I started an online t shirt company. It failed & it was awesome.

I started a t shirt company

I started an online t shirt company. It failed & it was awesome.

First understand that I am a relentless enthusiast about things I have no idea about. A stubborn fantasist. I get an idea and I run with it. Usually well past the point it has legs. I’m passionately unstoppable about new and exciting things leading me to create many failed experiments, unsuccessful schemes and just flat out silly projects… It’s great fun!

As far as I’m concerned failure isn’t a bad thing. But not trying something is a wasted possibility. Unlike your classic procrastinator who swiftly bounces from unfinished project to unfinished project I am determined to see things through… to the bitter end.

It's already dead

I’m not saying this behaviour is good or bad. It is what it is…

One of the most recent projects was a T-shirt company. Because, well, that’s never been done before, right?

What could possibly go wrong

The whole idea spiraled from a frustration of not being able to find t-shirts with designs that matched my personality. Yes, bizarre, but a very important feature to a self proclaimed design geek. Clothes say a million things before you’ve even considered opening your mouth. I find myself in situations which require the need to exude a careful balance of demonstrating my uber creativity while also stating very clearly that I do not work ‘just for the exposure’. As you can imagine this is a very precise message for a t-shirt to convey.

im a professional

As a result I have found myself on the verge of meltdowns in Uniqlo changing rooms questioning the very existence of clothing and whether we would all be better setting fire to our gladrags and baring our flesh to let our wonderfully crafted bodies do the talking. Then I turn to the mirror to see a pasty, middle-aged man-boy awkwardly staring back and am reminded that such a world is better left in an alternate universe.


…So off I went on my merry crusade against mundane t-shirts.

Im going on an adventure

I started designing t shirts that I thought were cool. T shirts that is proudly don at design events. T shirts that would create panic in the street due to their incredible style and flawless craftsmanship.

“Oh my god this is the BEST T-shirt design I have EVER seen.”

They would say.

I smashed out a few concepts in adobe InDesign within a day or so then went in the hunt of getting these bad boys printed.

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Having no experience of fabric printing I started fumbling around on Google and found that the most effective way to print a t shirt is via screen printing. This gives a rich, professional finish and won’t fade out off after one cycle in the washing machine.

However, this kit is expensive and requires a massive workshop to house all of the equipment. At the time I lived in a one bed flat and Ashley (the house manager) would have flipped out if she came home to a sitting room full of easels, stencils and polyester mesh. So this option was quickly pulled.

Next I started looking for screen printers who would rent out the kit. I reached out to a few and quickly arrived at the conclusion that this was even more expensive. I was hoping to sell t-shirts at around £10-a-pop, but hiring the equipment plus the hourly rate of a printer worked out at £30+ per shirt. I mean, my designs are good, but are they that good? Debatable.


So my next logical step was to find a supplier.

First I tried Society6 . They were ok. They have an online design function allowing you to upload your artwork and place them on a mock-up of the shirt. However, I wasn’t blown away by the t-shirt quality. I also knew that I needed to be able to integrate the service into some sort of website (that was yet to be built) and the plug-ins they offered seemed clunky and limited customisation. (Sorry guys).

Next I tried Spreadshirt. Again, they had an online t-shirt builder and their t-shirt quality was decent. Not perfect. But allowed my to offer higher quality t-shirts at a lower price. But what really sold it was the website integration. They had quality widgets perfect for plugging into WordPress. This was ideal. WordPress is my ‘go-to’ system from which I was planning to build my online merch empire.

Designs ready. Supplier sorted. Now all I needed was to ‘get sellin’. Easy! I mean, I’m an award winning digital marketeer at a top agency in London with experience with intergalactic brands. This should be an absolute cinch. Easy pickings for a creative genius of my world class calibre. Right?

Im kind of a big deal


eye roll

Not so much…

My strategy was to create a simple sales funnel using the website as the sales tool and social media as the brand awareness and interaction points. What this actually translates to in human terms is a website displaying the t-shirts designs and a huge ‘buy now!’ button and an Instagram account with stock images of models being particularly cool and sporty.

Kooclo golden fleece

I was aiming my t-shirts at young surfers and skaters. The goal was to emulate lifestyle brands like Converse, Vans, Emerica. Etc. And tap into their audience. Instagram currently offers the best ‘free’ way to reach this audience. I started creating basic insta posts that fit well with the style of the platform. (You know the ones, sunsets, open space, magnum pouts etc.)


