Creating and selling T-shirt is on the wish-list for many designers and illustrators: there’s a special buzz from knowing a community will not only pay to support your work but wear it on their chests with pride.
While the financial risk of investing in stock upfront was once a barrier to entry, pre-order platforms such as Everpress now make apparel design accessible to anyone with a great idea – and provide a fast-growing community keen to support grassroots creatives.
“There’s no risk involved: you can easily put out a project and see how people react,” explains Nick Law, Head of Creatives at Everpress. “We see that from new creatives, but also from more established artists keen to test out a new style and see how people respond.”
Creative freedom of self-expression is a big draw, but Law points out that the potential to make a side-line income from the platform can also take some pressure off in the rest of your professional life.
“Maybe you don’t have to take a commission you don’t want, or you have more time and freedom to work on projects that feel genuine to you,” he continues. “That could be self-initiated stuff, or projects that push you in the right direction for other commissions.”
FIND THE RIGHT FANBASE
In a good month, for instance, Everpress creator Matouš Marťák makes enough from his highly popular ‘Allergic Club’ tee to cover his rent. “The main idea came from my frustration at being a celiac with a dairy-free diet,” he explains. “I started to become upset every single time I realised how many tasty things I couldn’t eat.”
Allergic Club turned Marťák’s frustration into a positive. “Many friends struggle with dietary restrictions, so I thought it’d be great if they can sit in their favourite restaurant in this T-shirt without having to explain they’re on a gluten-free diet, or whatever.”
The lack of risk on Everpress was enough to persuade Marťák to give it a try: “I don’t have to print 100 tees, fill all the free space in my room, and then realise after three weeks that I can’t sell more than two of them,” he explains.
Marťák’s initial expectations for the campaign were low: “I was expecting a maximum of 20 sales, which is the total number of family members and good friends who I would have begged to buy the tees,” he smiles. To his surprise, the idea resonated with people all over the world and has been relaunched many times since.
To get a successful launch campaign off the ground, Law advises, it pays to use whichever platform, or platforms, you feel most comfortable. “We do see T-shirts that are clearly trying to crack the popularity algorithm, and they don’t feel as exciting as the more genuine expressions,” he continues.
EXPRESS YOURSELF AUTHENTICALLY
One example of a creator fully embracing his individuality is Kyle Platts, who uses the eccentricity of his personal style to promote his tees: for one campaign, themed around Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), he dressed a crash test dummy in a sample garment and kicked it around the room. “Some people are quite reserved for fear of embarrassment if doesn’t work, but if you have fun with it and get creative, it tends to resonate,” says Law.
Since lockdown began, Law has noticed a particular surge in designs relating to personal wellness. Everpress sets regular creative challenges to curate themed collections: a recent example was ‘Growth’, which inspired some creators to tap into nature, while others made a much more personal journey.
For Everpress creator ggggrimes, the theme was an opportunity to explore their own personal growth. “I used to be incredibly closeted with my queerness, and I’ve done a lot of internal and external work to grow more comfortable with myself,” they say.
“I wanted top surgery as early as 14, so actually pursuing it and being backed by my community to get my surgery was life changing. I had to jump through so many hoops to get it done, and I’m proud of myself for overcoming my anxiety to get my affirming surgery. I’ve grown so much as a person, more than I even realised or reflected on.”
Entitled ‘I Awaken’, the tee design features “a femme with top surgery scars”, explains ggggrimes. Being able to discuss the idea candidly with Law gave them the confidence to express this very personal topic through Everpress. “Audiences are intuitive,” they continue. “If you create something that has meaning to you, they will respond.”
SUPPORT A WORTHY CAUSE
In the spirit of authenticity, Everpress isn’t shy about taking a political stance or rallying support for a particular cause. Law’s team has initiated campaigns to support Stop Asian Hate and NHS Charities Together, as well as jointly supporting the Impact Lebanon Disaster Relief Fund and Lebanese Red Cross in response to the Beirut crisis. Everpress donated £87,000 to charities in 2020 – and plan to more than double that total this year.
Many creators also use the platform to raise funds for good causes. According to Colin Czerwinski, creative director at photography magazine NOICE, the plan was to donate to charities once the collective began turning a profit. Now, through Everpress, NOICE supports several: including The Meleka Foundation and Botanical Dimensions.
“I’ve always wanted to move into the ‘brand’ kind of thing with NOICE by creating apparel, and Everpress seemed like a good footing to go into that direction,” explains Czerwinski. “I liked the fact that we didn’t have to put any capital upfront.”
NOICE went into the initial campaign with zero expectations. “Allow yourself to be surprised,” is Czerwinski’s advice. “That said, my thoughts after the first campaign were that this is something that could really help us grow.”
START SMALL AND BUILD FROM THERE
Regardless of the size of your Insta or TikTok following, the only way to truly test how many of those people will reach into their wallets to support you is to put a campaign out there. “While they might be into your work, they might not love it quite enough to spend money on it,” cautions Law. “It’s that next level of support.”
For your first campaign, Law’s advice is to start modest. “Try a screen-printed one-colour one-placement tee, and if that goes well, a sleeve print or a more high-quality premium garment,” he suggests. “Start off simple, then experiment from there with different styles, or even different types of garments.”
Only campaigns that drive sales of five or more T-shirts will go into production, and after that point only confirmed orders will be produced – maximising efficiency and eliminating waste from surplus stock. With that risk removed, there’s little excuse not to give it a try.
Law gives the example of Sophy Hollington, whose first campaign yielded just 18 sales. Hollington now shifts hundreds. “If your first campaign isn’t a success, there are so many reasons why that might be the case,” Law concludes. “Don’t be put off – just do it.”