The Online T-Shirt Revolution
There is a T-Shirt revolution underway online. Over the next couple of weeks PSFK's Alex Singh will catch up with the players (large and small) in this new community of fashion companies to show you how they tick. We hope these interviews will give our readers a complete picture of the first Web 2.0 fashion companies out there.
Interview 1 – People Like Us
1) Can you explain the inspiration behind the direction and ideals of your brand and your product(s)?
Our business name is not just our business name – it’s our philosophy. We wanted to make t-shirts for people like us – people who care about where the actual t-shirts are made (i.e. American Apparel, no sweat shops, etc.) and people who care about the design and don’t want to just have a regular generic design you can find in any shops in Paddington [a popular shopping area in Sydney] – no more spray paints, no more numbers – no Industrie (http://www.industrie.com.au) stuff. And no Threadles stuff either, or BustedTees which both do purely graphic tees. Things for artists – and we really wanted to promote the artists as well. One of the other things we do is try and get them jobs. As a graphic designer I have access to a wide range of jobs and those that I get which I can’t do, don’t want to do or don’t have time to do I outsource to them, and we’ve gotten our artists several freelance gigs. But we really want to promote them as artists instead of “hey here’s a t-shirt” – which at the end is the reason why you buy it because you like the design and you like the t-shirt, but people always read what’s going on with the designer and look at their website and our artists have reported increased hits to their sites. So we wanted to create things for people just like us – what would we want to wear? What would we want to do? That’s where the inspiration is – and to promote the art and design of upcoming designers as well as more established ones and letting them do a tee when they may not have done one before.
2) So the t-shirt is essentially more of a canvas for the artwork?
That’s exactly what it is – we used to say that we make art prints and we just print them on t-shirts.
3) What keeps you coming back each day rather than calling it quits and doing something else?
The fact that we’re doing something different and being able to promote this art. I’ve got t-shirts and other clothing from major labels and I can’t find out who designed it. I really want to know about that as a designer and we market to designers and designers want to know – when they see a piece of good design – who did it and how they did it and so on. So that’s what it is – it’s about giving people access (all our designers have their e-mail addresses, and one even puts his mobile number on the packaging that goes out). So it’s accessible and affordable and something that is unique. Only 200 people in the world will wear this t-shirt – in the world! And that’s not very many people.
4) What was that one inspirational and motivating spark that invigorated you and pushed you over the edge – to go ahead and just “do it”?
I remember that moment! And we had been working on the idea and I had a full time job and Jonathan had a full time job and we never really did anything with it apart from on days off and weekends – so we just laughed and never really did anything with it. And it got to a point where it wasn’t quite finished – the boxes weren’t ready – it was going to be a part time thing for us, a very small project and I remember thinking “This has huge potential!” and I think what it was the packaging. I’ve seen it in every industry – from food to perfume to shoes to cars – packaging in a lot of cases is what sells the product. Look at a supermarket, it’s only packaging. The only industry that I can see where that doesn’t apply is apparel. I mean sure you go into Alannah Hill [an Australian womenswear designer] and buy a dress and they wrap it up nicely in paper and a lovely bag but it’s not actually in the packaging and people just throw that away. That was our huge point of difference at the time – and that’s not just a point of difference for online t-shirt companies – NOBODY has packaging. What if we could introduce packaging into the clothing world? And if people started to do it all the time – I know there are several out there like T-Box that shrink them and I think even Incu [a boutique retailer in Sydney] have a couple of pieces but it was about making it mainstream. So it was the packaging that kind of pushed me over the edge and made me think we had something unique enough to make it work.
5) Are there any plans to shake up what you’re doing right now?
Yes there are big plans..I’ll tell you the plans you can write about! Just like Threadless and Oddica and we’ve had the idea from the start – kids tees. Especially with some of the designers we’ve got at the moment. There’s a big big market and big money for kids tees. That’s probably the biggest thing I can tell you about..Yeah, that’s kind of where we’re going with that….There’s other stuff I *want* to tell you about.
6) Like the Vans stuff?
