Kathleen has a huge issue with WOATs -words on a tee shirt- and GOATS -graphics on a tee shirt- producers; you can read about that here and here. Now it’s my turn to talk about WOATs and GOATS. I have a friend who has a retail store. She sells many brands of tees in her store, some of which are obviously American Apparel blanks with words or graphics on them. How is this obvious? Well never mind that I can spot an American Apparel tee a mile away -consider it great brand consistency on their part- but DEs make it easy for me because they leave American Apparel’s label in. I think this is just about the laziest thing you can do.

So we talk every now and then, I spend hours in her store; we sell pretty much the same stuff. She asked me if I carried one of the lines. I told her I didn’t think I could even begin to get away with selling it and I couldn’t bear the idea of buying it. So she asked me why and here is my answer: In good conscience, knowing that you can buy an American Apparel tee shirt for about 4 or 5 bucks, I can’t pay someone $15 wholesale for it just because they put words or clip art on it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against those of you who have real art on your shirts who actually sit down and create unique designs, this is really about the concept of taking clip art or simple phrases and putting them on an American Apparel tee (or any other blanks manufacturer), leaving American Apparel’s “Classic Girl” (or whatever) label in it and marking it up to wholesale. Your problem isn’t with the many consumers who will buy that tee shirt; the problem is getting the retail buyer to buy your tee shirts. The reason is if I’m going to sell a tee shirt, I’m either selling the art or the brand. If you can’t even go to the trouble of re-branding your tee shirts with your own label, then it’s definitely not the brand. Which leaves us with the art. And if all you manage is clip-art or words, well, that’s just not enough.

My friend thought about this and said she thought that made a lot of sense. Retail stores have a hard enough time working with the profit margins that they have and so they need opportunities to acquire product lines with better margins. So my friend purchased some blanks and did her own thing. It’s cheaper than paying someone else for it. She came up with concepts that were entirely her own, her own art (she’s somewhat of an artist) and had her items screen printed. She can sell at full retail and enjoy the profit margin. She loves it. If she can make her own shirts, why will she buy yours?

Now, I know people are going to get up in arms about this, but take this to heart. Tee shirt lines are a dime a dozen. You’ll find this out if you try to get a sales rep at a major apparel mart or if you try to exhibit at an apparel trade show because most shows are juried and screen new exhibitors. You may even find that you don’t get into some trade shows because they have stopped accepting new tee shirt lines. I mean, tee shirt lines really are everywhere.

Now, you really kill yourself if you are not putting your own label in the garment because you are essentially saying “I really don’t care enough to build a brand.” Apparel sales are all about branding. They really are. And if you don’t care enough to go through the trouble to create your own brand for your items, you are shooting yourself in the foot.

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  1. Carol says:

    So, what’s the process for putting your own label in an American Apparel tee? Do you supply them to AA? or buy them finished and replace?

    Nitty gritty on what ripping out, what machine, please.

    Years ago I did original t-shirts (and do not anticipate getting back into it), and the most time-consuming part was fussing with the labels.

  2. MW says:

    You have two options, you either have your labels sewn in at the time the shirts are produced (different companies have different minimums for this, but twelve dozen is a common minimum), or you have them re-labeled, where either a distributor or company that specializes in garment finishing will cut out one label or sew in your own.

    Garment finishing (I think that’s the right term) is the post-production value added services such as bagging, tagging, labeling, re-labeling, inspection, minor repairs, and such that many companies specialize in.

    In addition, many screenprinters and embroiderers relabel garments if you are using their other services.

  3. kathleen says:

    I’d like to reiterate that what I don’t like from woats/goats are their exhortations that they are “fashion designers” or “manufacturers”. Similarly, I bristle at their arrogance when they send me emails requesting that I nominate them for “indie” “fashion design” contests. I have nothing against people who produce tee-shirt lines provided they don’t expect me to answer all of their questions for free because most of them refuse to buy the book or even read the free chapters at http://designer-entrepreneurs.com If you can make and sell something that is not injurious to others -including one’s peers by implication- I have no problem with it and I’m even happy to help you out as I can.

  4. Craig says:

    does anyone know of a good private label brand other than AA?

    I will never use their crap. I use Continental right now who has good stuff, no label, great quality….want to find another like them


  5. Erin says:

    Some local “designers” around here that sell in the local go-to indie boutique use Alternative Apparel. The quality seems compareable, but the sizing is a bit off. The small is small, medium is good, but the large is very large. At least the styles some of my friends were working with.
    Same made-in-america deal as American Apparel as far as I could tell, without the sleezy sex stuff.

  6. RacheLyra says:

    here is a clothing alternative (not my project):


    they are produced in asia using a set of standards that i have not examined too closely. They are pretty thorough, though – next to where you buy a thing you can see real statistics relating to the cost of living (like the cost of a bowl of rice) of the person that made it.

    It’s transparent outsourcing. A different approach, but an intriguing one.

  7. modest.mama says:

    yeah….what IS up with the sleezy sex stuff??? it’s a blank clothing website for god’s sake…..you would think it was softcore porn! in fact….i think it is just that. i just don’t get it.

  8. Kite says:

    I’m amused at AA describing tees as having a Merrow(R) stitched hem. Talk about a way to talk up plain old overlocked raw edge finishing.

    …And yes, AA are a good example of why sex sells. Even when it’s a non-sequitur.

    …Which is why I’m not buying from them, incidentally.

  9. Amanda says:

    I’m not a screen-print outfit, I make my own t-shirts (and other garments), but my shop is in a building we share with a couple of screen-print designers and a printing shop. A garment contractor in our network does relabeling work all the time. I have no idea what she charges to do it, but I do know that the print shop puts clients in touch with her for that work. If you’re doing this kind of work, you might ask your printer if they can put you in touch with someone who relabels.

    btw–I often hear people use “merrow” to describe overlocked finishes kind of the way people use “tupperware” or “ziploc” to describe things you use to store leftovers. It doesn’t sound like “talking up” to me, especially–just something the people I know say to mean “overlocked” or “serged” or whatever other term you might use…

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