A Step-by-Step Guide to Launching Your Own Streetwear Brand
Think creating a streetwear brand is an unrealistic side gig? Think again. All you need to start a brand is some T-shirts, an internet connection and access to a printer.
But just because it’s easy to start a streetwear business doesn’t mean it’s easy to stay in the streetwear business. You can’t slap a stolen Y2K graphic on a dozen Gildan T-shirts and call it a day. You need to stand out and earn loyal customers.
Do your research, put in the work, and you might just find yourself running an empire.
1. Brainstorm Your Brand
What do you like to see from a clothing brand? The off-kilter nostalgia of Online Ceramics? The cheeky consumerism of Supreme? The modern art excess of Off-White?
Get inspired. Just don’t carbon copy.
“People like what they’re familiar with,” said Jenny Ukaj, founder of Red Rose Hype Shop.
Taking cues from brands you admire can signal to your customer base that you have something they like.
One of the most important ways you show customers who you are is with your logo. Think about what makes your brand unique. How can you communicate that visually?
The other foundational bit of branding is your brand name. A good streetwear brand name is:
- Easy to say, type, and remember. Don’t kneecap your word-of-mouth marketing before you even begin by naming your brand like a secure password.
- Unique. Ask yourself: can a customer Google your brand name without confusing you with a dozen other similarly-named brands?
- Brand appropriate. Selling goth-inspired skater gear? Don’t name your brand like an upscale hair salon.
Ukaj was drawn to roses in the streetwear-inspired pieces she bought for herself.
“I had a Thrasher tee with some roses on it and this Urban Outfitters hoodie that had embroidered roses on the sleeves,” she said.
She chose the name Red Rose Hype Shop because it was clearly recognizable as a streetwear brand, but it had her personal touch.
2. Produce Your Collection
There are many successful streetwear brands that produce hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind pieces with limited runs and high prices. But when it comes to getting your business off the ground quickly and profitably, it’s hard to beat plain old printed T-shirts.
Printed tees are streetwear’s bread and butter for a reason. Why? In a word, scale. You can create a design and pump out as many tees as you want. The same applies to hoodies and hats, other streetwear mainstays.
Confused about how to actually… design? It never hurts to start with a plain old pen and paper sketch. From there, you can convert your idea to a digital format. Learning how to use design software takes a little time, but it’s essential for producing clothing at scale.
Work With a Local Printer
A simple way to get up and running is to enlist the help of the professionals. Jacob Nelson of Tidalwave Screen Printing said half of his clients are indie clothing brands.
”We just really enjoy working with people who bring us ideas that they’re stoked about,” he said.
You’ll need stock: blank copies of the items you’re planning to customize. Los Angeles Apparel, Gildan and Rue Porter are some popular options. No matter which you choose, it’s a good idea to order samples to test quality and fit before committing to a large order.
Then, you’ll need to send your design to the printer.
“A very pixelated design or a hand drawn design would be sad to see,” Nelson said. “We can definitely help you out and make it happen. But we prefer fully finished, vectorized designs.”
Vector graphics translate to smooth, even screenprinting and embroidery.
Next, you can talk to the experts about how to make your design a reality. Commercial printing and embroidery operations have access to equipment and knowledge that you probably don’t – at least when you’re just starting out. Come to an agreement, drop off your blanks, and enjoy seeing your design come to fruition.
DIY and Cut-and-Sew
While partnering with a local business is a great option, it’s not the only option. You can also DIY – basic iron-on printing, for example, is totally doable with a home printer. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s cut-and-sew manufacturing. That’s when you send a factory a detailed digital design and they produce it. You might choose this option if you’re getting so many orders that your local printer can’t keep up (a good problem to have!) or you have a unique design you can’t achieve with blanks.
3. Run Your Shop
So you’ve got a clothing line. Great! How are you going to actually sell it?
Instagram has a thriving streetwear community. Many brands get started just by setting up a business account and informally selling via messages. A word of caution: “DM me to buy” can get old quickly, for the customer and the seller.
A low-effort step up? Online marketplaces like Depop and Etsy. You can set up a profile and have a basic online storefront in minutes.
Sooner than later, though, you’ll want your own website. Squarespace, Shopify, and Big Cartel all offer easy e-commerce website builds.
As great as online sales can be, don’t forget about the meatspace.
“I’ve benefited a lot from having a physical store,” Ukaj said.
Sometimes, customers fall in love with a piece they would have scrolled right past online.
“There’s something about seeing it in person that makes you splurge on buying it right away,” she added.
Can’t swing a brick-and-mortar location? There are lots of other ways to get your physical product in front of potential customers.
Is there a brand-appropriate retail location near you that might be open to selling your line? Independent clothing stores are a no-brainer, but also consider skate shops, coffee shops, and record stores. Even a simple booth at a pop-up market can do wonders for brand awareness and sales.
4. Promote, Promote, Promote
You’ve got a great streetwear brand that nobody knows about. How do you change that?
“You can have more creative freedom with TikTok – creating videos and styling the streetwear pieces together,” Ukaj said.
Got a little extra budget and want a boost? Try running an ad. The process will vary based on the platform you choose. On Instagram, for example, you can sponsor a post. That gets it in front of people who don’t follow you.
Ultimately, the best advertisement is your product.
“Give away free merch as much as possible,” Ukaj said. “Especially, if you can, to any high-end, celebrity clients.”
One social media post from an artist wearing your brand could result in a huge jump in sales.
And don’t forget the most important step: Start.
“Just jumping in and going for it is a good thing,” says Nelson. “You can have a lot of prep work done but going in, taking a leap, and trusting whatever partner you’re working with can end up working out pretty well for you.”
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
You can start a streetwear brand for next to nothing or thousands of dollars, depending on how you choose to produce your clothing.
Here’s an example budget for a streetwear brand that partners with a local printer.
- Order 50 wholesale T-shirts for $2 each.
- Customize them with a simple screen-printed design for $5 each.
- Budget $5 per shirt for shipping and handling.
That’s $600, total
It depends. Successful brands like Supreme and Bape make millions upon millions per year. Unsuccessful brands can actually lose money.
If you were to spend $600 to produce and ship 50 T-shirts, price them at $25, and sell 80% of them, you would make a $400 profit. That’s a nice side income, but nothing crazy.
If you managed to sell 500 T-shirts with the same profit margin, you would make a $4,000 profit and really be in business.
Social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and even Reddit are great places to promote your streetwear brand.
Participating in pop-up markets and offering your brand in retail locations is also smart.
Giving free merch to people with big followings – basically, influencer marketing – is a good way to get people to check out your brand, as well.
Streetwear has a youthful, casual look. It’s not suits or ballgowns – it’s hoodies and sneakers. Hip-hop, skater, and surf culture have all been huge influences on streetwear. Streetwear pieces are likely to play with branding, often featuring prominent logos.
Ciara McLaren is a freelance writer with work in HuffPost, Insider, and The Penny Hoarder. You can find her on Substack (@camclaren).