In light of A$AP's newest album, At.Long.Last.A$AP, we've delved into the interwebz to find the top 20 outfits of the 'fashion killa.'
When I started my own streetwear brand five months ago, I scoured the web for articles on how to get started. There were some useful content, but most of what I read was a waste of brain space. It was all platitudes instead of actionable advice.
Fast forward five months. My streetwear brand is still alive. I’ve been asked write about how to start a streetwear brand, so here’s how to do it, with actionable advice.
It seems like everyone has their own streetwear brand these days.
You know how the story goes. The overly optimistic friend. The designs that include some variation of the box logo. The themes that include some variation of hustling or chasing dreams.
They mass produce a hundred shirts and sell maybe ten. And that’s precisely how a brand ends before it even starts.
So why does this happen over and over again? It’s simple – the streetwear industry is insanely crowded. It’s not easy to stand out.
Does this mean that starting your own streetwear brand is a meaningless pursuit? Absolutely not.
I’m a big believer in equilibrium. If an industry is crowded, it’s crowded for a reason. Usually the reason is that there’s a viable market, filled with many potential buyers of your products. On the flip side, if you have no competition, it usually means there’s zero demand for your products.
So how do you generate demand for your product? You start with one person at a time. If you take away anything from this article, it’s the importance of accelerating to your first dollar.
What exactly do I mean? It’s simple – you must sell right away.
Of course, before you start selling, you start designing. Create exactly one design for one item of clothing or accessory.
Keep it simple. Tee-shirts are simple. You may want to go that route if you have no idea what you’re doing. Unless you live in the middle of nowhere, you’ll be able to find a local supplier of blank tees and a screen printer. And if you do live in the middle of nowhere, you’ll still be able to find everything you need online.
With that said, I’d wouldn’t necessarily recommend starting with tee-shirts. Yes, Winter Lotusstarted with them, but if I could do it all over again, I’d introduce a more unique product to the market. Perhaps an accessory.
Still, the key thing to remember is you need to accelerate to your first dollar. For instance, don’t spend weeks researching how to produce genuine snakeskin wallets if you have no sales.
And if you have no design experience, don’t design yourself. Instead, ask a close friend who has design experience. In exchange, offer him or her a copy of the finished product. Chances are an agreement will be reached. Everyone loves to have something that they’ve created themselves.
Design is supremely important, but do not spend an eternity creating the perfect design. It sounds almost contradictory, but believe me – you won’t know how well your designs will sell until you actually sell them.
Before you finalize your design, make sure you ask for honest feedback. What you can do is come up with three designs and ask for a best-to-worst ranking. Ask your friends. Ask reddit (shoutout to r/streetwear). Ask the online communities you’re active in.
Once you’ve finalized your first design, you start selling. Now here’s the secret: you can get sales before you have the products in hand.
All you have to do is show a clear mockup of your product and start preselling. Here’s a tactic: to incentivize those you’re preselling to, you can tell them that you’ll be selling your product for $30 a pop, but if they buy it in the presale stage, it’ll cost them just $20.
Sell, sell, sell. That’s all you should be doing at this stage. Ask your friends. Ask your family. Ask your online communities. Don’t be afraid to ask, but don’t pressure someone into buying if it’s clear they aren’t interested.
Shoot for three sales in the first 48 hours. When I say sales, it doesn’t mean that there’s a verbal agreement to buy. It means that they’ve either PayPal’d you the money, they’ve given you cash or a check, or they’ve sent you money through Snapchat (did you guys know this is a thing now?).
If you can’t get three sales, that’s a bad sign. At best, it means your products are mediocre, but not must-haves. At worst, it means your products suck. With my brand, we got five sales in the first day – which isn’t a huge number, but it was validation that people would at least wear our stuff.
Only sell at this stage. You don’t need to build a website yet. It should be common sense, yet 90% of startup brands launch a website before they have any sales. If you don’t know if anyone wants to buy your stuff, why would you open a store?
I get it – it’s not a huge monetary investment, unless you hire a web developer. But it is a time investment. I’ve seen brands spend weeks, even months, on their website before they’ve sold any product. It’s a waste of time.
Scaling isn’t quick or easy. When you’re starting your own brand (as opposed to acting as a retailer), your sales won’t take off right away. But the tradeoff is that you own your own margins – you don’t need to write checks to the brands you’re carrying. And you don’t have to worry about other retailers selling the brands you’re carrying.
Other good news: you don’t need much of an initial investment. As I said, preselling is your friend. You’ll have money in the bank before you even need to produce the merchandise.
