We didn't set out in 2017 to start an apparel company. When I say we, I mean me and my wife. We are still very much a two person show working on this business while we work full time at our day jobs. I set out to make some extra money and maybe learn a thing or two along the way. I like to learn and experiment. I also like to design and dabble with computer programming. On top of that, I work in marketing for an esteemed online direct to consumer brand during my main working hours each day.
I stumbled into the apparel business by putting some designs up on Merch by Amazon and sold a few. Commissions are small there and choices are limited which is disappointing. I also never got to know who was buying my designs. I want to have a relationship with my customers. So does Amazon. So much so that they won't ever give me any identifiable information about my customers. I can't even send them a thank you. So no thank you, Amazon. On to Shopify I went and I found print shops that were plugged directly into this platform. All I needed to do was upload my designs and select the t-shirts, hoodies, or other apparel I liked and off it would go into my store. It's true, starting a store on Shopify is easy.
While starting a store on Shopify is easy, building a brand is not. If you are reading this you are either a consumer of t-shirts, a maker of t-shirts, or an aspiring maker of t-shirts. Building a brand requires building relationships. This has been my favorite part of this enterprise so far. There are some awesome people out there! I mean really awesome!
The biggest mistake we made is believing that other companies (i.e. print shops for hire and dropshippers) would care about our customers as much as we do. This simply isn't the case. We tried most of them and discovered very quickly that each of them were cutting corners at every opportunity to increase profits. This may be a shrewd business practice in the short term, but it will not build a loyal customer base. It shouldn't take 5-10 days for a print to be completed after an order is placed and it shouldn't take another 5-10 days for delivery. In a word, the experience was unacceptable.
The old adage that if you want something done right, you need to do it yourself is 110% true. Especially in the decorated apparel business. I've documented a 25% failure rate with my outsourced printing this year. That does not include even marginally acceptable prints. If you are one of our early customers, you probably fell victim to this. Well, I want you to know that it did not sit well with me and you know I stood behind the product even if it meant I lost money in the process. Some customers received blank shirts. Some customers received shirts that had the print wash away the first time it went into the laundry. Some customers had only a Better Than Ben neck tag printed while the main print they actually opened their wallet for was omitted. One customer in France waited over two weeks for a blank blue shirt. Man did I feel horrible. I took my printers to task, but they never improved.
We had enough of the shoddy workmanship and cheap garments. We were at a crossroads and needed to decide if we were going to go all in on our emerging brand, or let it go. What was happening to our customers was not sustainable. After much deliberation, we decided to take out a loan and invest in an Epson F2000WE Direct to Garment Printer and all of the accessories we would need to start printing our own garments. What a relief it was to have the power of quality control in our hands for a change. And oh boy! The quality of prints were SO much better.
When we looked at what we were paying for the cheapest garments from the outsourced print shops and the prints, we found that we were over paying by a lot. Being a veteran, I wanted to source high quality, American made garments. We found a great partner and started sourcing some remarkable Viscose Hemp and Organic Cotton t-shirts. What was exciting is that we would be paying almost the same amount for finished products. The difference is that our products are superior in quality and made in America.
We do plan to offer some imported options for our customers. We understand that some will prefer lower price points and don't necessarily have an affinity for American Made or Organic fabrics. Afterall, many of our customers are from other countries. We will be sourcing high quality, affordable garments for these customers. We will let you choose whether American Made, Organic, or Recycled fabrics are important to you. We will make sure the quality remains. Especially when it comes to printing.
We are poised now to continue to upset the market and fill market voids. We have plans to roll out awesome collections with some very good artists. We think you will love some of the designs we will be releasing this year. We plan to offer a lot of original work that you just can't get anywhere else. We also plan to align with more charities so that our sales are having a positive impact on human beings.
We will also be introducing many more product form factors including women's cuts, polo shirts, and corporate apparel offers. Embroidery is definitely going to be something we introduce early this year.
We are very much looking forward to getting to know who our customers are and evolving as a brand. 2018 is going to be an awesome year. You are cordially invited to join us for the ride. Happy New Year.