No I’m happy to tell you about that because it has nothing to do with t-shirts. The Vans stuff is just using our collective of artists and getting them to do customised Vans. We talked to Vans and they’re doing something similar down in Melbourne and we want to put on an exhibition. It’s a side project but it would be “People Like Us” branded.
7) What is your take on traditional fashion labels and are you interested in becoming one yourself?
We don’t think of our stuff as fashion. We’re in the fashion business – but we don’t do fashion. We don’t do seasons, we don’t do long sleeves. It’s about the print. It’s also about the quality of the garment and the cut as the American Apparel cut is very different to a lot of peoples. There’s a huge element of being in that fashion business but we don’t think of ourselves as being “in the fashion business”. When we deal with retailers we tell them we don’t do seasons and to jump on board when they can and to order straight away. When they like the print they should order it “now” because it won’t be there in a few months. I think a lot of the bigger companies that do tees as well as other fashion…Most of it’s branded. Somewhere on the outside of the t-shirt prominantly displayed is their name and logo. So my take is that major companies and major fashion players do branded tees – because people are buying their brand. Smaller companies don’t have that luxury but a lot of the time they don’t really want to anyway and I feel really self-conscious when I wear a branded t-shirt, so we try and stay clear of that and only do branding on the inside of our tees. I think it’s really hard for a big company to start a small project, because with the processes they have in place it’s not easy to do small runs of things and say “lets try this and try this”. When their main t-shirts and clothing are produced in the thousands when they make 500 units and no more…It’s a big deal – how do they brand it? How do they do everything else? Is it conflicting with their other stuff? And so on. So I don’t think you’ll see many large brands turn around and say “let’s do a real small end project!”. Even Nike and Adidas with their shoes do things like that, but a “limited edition” run of Adidas shoes is 10,000 pairs, so I don’t think that we’re in that much danger of having that competition with that kind of marketing power.
8) Have you considered developing your own clothing rather than using the stuff that’s already out there?
Yeah we are looking into producing our own tees. Being environmentally and socially aware we don’t want to have things made in sweat shops so it’ll be all Aussie made. I’m always looking into new ways of doing new stuff and trying to cut our costs because the minute you stop doing that you stop making any money. So we’re committed to doing that but..You never know where you’re going to be but for now it’s just t-shirts.
9) What current trends have you noticed affecting People Like Us?
With colours we’re very colour orientated. Our artists have first choice on what colour fabric they want to print on but it does come through us. We don’t want to put out three green tees at the same time, for example. We try and do more fashion colours. Threadless has all your brights and a couple other bits – a grey marle. Instead we try and mix the colour of our design with the colour of our design and incorporate a more fashion coloured tee. For example with the Cranberry colour which everybody loves – and the asphalt which is not black, but it’s not grey, but it’s not navy which people love and you can’t find anything like that. It works quite well as a dressier tee. Most of the guys tees are darker which is all very well thought out on our part. Guys wear darker tees most of the time. The girls tees are mostly all bright though. So we’re really catering for what people are looking for and what people like wearing. It’s really important to research what colours are coming in right now. In the next month or two we’re going to be doing a purple tee, the trendsetters have been wearing purple for the last four months and in the next month or two it’s going to explode and everyone will be wearing it. Now while we’re not fashion-orientated we still have to cater what people are actually going to wear and buy. So that’s the biggest thing that influences us, the colours, not the design as that’s up to the artist. While we watch for the trends we don’t necessarily follow them because that’s not what we’re about.
10) What’s the most passionate and invigorating part of the business for you?
We get great responses from customers. Every customer gets a personal e-mail from me or from Jonathan. Once we send off a tee I want them to know when it was sent and how long it’s going to take and so I start a lot of conversations and friendships through this business and it’s really nice. Some I’ve asked for help – say if they know of a store in their area – but most of the time it’s just “we sent your t-shirt out and we’re really glad you bought it”. When they get the tee they are inclined to write something about it. We really encourage generosity and you get a 10% discount for buying it as a present and anyone can tick that box. Hopefully people will be honest with it! So we get a lot of people writing back about how much they loved it or their sister or brother loved the present. We print out a birthday card with their message as well so it’s all very personalised.
11) Would you ever consider collaborating rather than competing with your traditional competitors to collectively explore and develop your products/artwork/business model/etc?