Ultimately the key to any half popular insta post is getting the image right.

The description and details are secondary. So I used quality images from my stock¬† library (one of the perks of being a designer) and photoshopped them all to incorporate some of the t shirt graphics. Naturally, I then tagged the post with every relevant hashtag going…

#surfer #beachday #surflife #surf #parasailing #wakeboarding #activeliving#waves #surfboard #surfersparadise#beachlife #beaches #beachwear #beachtime#happyapril #wave #instagood #awesome#picoftheday #fashion #ocean

The ultimate goal of this effort was to drive traffic to the website. The website itself was built on WordPress. Each t-shirt had their own page and was metatagged within an inch of its life. Metatag: geek speak for making sure it appears on Google.

There were numerous ‘call-to-actions’ ie. Points on the page that told you to do something. Like ‘Buy now’ buttons. Clicking these took you to the payment page where the actual transaction took place. From here Spreadshirt (the supplier) would get a notification of the sale and start the order process. They take 80% for costs and their cut. So I would get ¬£2 from a ¬£8 t shirt sale (pre-tax).

As sales funnels go this is pretty basic, but it was a funnel nonetheless. Given that I also have hundred other projects always fighting for attention in my wider life, I needed something simple that requires little effort. This to me was the minimum viable process.


Or at least it would have been had it worked…

See. The problem is that the amount of people that buy products from random companies straight-out is minimal. Like SUPER minimal. Like for every 1,000 visits to the website only one person will click ‘buy now’. That’s a 0.01% conversion rate… But that doesn’t take into account getting people to the site…

I was using Instagram to drive traffic to the site, right? Well Instagram is actually notoriously shocking at driving traffic unless you buy ad-space. The platform has been built to make it difficult to navigate away from your feed. For example, if you put a link in a post description, it’s not actually a hyperlink; it’s not clickable. People need to actually copy and paste the link into a separate web browser. Who does that? That’s why brands usually follow the classic ‘link in bio’ technique.


What that means is that for every post, the default action of all users is to simply ‘like’ or ‘comment’. They very rarely make it to the website. So even uber popular posts get slow traffic. *Looks over spectacles* that’s why Instagram is used for brand awareness campaigns.

Keep pushing! #BreaktheRules #WearSomeFun Tees for #active lives. #board #surf #skate #Kooclo RAIN FEEDS THE SEEDS. The Seedlings tee design directly opposes the precedent created by standard tee shirts. Cliches and disarrangement pollute current fashion with thoughtless images and pop culture references. The movement is tired and overdone. Seedlings tee design goes back to basics with simple, clean and well balances motif. Full design, full concept, minus clutter. http://www.kooclo.com/seedlings-surfer-tee-shirt-design/ #surfer #beachday #surflife #surf #parasailing #wakeboarding #activeliving #waves #surfboard #surfersparadise #beachlife #beaches #beachwear #beachtime #happyapril #wave #instagood #awesome #picoftheday #fashion #ocean

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So, for argument sake, let’s say post above with 86 likes received one click-through to the website. (even though this post was an anomaly and the average amount of likes per post was actually around 30.) This meant I had to post 3 times to get one click-through (quality posts, I might add, posts that met the trendy standards of the sunset hungry insta-crowd).

If we add this to the website conversion rate we can start to build a pretty decent formula for effort vs conversion.

(3 posts per click-through) x (1,000 visits per £10 purchase) = 3,000 quality Instagram posts = £10.

To put this whole story into perspective, I figured I had the resource to make one good-looking post per day. (This including sourcing a good image, adding the graphics, writing the post and researching new hashtags and took about half an hour (*very rough guesstimate*)).

So in theory it would take 3,000 days to sell one t shirt….

And that my friends is the crux of why I do not have a t-shirt empire ūüėā

I could waffle on about how I could have used a different social network, incorporated email databases or even did some physical marketing with real-life, actual t-shirts… But that would take too long… Which I guess is the moral of this story and where I draw the line.

I tell you all of this why? Not because I love revelling in self defeat. No. But actually because I learned valuable info. Things that may provide valuable if you ever find yourself in a similar position. Everyone dreams of starting a successful online business and this is a play-by-play of what *not* to do. I will use this as research for my next maniacal debacle.