Swag 101

Been there, done that, got (and subsequently sold for a significant profit) the t-shirt…

We at Shirtysomething are (almost) all (almost) musicians, and we’re aware of how increasingly essential it is for you to maintain a sensible merchandise policy.  Now more than ever, swag sales are the best (if not the only) way to keep your show on the road: a reliable source of income that puts fuel in the van, beer in the belly, and your logo on the chest of your adoring punters…

Having printed millions of band shirts over the years, and helped thousands of bands (and other artists) do the swag thing, we’re in a position to put together a few suggestions to help you make best use of your budget; these are just our opinions, of course, but they are backed by a great deal of experience…

  • Keep it simple: the great iconic shirt designs that keep selling and re-selling over the years are all (with a few exceptions) quite straightforward: a basic logo, or a memorable phrase or icon, linking the band name to a memorable graphic device.  Think Motorhead, Ramones, Twenty One Pilots, Sex Pistols, White Stripes, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Rolling Stones, AC/DC…

  • Eschew the polygon: Great CD and album covers tend not to make great t-shirts.  Square and rectangular designs rarely sit well on a shirt; even when expertly screen-printed, the shape gives them a whiff of “cheap transfer print” which can deter sales, and the straight edges look out of place on an intrinsically non-straight canvas (i.e. a human torso.)

  • Human beings aren’t backlit: be realistic about how well an image on a flat computer screen will transfer to a non-flat piece of fabric; subtle colour gradients may not survive the transition.

  • Avoid tiny text: imagery on clothing is perceived from a distance.  If it can’t be read from 4 feet away, it isn’t contributing to the design.

  • Don’t over-order: much though we’d like your money, we don’t want you stuck with swag you can’t sell.  Be realistic about your short-to-medium-term needs – in six months you might have changed your logo.

  • Don’t under-order: on the other hand, ordering in small batches is more expensive, and running out of swag is a no-no; and don’t forget that you’ll give quite a few away.

  • Not everyone is size M: think about your target audience, and balance your shirt size breakdown accordingly.  We’re happy to make genre-specific recommendations if required.

  • If in doubt, go (fairly) large: remember that people will, if necessary, wear a shirt that’s too big for them, but not a shirt that’s too small for them.

  • Don’t forget the girls: most of our regular bands include a range of women’s fitted shirts, as there’s clearly demand for them.

  • On the other hand, don’t overdo it: many women are willing (or prefer) to wear “men’s” (i.e. unisex straight-cut) shirts; the reverse is not the case.  A split of 80% unisex / 20% women’s seems to work in most mainstream genres.

  • Free market research: always get single examples of outlier sizes: for example, one women’s small, one 3XL.  For a tiny outlay, you’ll find out whether you have a market for those sizes; if they sell, get more next time; if they don’t, don’t.

  • Use a display board: if you’re selling at a gig, make sure everyone can see what you’re selling: stuff on a table can only be seen by people adjacent to the table. Stuff on a tall board above head height can be seen by everyone.

  • Set up an online shop: it’s easy, it’s quick, and – if you use PayPal – it’s effectively free.

  • Avoid offering too much choice: again, we’re happy to earn your money, but it will go a lot further on 100 of one design than it would on 20 each of five designs.  Furthermore, unless you’re already an established band, you’ll make more sales: offer someone at a club gig a choice of one shirt design (perhaps on a choice of two or three different colour shirts) and they’ll buy a shirt.  Offer them a choice of five designs, and they may well dither to the point of buying nothing; at best, they’ll still only buy one shirt.  Two or three of those designs will inevitably be less popular than the others, such that you’ll be left with unsold stock tying up funds; you’ll find yourself investing new money in re-stocking the popular designs, instead of funding from within the existing profit stream.

  • Offer the right sort of choice: by all means offer multiple designs, but stagger their introduction (one design this month, one design next month, etc.) – there are multiple benefits to this approach: less capital tied up in stock at any one time; profit from one product pays for creation of the next; you’ll be offering a sensible amount of choice to your fans; every new product release is an event, giving you a reason to tweet/blog/shout about it; if one design just doesn’t sell, you can learn from this and plan future offerings accordingly; outlier sizes will reveal their value quickly, at lower initial outlay; you have much tighter control over your cashflow and stock levels.