How to start a T-shirt brand.

Tips to help your fashion label take-off and... Fly!
Tips to help your fashion label take-off and… Fly!

Having a successful T-shirt brand is the promised land that many of our customers aspire to, and there’s a huge number of factors to take into consideration when planning and developing the business plan for your very own label.

Getting word out to your potential consumers is a mammoth task in itself, but I’m not going to touch upon this aspect of the challenge here because that’s not really our field. What we at 3rd Rail do have an in-depth knowledge of however is the production side of this particular juggling act. We’ve printed for a huge number of fledgling brands over the years – and it’s always interesting to see the ones who make a real success of it, and the ones that don’t. What is it that makes some clothing labels take-off and fly and some nose-dive into the abyss? Keep reading and we hope to be able to offer up some clues to help you spread your wings and sail into blue yonder….

But before we go any further, I must admit that we have an ulterior motive for writing this blog that I think it best to get off my chest early. Here it is…. We want your clothing label to succeed as much (arguably more!) than you do, and our reason for this is simple. If your business rockets, you will come back to us for re-orders, which will in-turn help sustain and grow our business thereby putting bread on our own tables. To put it another way if we help you to print the most awesome designs and produce a ridiculously successful range of clothing that takes the world by storm we will all benefit.  Think of it as a symbiotic relationship of sorts – We’re the tick-bird & you’re the hippo (no offence).

So now, with all our intentions laid out on the table, here’s how you’re going to make it big:

Start off small.

So many people want to launch their brand with an explosion of clothing options. We look at the catwalks of London, Paris & Milan and see hugely successful designers launching extensive ranges. It’s enticing, so I can totally appreciate the logic of you wanting to do something similar and give your new customers some choice. My thoughts are that there’s plenty of time for that and the way you’re going to get to those heady heights of fashion stardom isn’t by blowing your budget on lots of setup costs in the early stages of your brand’s life. Pick a low number of the designs (even of its just one) that you are most confident in and put your energy into that first.

Remember each time you commission us to produce a new design films are produced, silk screens are coated, dried, exposed, washed out, taped up & registered in one of our carousels ready for print, all before any garment gets printed, and we charge for this through a setup fee. The fewer designs you produce in the early stages means you’ll be able to afford a lot more completed tshirts to distribute and sell. And selling is what’s important, right?

This brings me onto….

Numbers of colours.

A great example of what can be achieved with just one screen.
A great example of what can be achieved with just one screen.

Some designs just require loads of colours and we love the challenge of a tonal, over-sized, 10-colour super print that pushes the limits of what’s possible. Do keep in mind, however, that the more colours you use in your design, the more expensive the print and the screen set-up is, and often it’s possible to achieve really impressive designs with just 1-colour used.

Remember most people who are going to buy your t-shirt are just going to see, well, a T-Shirt. Unless they have an active interest in how screen prints are constructed they’re not really going to realise the time, effort and (most importantly for you) money that goes into each design.

What I’m saying is, you can very likely sell a t-shirt with a 1-colour print for pretty much the same price as a t-shirt with a 10-colour print but you will pay a whole lot less for the 1-colour printed garment, resulting in more profit for you to put back into your business.

Pick the right garments.

The old cliche of “You get what you pay for”, despite a couple of exceptions, does seem to apply to blanks tees, vests and sweatshirts. It’s always wise to pick up and feel the garments you’re thinking of selecting before making the plunge into investment if you can, though it’s definitely true that only after multiple wears and washes can you really see the value of the better quality garments.

Cheaper tshirts tend to lose their shape faster than their pricier counterparts, so it’s up to you to decide how important a longer lasting piece of clothing is to your brand.

From a print perspective material content is a very important factor. Oil based (e.g. Plastisol) inks can be printed across most fabrics without too much trouble, but if we’re employing soft-to-the-touch water-based or discharge inks within your designs you really need to be aware of the ratio of (for instance) cotton to polyester to know how bright your final print is going to come out. Discharge inks only react with the cotton content of your garment fabric, so if it only has 50% cotton it will only be 50% as bright.

Get more out of your screens.

Increase your range by using the same design across different garments
Increase your range by using the same design across different garments

This is particularly useful with simpler designs such as text and logos. Once your screens have been made up we can put any colour ink through it. So if you want the design to be red on a black tshirt, black on a white shirt, green on a pink shirt, whatever – only one screen is used but you get a number of outcomes. This is a simple way to give some variety to you customers, but note it can only be applied in certain instances.  On the flip side, if you have a black and white photo image that you want on both white tshirts and black tshirts it will require two screens and two setups. Why? Because we print the light part of the design onto the dark shirts and visa versa for the light shirts. Using the same screen in this scenario would only produce a negative image.

Same print, different garment.

Once a design is setup and running it really doesn’t matter what we print onto… So, providing the ink colour we use works with all garments involved, a great way to get extra mileage out of a particular design is to switch up the garment but apply the same print. For instance, we could print 25 white vests & 25 white tees with the same design which would allow you to give your public extra options without adding anything to the cost.


Relabel, add swing tags and bag them.
Relabel, add swing tags and bag them.

And finally… Enforcing your brand identity with woven neck and/or hem labels is definitely a good plan. But considering that labels can only be produced in fairly large quantities (our suppliers have a minimum order quantity of 500) you may want to wait until your garments are selling before you take this particular plunge. After all there’s nothing more disincentivizing than 400ish labels sitting on a shelf. If you aren’t ready to invest in labels an alternative would be for us to screen print your logo straight into the inside neck. For this we recommend you use an ink colour that isn’t too far away from the garment colour to avoid it showing through to the outside of the garment. So if we’re using a white tshirt we recommend a mid grey rather than a black.

If you’ve read this far you’re obviously serious about your business venture, which in our book is half the battle won already! We hope the info covered above will assist you to get ahead of the competition and, most importantly, get your designs onto peoples backs. Good luck and don’t think twice about getting in touch with us to ask questions along the way.