently-monitored suppliers, with absolutely no sweatshop-produced garments allowed through our doors, some brands go further and specialise in garments which are specifically organic, vegan and/or fair-trade accredited. We are eager to encourage you to take this route, and specifically recommend garments from the Continental EarthPositive and Stanley/Stella ranges. There’s a small cost premium, but the quality is extremely high and the provenance is something you can make a fuss about.
Don’t release multiple designs at once
It’s tempting to populate your swag stand with a wide range of options from the outset. However, we counsel against releasing multiple designs simultaneously, for a number of reasons. Firstly, your budget will go much further on one or two designs rather than three or four, as there will be fewer set-up costs and lower unit prices – quite simply, you’ll get a lot more shirts for your money (or the same number of shirts for less money). Secondly, in our experience, you don’t sell any more shirts by having multiple design options – most people will still only buy one shirt. Thirdly, you might actually REDUCE your sales by having too many options: offer people one design, and they’ll buy a shirt. Offer them three designs, and they’ll still buy one shirt. Offer them five designs, and they’ll dither, and quite possibly not buy a shirt at all – either because you’ve run out of the one they wanted, or because you’ve run out of the size they wanted (as you’ve only been able to order a few in each size in each design.)
A much better bet is to stagger the introduction of a number of designs, so that each release is an event (Instagram is your friend here) – your initial outlay is much lower, and you can use sales of the first design to inform the size breakdown of your order for the second design, and so forth, ensuring that you don’t end up with unsold stock. You have less money tied up in stock (sales of the first design fund the order for the second, and so forth) – after your first few sales of the first design, your cashflow is always positive, and re-orders can reflect the actual sales pattern of the various sizes available. With periodic releases, you’ll sell multiple shirts to the same people.
I know it sounds like we’re encouraging you to give us less money, but the point is that this strategy is a long-term winner for both of us; this is the same advice we gave to bands who are now on their 30th or 40th order, for whom merchandise sales are their primary income stream.
Swag stand hints
If you’re selling at gigs, you need a swag stand, even if it’s just the drummer’s partner presiding over a cardboard box. But the key thing is VISIBILITY: it doesn’t matter how impressively your range is displayed on a table, if only the people next to the table can see it. Invest in a board and a method of persuading it to hover above head height – a couple of mic stands or some timber offcuts will do it – and suddenly the whole audience can see your offerings. Also – and this might seem obvious, but bear with us – swag should go by the door, not by the stage.
There are cheap and easy ways of getting set up to take card payments – you MUST do this. Do you have a tenner on you? No? Then neither does anybody else. Big letters – WE TAKE CARD PAYMENT – suddenly you’re selling.
Obviously you shouldn’t overcharge for your swag – people expect to pay £25 in a stadium to finance the retirement of whoever runs the Rolling Stones’ mech operation, but at a club gig they’d balk at £15. However, don’t go too low – the implication is low quality, and if we’ve printed it then it most emphatically isn’t low quality. You’ll sell as many at £10 as you would at £5.
You can increase your sales and your perceived stature by adding a few non-shirt items to your range – tote bags, rip-strip wallets, patches – each at a different price point, so that you’re not competing with yourself and thereby losing shirt sales.
Everyone loves a deal – t-shirt, patch and wallet for £15? Bargain (yet still profitable)!
Check your spelling
Generally speaking, if there’s a spelling mistake in your artwork, we’ll probably spot it and alert you to it, but if you can’t spell the name of your own band (and this has happened more than once) we might have to invoke some gentle sarcasm… Please double-check everything before submitting your artwork.
Run out of ideas for a new product? Print an old design on a different colour shirt – hey presto, it’s a Limited Edition!
The most profitable shirts aren’t the ones you sell – they’re the ones you give to the headliners and their crew (if you’re the support band), or to the bar staff, or to a festival booker – because they maximise your VISIBILITY, and that’s what swag is all about. Order enough to give away, and think of each one as an investment.