And after that, you can funnel the money you’ve made from your first design into your next design. Or if you sold a lot of the first design, you can funnel the money into an entire collection.
That’s what we did with Winter Lotus. It took a month, but once we sold about $500 worth of merchandise, we created our first collection and launched a website.
Once you’ve gotten past that initial piece, it’s not a bad time to start thinking about a unified theme for your brand. What type of aesthetic will your brand have? What will your brand stand for? Keep in mind that people don’t always purchase clothes for the piece of clothing itself, but for the idea behind the piece of clothing.
Once you’re at this stage, you won’t have the luxury of selling to your friends and family, so you’ll have to develop new ways to grow your brand. That’s when things start getting interesting.
But that topic is for another day.
Well, we’ve finally caved in. This is our official blog, and here is our official first post.
But before we get into our inaugural post, here’s the unofficial plan for this blog going forward: about half of the updates will be giveaways (thumbs up for free stuff), and the other half will be our musings – from an inside look at what it’s like to own a streetwear brand, to what projects we’re working on, to the latest in streetwear news.
This post is a backstory on how we got into streetwear and our first collection.
June 2014. It had been about nine months since I left my corporate job. Two failed startups, and my bank account was plummeting every month. I had been living off of my savings, but I knew that wasn’t going to last.
So what now?
I could either go back into the corporate world and make a decent living, or I could continue to burn through my savings. Of course, I did what any sane person would do and continued to pursue entrepreneurship. I figured I could do some part-time gigs to help pay the bills, so instead of my bank account plummeting every month, I’d suffer a ‘slow death’ instead.
So in late June, my friend and I decided to start a streetwear brand. It made sense – it was self-sustaining. We live in Los Angeles, where we have convenient access to suppliers and manufacturers. We both design, and he’s a professional photographer. We had a few acquaintances who started their own brand. We felt that we had the marketing know-how to grow this brand. And we both had an interest in streetwear.
So, Winter Lotus was born.
It started with two shirts. We each designed three, and we picked two designs out of the six. One of mine and one of his. We found a screen printer we liked and dropped off the shirts. A week later, we had 100 shirts in hand. Fifty of one design, fifty of another.
Really, it was a bit overwhelming. We spent roughly $800 for these shirts. So naturally we calculated how much we’d have to sell to break even. It was somewhere around thirty shirts, which felt do-able.
The next day, we took product photos, and started harassing our friends to buy. If no one bought, we agreed that meant our designs sucked. But almost all of our friends supported us by buying a shirt. We sold maybe four or five shirts the first day. It was a modest amount, but it felt awesome. Throughout the next two weeks, we sold around ten more and two at an art event we went to. At this point, we had enough to reinvest into making a few more products, so we could release a collection.
It was now mid-July and we planned to release a five-product collection on August 1.
We designed two snapbacks, and our screen printer referred us to a ‘close friend’ of his – let’s call him Fred. We called Fred and his prices were actually reasonable for a small order. The only downside was that he was based in Anaheim – a thirty minute drive from Los Angeles without traffic, so basically an hour away. Regardless, we decided to go with him.
I dropped off the hats super early on a Saturday morning to avoid traffic. Fred was super. His place of business warehouse-esque. He had a sizable embroidery machine and a few screen printing machines in the back. His children were there, he showed me his equipment, he showed me samples of his work, he agreed to rush the order (one week instead of the usual two), and he even said he’d ship over the completed hats (free one-day shipping) so I wouldn’t have to make the two-hour round trip to pick them up. I paid him a 50% deposit for the hats, went back home, and slept.
A couple of days before, I had dropped off a design for a tank with our screen printer. Things were going so well – we were finally about to launch a legitimate collection. Or so I thought.
Suddenly, things started going downhill.
A week passed quickly. I checked in with Fred, but couldn’t reach him via phone, text, or email. We had a plan to launch our site on August 1, and it was already July 28. I called him two to three times a day. I emailed him every other day. No reply.
We Googled their business and couldn’t find anything. We Googled Fred, even stalked his Facebook. The whole debacle didn’t make sense, so we got the feeling that we got scammed. We even called LAPD and asked if there was anything we could do. We considered going, unannounced, to their warehouse with a police escort. But Anaheim was an hour away, and the police department said they wouldn’t be able to provide us with an escort.
So we waited. Eventually Fred replied to my text on July 30.
Me: “Hey Fred it’s Will from Winter Lotus. Any updates on the hats? We had discussed a deadline for Monday”
Fred: “Can’t talk right now…I’ll call you later.”
