The Ten Tee Commandments

Image courtesy Plasticell

I am a child of the 90’s and the soundtrack to my teen years was the “Life After Death” double CD. The Notorious B.I.G was my idol and the idea for the name “Giddimint” came from a Biggie interview I had on heavy rotation on my iPod at the time. That said, the “Ten Crack Commandments” spoke to me specially because BIG was giving straight knowledge on the track, knowledge which I have found applies to literally any venture.

I get a lot of emails and questions from people looking to start or needing help with their t-shirt lines so I have decided to use the track as a mnemonic device for posterity. This idea came to me after I saw the legendary Marc Ecko do something similar. I hope you find this useful.

THE TEN TEE COMMANDMENTS

  1. NEVER LET THEM KNOW HOW MUCH DOUGH YOU HOLD.

I think Biggie made this number 1 for the primary reason that disobedience of this one commandment can get you out of the game before you even get in. Apart from the obvious physical risks associated with broadcasting how much cash you have on you, there are those with more guile and a lot less obvious approach waiting in the cut.

As the creator/owner of a fashion brand, you will need the services of other creatives such as stylists, makeup artists, photographers, models, etc. The first sign of an untimely demise for your brand is showing these guys you have very deep pockets as the world is filled with mediocre (insert hustle) who will charge you a premium for bad service or worse, make you pay for services that you do not need! When I started my online store, I bootstrapped my operations for the first couple of years. Not like I had much of an option anyway because I was funding it with proceeds from my day job. This changed when I got some seed investment and was handed a small war chest to run the business, which led me to hiring people and paying for stuff I didn’t really need.

As with every other thing, keep it simple and stupid. Do not let these guys know or even imagine you have a lot of money to play with and even if you do (have a stash of cash), act like you don’t because these guys will have brands like yours for lunch and make a smoothie with your tears. Stay woke.

2. NEVER LET THEM KNOW YOUR NEXT MOVE.

In this age of social media, it’s hard not to clock what the other guys are doing. It’s in your face. Every day. Everyone is on a bull horn talking about their projects, what they have accomplished and how the year is turning out to be their best year ever. We all have them on our timelines but I have one word for you: DISCRETION.

Don’t get caught up in the hype and want to share ideas or projects before you execute or worse, stillbirth your ideas! It is totally fine if you draw a blank regarding what direction to go. Let it breathe. I like to believe that bigger projects require longer gestation periods so there is no need to get bothered when you experience a creative bloc. It’s not a competition. We each have different journeys.

3. NEVER TRUST NOBODY.

Most creative people are driven solely by passion and usually do not bother much about the legal and business end of things. They usually assume the best intentions of any and every one until they get bitten. You need to avoid this mistake the first time out and ensure that your bases are covered.

Register your business name, trademark that logo if needed and draw up agreements for your partnerships so it is right there in black and white. Relationships do go sour and you need to make sure you are prepared and protected when they do. When I took funding for my online store, I thought my partners/investors where the sweetest people on earth. A year into the partnership, I couldn’t even sit all the partners in the same room without a physical fight breaking out.

The reality of the world we live in is that everyone is cool when you start out but things change when money comes into play. There are sharks out there looking to feed off naïve brands and businesses. Predators don’t go for the strongest in the group. Gear up.

Image courtesy Gawker

4. NEVER GET HIGH ON YOUR OWN SUPPLY.

Every brand owner needs a healthy dose of their own cool aid to push their message through. This is necessary. However, you should be careful not to O.D on yours! Symptoms of an overdose include not being able to take constructive criticism, a closed off disposition and an over blown ego. If left untreated, this can ultimately lead to the demise of the brand.

Think back to when you just started creating and try to remember the accolades you got from friends and family when you showed them what you had created. Imagine you had ingested all that Kool Aid and stopped improving and growing. You’d be dead before you even started. As a brand, the ability to take feedback and infuse it into your business is a necessary skill for growth. The art of infusing these elements as you grow without losing your brand ethos is one that you need to constantly work on till you have mastered it.

The fact that you are reading this means you are still open to learning and improving. Stay open, collaborate, ask for help and seek guidance because contrary to what some may have you believe, we are all winging this.

