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I frequently get emails asking me for advice. I love responding to thoughtful questions, and I try to be as helpful as I possibly can, but most of the time, it’s something like “can you teach me how to do everything?” It’s very difficult for me to recommend starting a clothing brand, when he or she doesn’t understand the difficulties of running a company. There’s a huge distinction between making a shirt and starting a brand.

Anyone, and I mean literally anyone, is able to make their own shirt. I could design a shirt today, and get them printed tomorrow, if I really wanted to. But creating a brand is completely different! A brand is an experience, and a line of products that share a cohesive idea (ie. branding). Here’s a couple things you should consider before starting a clothing brand.

Are you resourceful?

The most common emails I receive are, “Where do you get t-shirts to print on?” and “Where do you get labels to sew into your t-shirts?” The thing about this is, I can easily just email them back and say “I get my shrits from here, and my labels from here” and everyone would be happy and the earth would continue to spin, but that’s not actually helpful at all. If you’re a brand owner, you have to know how to find your own answers.

And seriously, a question like “Where do I get embroidered labels” can be answered with a single google search. If you type in “custom embroidered labels” into google, you can find 435,000 results leading you in the right direction. If you can’t do a single google search by yourself, that tells me that you’re just lazy, and you shouldn’t be running a brand. If you’re that kind of person, I honestly don’t really want to help you. Call me an asshole, but that’s the truth.

Do you have knowledge about design or business?

It’s quite difficult to build a brand without having experience or knowledge about either design or business. I get plenty of emails saying that they have a great idea that could potentially make a lot of money, but that means absolutely nothing to me. People have “great” ideas everyday, but it’s all about execution. What knowledge do you have to be able to execute a great idea?

If you’re a designer, you’re probably able to see how a collection comes together, and keep a consistent vision. If you’re knowledgable about running a business, you’ll probably have an understanding how to manage, scale, and sell a brand.

Ideally, you want to be both, or have a partner that can handle whatever your weaknesses are. Many colleges and universities offer fashion degrees, such as a masters in fashion merchandising, that specifically prepare you for both the fashion and business aspects of being successful.

Are you mature enough to run a brand?

I started my first clothing brand when I was 15 years old. And you know what? That brand sucked. I’m not saying it wasn’t a good experience, but I really wish I had done a little more research when I was at that age. When you’re still in high school, you’re often times overzealous about these sort of ventures, and you have a big ego, so you think you’ll become super famous. You want to show off to your friends that you’re doing some cool shit that no one else is doing at your age.

But honestly, you’re most likely not mature enough to actually run a clothing brand, and due to your lack of experience you’re probably going to fail. I get a lot of emails from high school students who are prospective clothing brand owners, but they just don’t have the maturity to execute. You probably don’t have funds to start, and you probably don’t have too much design experience and/or business experience either.

What I would recommend is that you practice drawing and designing as much as you can, and come up with a strong game plan. In the mean time, you can learn about the silk screen process by printing your own shirts that you can sell to your friends or whatever, but don’t think about starting a full-fledged brand until you’re truly ready. If you’re not ready, you’ll just end up with holes in your pockets.

Are you patient?

I find that a lot of kids want to start clothing brands, because they think that there’s some sort of potential for a rockstar-meteoric success waiting for them. That really couldn’t be farther from the truth. Unless you’re friends with really really famous people, or have a huge amount of money for marketing, no one is really going to care about your stuff. So you have to be extremely patient, and organically grow your brand. For some people it might take one year, and for others it might take 10 years.

It really depends on how patient you are and how willing you are to keep improving your product. Obviously, if you have a piece of shit product, regardless of how long you’ve been running your brand, no one will care. Also, people have different perceptions of what a successful brand is. If simply running a brand is your goal, then good for you. If becoming a major retailer all across America is your goal, that’s cool too. I would establish early on what your goal is, so that you can plan ways of approaching it.

Are you passionate about the industry?

If you’re serious about starting a brand, you have to eat, breathe, and dream about it. You have to be constantly thinking about new products and new ways to improve your brand. I always carry a sketchbook with me in case I want to jot down an idea or do a quick sketch. If I don’t have my sketchbook, I draw on a napkin or whatever’s around me.

You never know when inspiration strikes, so you always have to be ready. Research, research, research! If you’re starting a clothing brand, you have to have an understanding for why other brands are successful. Look at art, high fashion, paintings, graffiti, books, and basically anything that can inspire you. You have to be completely passionate, and live for your brand, or it will fail!

Hopefully this article has been helpful. Remember, starting a brand is not the same thing as printing a shirt. A brand is something that needs to be planned, researched, understood, and perfectly executed. Don’t rush into anything, and be patient.

Your requirements will change over time from designing a unique logo to hopefully implementing master production schedule software to ensure your product is being successfully created.

Good luck!

Also, if you would like to see my work, you can check out my recently launched Kickstarter project for my t-shirt line for Lowdtown. The project will be ending on June 9th, 2012.

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Posted by Ray Masaki

Ray Masaki is a designer based in New York City, and runs a clothing brand called Lowdtown. If you would like to reach him, you can email: [email protected] or follow him on twitter: @Lowdtown.

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