The story behind the skucon 2017 shirts

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The creative process is fascinating to us, especially when it comes to how products and designs come to market.

In an effort to document the process, we wanted to share the journey we took to produce the T-shirts that were distributed at skucon 2017 on January 8.

A quick note before we get started. No successful project is launched in a vacuum and this Tshirt project is no exception. There were several different collaborators who came together to make this happen. You will hear from them throughout this post, but I wanted to start off by mentioning them: Lee Strom and Kimberly Kapustein at SanMar; Adam Walterscheid, Brittany Walterscheid and Greg Luttrell at T-shirt Tycoon; Tee Hamilton at Creative Alchemy; Lauchlin Burnett, Stephen Musgrave, Shruti Sharma, Alexis Goldenberg, Regan McDonell at RIGHTSLEEVE; Kate Masewich, Joe Kemple and Aaron Kucherawy at commonsku.

Step 1: Determining the design direction

We like to start with the design first, before the shirt is selected because the design drives most product decisions.

After consulting with some T-shirt nerds whose opinion we respect (Tee Hamilton, Lauchlin Burnett, Stephen Musgrave, Regan McDonell and Adam Walterscheid), we came up with an idea for a pocket T with an all over print. Pocket T’s are on trend these days and they also appeal to both men and women.

We loved the idea of a pocket T with an all over print because there’s an element of custom manufacturing that separates this from the regular stock shirt. We knew that our audience -all Tshirt geeks themselves- would ask how they were made. And with questions come the opportunity for storytelling, exactly the moment we crave as people who sell promotional products for a living.

We also chose to private label the shirts to showcase the commonsku brand (as well as the brand of our partners in the production process, SanMar and T-shirt Tycoon).

Step 2: Figuring out the T-shirt style and manufacturing logistics

Here’s where we needed to get with our two suppliers to see how we could pull this off. The challenge was three-fold.

First, since we were going to be working with T-shirt Tycoon to private label the shirts, we had to pick a style that would work well with their process. We opted for the Men’s DT6000 in Heather Charcoal (50/50 blend) and the DM106L in Heathered Nickel. Both shirts gave us more control over shrinkage, due to the poly blend, after the shirts had been discharged.

Second, we needed to find a style that would work for our audience. I wanted a fashion forward style that could also act as a classic go to piece in one’s drawer. After a lot of input from some picky collaborators, we decided on a slimmer cut for the unisex and a looser fit for the women. We had done slimmer cuts for women in the past, but received feedback that preferences had shifted towards looser, more comfortable flattering silhouettes for women.

Third, cutting a pocket and applying it to a stock shirt was an additional challenge. Also, in order to achieve the all-over print, we needed to print on a bolt of fabric and then cut out the pocket and apply it to the shirt. Since we were working with a stock shirt from SanMar, we needed to order white XXL shirts that would cut up into little pockets (bigger shirt = more pockets can be cut). This result in an exact fabric match when sewn onto the shirt. Ordering them in white also made the discharge printing easy.

Adam, Brittany and their team at T-shirt Tycoon then went to work and produced some magic with the pockets.

Step 3: Finalizing the graphic design.

Now that we knew we could pull off the pockets, we brainstormed some pocket design ideas. We wanted to something with a step and repeat pattern as we felt that would work best for the all over the print. We also elected not to print anything else on the front of the shirt as we wanted the pocket to stand alone.

From a branding perspective, we chose to print commonsku on the sleeve. It works really nicely with the discharge printing because it sinks right into the fabric so it’s not too loud or in your face.

We produced a video of the shirts being decorated by T-shirt Tycoon. A QR code was produced to access the video so people could see first hand how the garment was produced. Instead of printing a QR code on the sleeve (lame promo alert!) we chose to print it on the inside bottom corner of the shirt so it would not be visible to others.

Here are some of the ideas we brainstormed.

commonsku-skubot-vegas-2017-pocket-tee-05-a507_navy-heathercommonsku-skubot-vegas-2017-pocket-tee-03-a507_charcoal-heathercommonsku-skubot-vegas-2017-pocket-tee-04-a507_charcoal-heather-v2 commonsku-skubot-vegas-2017-pocket-tee-05-a521l_heathered-nickel-v2-1

And here are the final designs. We decided that a more muted color palette worked best in the end.

We were really pleased with the end result. It took a lot of time and care to produce something that we were proud to distribute to skucon attendees. It goes without saying that any creative journey is just that, a journey that involves many collaborators, including the end user (commonsku, in this case), a distributor (RIGHTSLEEVE) and two suppliers (SanMar and T-shirt Tycoon).

Step 4: The Final Product

We unveiled the shirts at skucon on Jan 8 to much anticipation as we had photographed the merchandise collection 48 hrs before the event. When people registered for skucon, they submitted their T-shirt size so we had specific sizes set aside. It’s a small point, but getting an attendee’s size correct ensures that the shirt doesn’t end up in the rag bin or left behind in the hotel room.

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Adam and his team at Tshirt Tycoon created an awesome video showing how the shirts were made. Check it out here.

In Conclusion: Good Design = Good Business

The day after skucon, we received an email from a distributor who picked up a few skucon shirts at our booth at Expo.

Half of my team are mortified that they didn’t get a tee – can I get a few for them if I give you the sizes?

And… I sold 300 tees this morning with a custom pocket with a ‘butter-soft’ finish. Nice work guys – thanks!

Until skucon 2018!

Mark Graham
Co-Founder and Chief Platform Officer, commonsku

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