In the meantime, our tanks were ready for pickup. There was a two-day delay on the tanks. It was already the 30th, and things were looking grim for a August 1 release. We went to pick up the tanks, and our printer casually mentioned, “Oh, and by the way, since these tanks have an all-over print, they’re not going to be consistent.” We took a quick look at the tanks and they seemed okay. But once we went back to our office and inspected the tanks, we realized the majority of them looked shitty.
Either the graphic was clearly off-center, or there were areas where the print was faded, or the text was printed on the seams. It was clear that the job was rushed and that the printing wasn’t done meticulously. And we didn’t feel comfortable selling these tanks, so we went in and asked for a full refund.
The printer got uncharacteristically temperamental, and even yelled at us. He said he worked his ass off on these tanks. We asked if he would be willing to reprint, but he vehemently denied the request, mentioning that it wouldn’t be ‘worth his time’ and that even if he reprinted, there would still be inconsistencies due to the all-over print. Our argument was that he didn’t tell us about the inconsistencies until the moment we went in to pick up the tanks. How were we supposed to know how the tanks were going to turn out?
We also showed him the ones where there was intensive fading and the ones that had text printed on the seams. Long story short, he made up some excuses, and we got an email the next day saying he’d only be willing to give us a partial refund. He admitted that he messed up on exactly half of the prints, so he’d issue us a 50% refund. After some heated back and forth, we ended up taking the 50% refund and taking all of the tanks. We weren’t satisfied, but we figured we could at least give some of the ‘bad’ ones away for promo purposes.
We were also pissed that he referred us to his ‘close friend,’ who scammed us for our blank hats and the 50% deposit. He admitted that he didn’t know how Fred operated his business and that he wasn’t a ‘close friend,’ but more of an acquaintance that he had sold a screen printer to.
At this point, it was already the beginning of August, and we didn’t have our hats. And we only had a dozen tanks that we felt comfortable selling. So much for releasing a new collection. We felt we took a major step backwards.
It was a stressful time, to say the least.
I continued to relentlessly contact Fred. Continued to call him three times a day. Still no response. I realized that it was a red flag that when I paid the deposit, Fred told me to make the check out to him instead of his company. Basically, we concluded that we got scammed.
At this point, there was nothing much to do. Except Google helped us find the hat company’s Instagram page – somehow they had 20,000+ followers. I went to their most recent photo and commented that either their customer support is insanely bad or that I had been scammed. I also warned everyone else on Instagram who requested a quote from the company. Still no reply. At this point, we were trying to figure out why this company would pose as a legitimate embroidery and printing company to scam us for less than $300.
So here was our last resort. We made a fictitious email and got a new number through Google Voice, and posed as an interested client – Ronny King. We requested a quote for a huge order: 1,000 hats, with a possibility for 3,000 – 4,000 more if they turned out well. Almost instantly, we get a reply. It was ridiculous because they were dodging our emails for a week, but they replied within five minutes to this ‘bigger’ client. But the guy who replies isn’t Fred. It’s another rep. Which makes things even more confusing.
Anyway, as Ronny King, we told the rep that we saw some comments on their Instagram page about poor customer support, and that some companies were expressing their displeasure. He immediately deleted those comments, which made them seem even more suspect. Soon after, we finally get a reply from the rep in our Winter Lotus inbox. He asked me to stop spamming their Instagram page, to stay patient, and that he’d contact Fred about my order. This was the first moment that we felt we had a chance to get the hats after all.
Of course, the rep continued to eagerly exchange messages with Ronny King. As Ronny, we basically said that we wouldn’t be comfortable placing a 1,000-hat order until we knew that he had fulfilled the other hat orders. Eventually, we got our hats on August 6 – a week and a half later than we were supposed to, but we still got them. Fred claimed he was in the hospital for a nervous breakdown, and that’s what caused the delay.
Whatever the case, we were relieved that we could actually release a collection. We released this collection on August 11. Our Ancient tee and Lotus snapbacks became our most popular items.
And we’ve reinvested the majority of the sales into our recently launched Fall collection. We definitely felt our Fall collection was stronger. We had a few pieces (cut-and-sew tee and mesh jersey) that aren’t as prevalent in streetwear startups. And we focused on shooting an interesting lookbook.
So what’s next? Well, we’re looking at a Winter drop of Mid-December. But we’re going to have a few giveaways in the meantime, so you guys can get free stuff.
Stay tuned! We’ll be making updates on all of our social media pages.