We all know there are countless artists taking advantage of all of the websites that make it free and easy to sell apparel with your very own designs on them. With this opportunity, however, comes the price of vast competition in the field. Like any other business, the biggest hurdle to overcome is getting noticed amongst other players in the same industry. While it’s good to focus on the end goal of having a successful brand, more often than not, the small steps towards that goal are what you should dedicate the most attention to. So, with that said, this is a story about celebrating the path of small victories that will keep your business growing!
I only opened my shop in July 2016, just a few months ago. But truthfully, I’ve had the idea in the works since early 2015. I originally created my mascot “Qupii-chan” (pronounced like “QP-chan”) as a logo for my online streaming channel on Twitch.tv. As I broadcasted various games, I would always get compliments on “how cute” she is. That’s how I knew she had more potential than just a low-key streamer’s online persona. I ultimately decided to put streaming aside, as I didn’t feel it was my passion.
A year later, after moving out, looking for jobs, losing jobs, and looking for jobs again, I found myself feeling confined. I needed some kind of outlet. Browsing reddit for hours wasn’t doing me much good. Or was it? It was a submission in a forum specifically for the Sailor Moon fandom that caught my attention. A fan had created beautiful pieces of art inspired by the series and commenters were begging the artist sell them as t-shirts. That’s when the light bulb switched on. I myself had released a rather popular collection of Sailor Moon inspired wallpapers to my DeviantArt account, so I already had a following of sorts.
This just goes to show that starting your t-shirt business can begin by just a few internet strangers online showing an interest in your work. If they love it, then there’s bound to be more people who would enjoy it too. When you’re choosing your brand, it should be something that means a lot to you. The closer it is to your heart, the easier it will be to find the niche that’s going to go crazy about it, because you’re crazy about it too.
Searching for a place to share my designs was hard. There were so many options. I signed up for a few of them but I opted to go for the one that I felt had the most relevance and the most user-friendly interface, landing me on TeePublic. TeePublic was a host to a lot of designs that matched my interests and style, so it really was the best choice for me. So when choosing your headquarters, try to find a website that has similar art styles, common interests, and a platform you’re going to be comfortable using. Of course, as you grow, you’re going to want to expand to more websites, and eventually make your very own site!
Now it was time to upload. I started off with just six of the ten wallpapers I made just to test the waters. I knew I had something going, I just wasn’t sure how to reach my audience. I tried to think where my target demographic might be looking and how to get noticed there. That’s when I realized it: There’s no mystery about where my fanbase is. My audience is just like me. In other words, they browse the same sites, use the same social media, and all the things I do in my spare time.
For me, Instagram was the optimum social platform to advertise my business on, so I began sharing my designs there. I also joined some groups on Facebook that related to my products. This made it a bit more personal as I reached out to people in my area that share interests with me. When telling them I was a new designer, they were more than happy to support me! This is also where the blessing of hashtags comes into play. Hashtags are SO important when trying to reach potential customers. People browse through relevant posts by searching the hashtag of what they’re interested in, so if you want your work to be a part of that, you need to hashtag it appropriately. A lot of sites use hashtags now such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr.
After that I got a helpful e-mail from TeePublic encouraging me to branch out and post my designs to other sites that they have partnered with. TeeHunter was one of them.
From all of that work in just my first month of business, I gained 1k followers on my Instagram and about $60 in commissions (about 15 shirts sold). This amazed me because I wasn’t expecting any sales at all in my first month! It was clear that the key to this is reaching out. Putting yourself out there and showing people that you’re passionate about what you do inspires them to want to help you. So I wasn’t done reaching out at all!
The E-mail That Started It All…
Since I am a huge anime nerd, I know fans of my designs are also huge anime nerds. And where do anime nerds gather? Conventions. I decided to be brave and contact to all the conventions in my area to see if any of them would be interested in my designs. I told them I was a new designer and that I was carrying t-shirts with custom anime art on them. I offered them a discount if they wanted to possibly purchase some of the designs to use as giveaways in contests. Despite my recent successes, I honestly didn’t expect anything to become of it.
Weeks passed and I heard nothing back. This was a little discouraging, but it was also quite a big move on my part. Conventions are huge news and they’re fully aware of all the exposure they host. There could be as many as 5 to 10 thousand people at even the smallest conventions. After I had already long forgotten I sent those e-mails, I got a reply. I swear, my heart dropped in my chest.
Trinity, Head of Marketing and Sponsorship of Anime California replied and said they loved the designs! I had mentioned I cannot actually attend the convention and she offered me a deal: donate the t-shirt prizes and they will pay for my badge. I had never been to an anime convention before so this was an amazing opportunity for me. I agreed immediately, announcing to all of my family and friends that this was basically a dream come true for me. Not only would I be going to my first anime convention ever, but I was going as a featured artist. Never in my life would I imagine this would happen to me!
I contacted TeePublic about the opportunity and they were cool enough to offer me a discount to buy my own products. Man, if you haven’t already, you really need to order your t-shirts and see it for yourself. It’s surreal. Holding a tee with my own art on it was something I can’t describe. Seeing it in person just makes it so much more real. This is the product my customers were going to hold and wear. And now, this was the product that would be displayed at a convention expected to have over 5 thousand attendees. I was overwhelmed.
The Convention: Anime California 2016
The convention was awesome. The Marketing and Sponsorship manager greeted me with open arms and treated me like a VIP. I basked in a crowd of people who loved the same things I did. It was truly glorious. The ultimate goal was to have fun, but I did casually hand my business card out to some cool looking cosplayers. It was a lot like going to Disneyland and meeting your favorite characters in person!
The contest itself was on the second day of the convention. It was called “The Anime Dating Game”. It was a game show-like contest where participants competed for the heart of a mysterious bachelor or bachelorette. The contestants were extremely raunchy and I found myself blushing throughout a lot of it, but it was so much fun! The host of the contest was awesome enough to give me a shout-out. He pointed at the shirts on display and told the audience that the artist was present and everyone gave me an applause. At the end of it, the winners and the bachelors won my t-shirts as a prize and I took a picture with them!
Overall, it is true that anyone can do this. No one’s business is going to blossom and become popular without some effort, but a little bit really does go a long way. I am still growing and putting everything into my business, because it truly is my passion. The power truly lies in reaching out, and eventually you’ll be in a position where smaller artists reach out to you! Just keep putting yourself out there and go as big as possible. People will only take you as seriously as you take yourself, so make yourself a big deal!