Happy Monday Bloggers!
As promised, a blog post that is neither bitchy, or depressing:) I had the incredible opportunity to speak to a marketing class at Traverse City West High School(Go Titans!*). They are starting a company, and decided to make it an apparel brand. Naturally, they wanted Mr. Tee to tell them how its done!
I started by telling them that they are in an extremely competitive market, and they need to figure out how to stand out from the ever growing list of Michigan T-Shirt brands. This is something I struggled with in the first year of Tee See Tee. I saw the success companies like M22, High Five Threads, and Love TC were having, so naturally, I figured if I followed in the same footsteps, I was sure to have a hit on my hand...
This is where it all began.
I learned from nearly bankrupting my company in the first year, and facing a couple potential lawsuits against me, that emulation is not the sincerest form of flattery in this biz! It wasnt until my lovely wife and I did a post-mortum on the year that we noticed something really interesting. Out of the handful of designs we launched Tee See Tee with, two were the standout hits; Lake Michigan Cruise Line(pontoon), and Michigan And Beer Go Hand In Hand. When paddleboard, surfing and more kitschy t-shirts failed, these two succeeded...why?
The answer is simple. I told the high schoolers that I can't explain how, but customers just KNOW when a t-shirt designer is designing from the heart. It's like a part of your soul gets embedded in the very threads of that shirt. I was not being honest with 75% of our designs...I was being honest with those two though. And the customer knew it.
So I told them, and I am telling all of you aspiring t-shirt designers(not that I want to encourage you to be my competition, but whatevs)...DESIGN FROM THE HEART.
Matt and Keegan Myers are two brothers who live for kite boarding, paddle boarding, and just being out in Lake Michigan. They created a brand based on one thing, and one thing only, being out on Leelanau Peninsula. You may have heard of their brand, M-22? They have an incredibly thriving business that is not slowing down, and it was all built on the foundation of designing around their passion.
So in a sense, I was on the right track to emulate these guys, I just went about it the wrong way. In our second year, I focused on the two things I do best, "I drink and I know things."**
My organized desk.
I am a self-professed Star Wars fanatic, I am the first in line for ANY Harry Potter or Marvel related movie, I have tattoos of Triforces, X-Wings, and NES Controllers. I am on a quest to try every Michigan made beer in the state, I dont kayak, but I live for being on a pontoon. I don't do sports, but I love Detroit as a city. I live for the new season of Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, and The Walking Dead. I don't sail, but I believe in One Eyed Willy, and would join his crew any day!
I am a nerd, geek, spazzoid, child of the 80s, whatever you want to call it, that is me, and that is what Tee See Tee is all about. I just want to have fun, design from the heart, and hope that my fellow geeks will appreciate what I am doing with Tee See Tee.
And so far, it seems to be working...like, a lot! All I had to do was be honest with myself, realize I was never going to be the next M22, LivnFresh, Michigan Outfitters, or Live Love Michigan, and like Stuart Smalley said, "And That's Ok."
So with that, I suggest to you, struggling t-shirt designers...look at your line and ask yourself if you are being honest, designing from the heart, and telling YOUR story, not someone else's. If you find that you are not being 100% truthful with your brand, you may have a difficult time convincing people to buy into it.
And for you consumers out there, really look at the t-shirts you buy, and the people who are making them. Make sure you are supporting the genuine article, because those are the people who are doing this because they truly love the art of making apparel, and deserve a little bit of appreciation:)
May the force be with you,
*I am a TC Central Grad, so "GO TROJANS!"
**Thank you Tyrion, for this wonderful quote.