Pursuing textiles and fashion design as a business is a difficult proposition. Typically it’s easy enough to sell a few shirts, but harder to make a sustainable business out of it, or establish a line that is consistently appealing. That said, there are more opportunities than ever to showcase your own designs online these days, and if you have some success you can build your own website and start selling. The trickiest part though, is still at the beginning. You still need to figure out designs that will sell.
There is no absolute formula for how to do this, but take it from an amateur designer and tee shirt connoisseur: the following tips and tricks might just get you off to a good start.
1. Use Off Colors
Color is always a big deal in fashion, which is why with each new season that comes along we see specific shades included in trends right alongside styles, cuts, and types of clothing. However, following the trends exactly simply makes you one more person offering the same color. Instead, consider designing shirts in slightly off-shade versions of popular colors. For instance, if you see that black and red are the trendy colors for the upcoming winter, think about doing some designs in maroon and charcoal. You can make clothes that people will view as being more unique without being off-trend. It almost sounds too simple, but it’s a clever little trick.
2. Use Famous Quotes
Whether it’s “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” from Gone With The Wind, “Show me the money!” from Jerry Maguire, or Mad Max: Fury Road’s instantly iconic “What a lovely day!” nothing seems to grab people’s attention quite like a great movie quote. Putting one on a shirt, perhaps with a minimalistic graphic reminiscent of the relevant film or character, can make for a hot seller with relatively little effort. Now, this is something of a grey area in terms of copyright and intellectual property, so you may want to read up on the issue. Some argue that quotes really shouldn’t be used for commercial benefit; others will state that if a quote is just a few words long it’s difficult to call it property, or that a truly famous quote is effectively public domain. But do your own research – it’s just an idea!
3. Reimagine Classic Symbols
What’s a classic symbol you may ask? Really, it could be anything! A smiley face, a peace sign, a flag…. I actually quite like the idea of using video game symbols in particular to appear to the vast, lovable modern geek culture. Minimalist graphics of game controllers or character symbols can be all sorts of fun. You can also go to a modern casinosite where the most up-to-date games are most likely to be and get a feel for how people today are visualizing things like poker chips, slot reel icons, etc., and use these as well to make some reimagined symbol shirts. Those ideas – game controller and poker chip imagery – cater to fairly specific audiences. The bigger idea here though is just to take something people recognize and present it in a new, artful manner. You may just hook a lot of buyers.
4. Make Your Own Logo
This is less about a shirt’s main design, so to speak, and more about how to brand yourself. That said, your materials will also come across as being more professional if they’re stamped with a company logo – even if that company is effectively just you. This doesn’t mean you have to sell shirts with a massive symbol of your own making across the front or on the left breast as if it’s an established brand. Instead, consider placing your logo on a small permanent tag just above the hem of the shirt, or at the top of the back of the shirt. It’s a nice professional touch that doesn’t distract from the design, and if you do it right it should look pretty cool on its own as well.
5. Tap Into A Moment
During the midterm elections that just wrapped up in the U.S. in November, multiple celebrities publicly endorsed the Texas senate candidate Beto O’Rourke. He was a long shot candidate but one who managed to inspire people across America, and as a result his simple “BETO” brand merchandise more or less went viral. Several of those celebrities, from Beyonce to Lin Manuel Miranda, wore this merchandise, and “BETO” shirts and hats became very cool all across the U.S. Now, this doesn’t mean that you can simply make your own design and trade off of someone else’s name. It does, however, speak to the value of tapping into a cultural or political moment with a design. People today want clothes that help them to express how they feel, often about current events, and catering to this desire can give you a fresh, updated look.