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TBTS Adventures in Online T-shirt Retailing

June 20, 2012
generic white t-shirt

Hello, my name is Paul (hi Paul!) and I have a t-shirt problem. I guess it all started in college. I collected a few funny t-shirts with pithy little phrases on them, wore them until they were little more than rags, threw them away, and acquired more. Here I am, nearly 20 years later, and I have a t-shirt collection that is barely contained by the storage space I’ve allotted to it.

Of course, I have the requisite band shirts. What better way to tell the world how hip you are than by wearing an original, 1989 vintage Nine Inch Nails shirt with a simple, white “NIN” on black? (This I acquired in high-school and is so threadbare my wife threatens to throw it away, which will happen over my dead, rotting corpse.) Or a Queensryche Empire Tour 1991 t-shirt? Or a barely-legible, blue-on-black Mastodon t-shirt? Or an apparently rare Beck Mutations shirt done in a pseudo-pointillist style? (I get compliments on that one a lot.)

I have a few shirts from various tourist locations (some of which I’ve even been to!) Here and there one might find a plain black or red or blue shirt from Target; good for “casual Fridays” at the ol’ workplace. I tend to color-code my shirts in the armoire. I have so many black t-shirts, I’ve taken to separating them by “band” and “non-band.” It’s time I use these plain shirt and print my logo on them. Soon I’ll have an additional category: “Star Wars.”

My weakness? The new trend in online t-shirt sales: the single-design 24-hours-and-it’s-gone model. Sites like TeeFury, Ript Apparel, The Yetee, Qwertee, and others have adopted a brilliant strategy. Designs are submitted by artists or developed in-house, and then sold on the site inexpensively for 24-hours and that’s it. No reprints, ever. This sales model is genius because:

  1. The company doesn’t have to maintain warehouse space to store inventory. Shirts are printed after all orders are in. They pretty much make exactly as many as they need to fulfil the orders.
  2. Designers can use it to make a quick buck. TeeFury, for example, boasts “anywhere from $150 to over $2,500 in a single day.”
  3. Demand is kept artificially high due to the time-sensitive nature of the sale.
  4. The 24-hour turnover of the design keeps enthusiasts like myself coming back every day to see if we want the latest shirt. (And usually we do.)

The shirts are $10-15 depending on the site, and shipping is usually $2-3. At TeeFury, for example, designers receive $1 per shirt sold, which may not sound like much but can really add up for a popular shirt. Furthermore, the designer often retains full rights to the design after the sale and is free to sell it elsewhere at his or her leisure. (Most end up at Red Bubble at a significantly higher price. You snooze, you lose.)

This whole short-sale thing has caught on in other areas., for example, partners with online retailers for 3-day sales of select items sold through their socially-networked system. Their fantastic selection of hip kitchen accessories and appliances from the best hand juicer reviews online, kitschy shirts, stylish furniture, and assorted novelties has yielded quite a few goodies for my household. I’m particularly fond of our Lineposters renderings of the NYC and Paris subway systems, and Mrs. theGeek loves her Pan Am purse. You can get anything from a crazy-expensive sofa to a giant gummy-bear. isn’t necessarily about t-shirts, although they do sell them occasionally. But their other stuff will have you reaching for your wallet more often than you think. And if you’re into t-shirts that cleverly mash-up things like Tron + Star Wars, or Adventure Time + Back to the Future, you should keep an eye on the sites I mentioned. But be careful. These sites will drain your bank account $10 at a time and fill your wardrobe with more awesome than it was probably designed for.

[Let it be known that neither myself nor The Brown Tweed Society have received consideration from any of the retailers mentioned herein. I just really like their stuff.]

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