Starting Your Own Streetwear Brand

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.

Brands – so many brands

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.

Design – you know nothing

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.

Preselling – your best friend

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 – the long path forward

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.

-Will