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The Startup T-Shirt

We’ve all heard the bit about “the first thing we did, was make our company t-shirts” and how that reflects misaligned priorities. If it is such a long running joke, why does it still happen so much? I believe it is because it as an easy thing to do and figure out in the world of uneasy choices. Building a company requires a lot of learning as you go and sometimes making decisions with imperfect information. One thing that you can check off the list? Make a company t-shirt. Founders make the decision, send it off to the printer, get something quickly in return, and feel a sense of accomplishment when they put their company t-shirt on. It brings a sense of concrete in a sometimes abstract world. 

The question is, is this a good use of time and resources? The answer is, probably depends. Is this in the founder’s budget without sacrificing other, more pressing priorities? Will the shirt actually contribute to sales or customers? How much time are you going to spend picking out that t-shirt and it’s design? If you ask yourself all these questions and none of them seem troublesome and you need an easy win to motivate you through some of the other harder tasks, maybe the stigma is a little overrated for you, and you should get those shirts. If the answer is, I am going to just not eat so I can afford t-shirts or I can’t really where this t-shirt anywhere my target audience is. Then maybe this is just a “cheap” distraction from what really matters.

Checklist on whether you should consider making a company t-shirt:⁣

1. If you don’t have a customer you probably shouldn’t have a company t-shirt.⁣

2. Do your target customers spend time where people would be wearing these shirts?⁣

3. If you’re choosing between t-shirts and other non-marketing expenses in your business then that means you probably don’t have a marketing budget for t-shirts.⁣

4. Is this for your business or instant gratification? The answer is probably fine if it is both, the former, but never just the latter.⁣

If you are going to spend time and resources on making a company shirt here are a few tips from a brand strategist: ⁣

1. Make it a shirt other people want to wear. If your logo isn’t iconic like Nike or Coca Cola chances are the only people who will where your logo as a shirt design is you, your employees, and your family. You can make your shirt adoptable by creating a design that makes a statement about personality. Then people will wear it because it says something about THEM.⁣

2. Make it quality. Avoid succumbing to the few dollar per shirt discount and getting something that will lose all appeal after a few washes.⁣

3. We argue for being ethically conscious. Even t-shirt printing has its ethical ramifications and you can look up which brands pay fair wages online with a quick Google.⁣

Priorities matter and so does thought. ⁣



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