5. NEVER SELL CRACK WHERE YOU REST.

Bootstrapping is a common practice for new brands (if this isn’t the case for yours then please see commandment #1 again) and this means you the brand owner will be wearing different hats for your business. Designer, PR, customer service and maybe even deliveries! I did all these when I started my store plus held down a day job. The survival of your new business is hinged on your ability to deliver amidst this conundrum.

The key to achieving this juggling act is effective time management. The fact that you wear all the hats in your business should not be an excuse for bad service. Lay your duties out and apportion specific times for executing each. That way, they do not overlap and leave you in a mess.

There are a lot of books and articles out there on effective time management that will help you create a flow for your business until you can afford to hire people for the different tasks. Till then, you are superman/woman.

6. CREDIT? DEAD IT.

Don’t even think about it.

7. KEEP YOUR FAMILY AND BUSINESS COMPLETELY SEPARATED.

In most cases, your family and friends will provide seed investment for some equity in the new business. This could potentially pose a problem as I have found business to be a contact sport and you don’t want to smack your uncle now do you? However, I believe if you stick to commandment #3, you should be fine.

Your family and friends are also usually your first customers as is often the case but you need to focus on building your own following and growing an external customer base as you have a viable business only after you have done this.

I started a t-shirt line while an undergrad and the quest for a larger market led me to approach various stores to see if they would stock my brand. They all turned me down so I made a mental note to start a store of my own that would stock local brands like mine when I had the funds. This led to me starting my online store a few years later.

8. NEVER KEEP NO WEIGHT ON YOU.

There will be a lot of moving parts in your new brand/business and you may not be qualified or able to handle them all. Bootstrapping can only take you so far so I always advise people to seek professional advice or assistance for tasks that they know are over their heads.

One way to get this done on a budget is to leverage on your network and relationships. Ask that cousin that’s a lawyer to help draw up an agreement in return for some free merch or that friend that’s slick with a camera to help with your photo shoot at a discount in exchange for gear. Your network is an asset but do not expect or ask for freebies. Always offer something in return (this can also save you legal troubles in future but we will discuss that at a different time).

Word of mouth is the best PR your brand can get and your immediate circle can help get this started by spreading the good word for you.

9. IF YOU AIN’T GETTING BAGGED, STAY THE HELL FROM POLICE.

Often times, brands start strongly and then somehow, bungle it and lose it along the way. This usually happens when the brand either forgets or chooses to ignore its ethos or brand story. Your ethos is the life blood of your brand and is the primary reason why your customers started buying your merch in the first place. This is the main reason why you ought to try all within your powers to carry your day ones along as you grow.

After I got seed funding for my online store (I keep referring to this because it was a critical event in the scheme of things), the pressure was on to deliver the numbers and with this came the death of our fun and creative brand story. We forgot our ethos. I didn’t notice this until a friend of mine; Karo Akpokiere brought this to my attention. I then realized we had gone adrift and started the process of steering the ship in the right direction.

The best way to stay true to your brand story is by making sure the story is “true” in the first place and something you the founder believe in and embody. This is the foundation of your brand and you cannot afford to fake it.

Image courtesy Plasticell

10. IF YOU AIN’T GOT THE CLIENTELE, SAY HELL NO.

Nothing beats the feeling when you finally start or launch your fashion brand. Euphoria. You’ve got to be careful though as the zeal that comes with this excitement greatly increases the tendencies for you to overestimate the market for your brand. This miscalculation will leave you with the one thing that all brands dread; Dead Stock. Selling fashion is kind of like selling ice cream; you’ve got to sell it all while it’s fresh, no one wants yesterday’s ice cream. Dead Stock is what is left over after you have satisfied the immediate demand from your core customers. You will need to re-up for your next collection so you do not want your capital tied up in unsold stock.

Accurately estimating or gauging the market for your brand is an art that even some veterans are still trying to master, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get it right the first time. It is a delicate balance as you need to just satisfy the demand without oversaturating the market with your merch. No one wants a brand that is everywhere but at the same time, if your brand is really hard to find and the demand is there, then someone else is going to help you meet that demand and probably with a knockoff of your brand.