Back in 2010 in the heart of New Orleans, 14-year-old friends Nicholas Clark and Marlon Watts embarked on a journey that would transform their lives and inspire countless others. Faced with the harsh reality of their impoverished backgrounds, Clark and Watts decided to take matters into their own hands. Their shared passion for fashion and a desire to support their struggling families led them to create something extraordinary: their very own clothing brand, WRLDINVSN
Their journey, marked by unwavering commitment and drive, serves as an inspiring beacon for aspiring entrepreneurs facing similar challenges. Today, as successful graduates of Louisiana Tech University, Clark and Watts stand as the dynamic forces behind WRLDINVSN, inspiring others to dream big, even on a limited budget. Check out seven valuable lessons on how to start an apparel brand on a budget, learning from the remarkable experiences of these two visionaries.
Lesson #1: Start small so you can save money and play the long game.
WRLDINVSN got creative with their nearly non-existent budget in the beginning. “We started with 12 shirts that we sold for $120, and we literally just flipped it: $120 to $240, and $500 to $1,000, but it was all trial and error,” Watts says. “ As we got bigger and wanted to produce more items, we had pre-drops where our family members pre-bought the whole collection. Our top customers, mainly family members, were actually paying for the collections to get done, and they got the merchandise at a discounted rate, so they were happy. They funded the actual collection, which we sold at a profit.”
Lesson #2: Identify your ideal buyer and then cultivate your community organically.
If you know who you’re designing your clothes for, you can start engaging with them online and in person. Part of this effort is figuring out where you can “meet” and engage with them, like social media and in-person interactions. “Before you go online, we always recommend going out there and selling your brand on the streets,” Clark says. “You’ve got to get on the streets first.”
As the WRLDIVSN’s founders, Watts and Clark know their brand and products better than anyone else to sell the gear. “As we did pop-up shops and meeting customers,” Watts says, “we could match our message online with our actual audience. Instead of being online and just seeing a customer’s name, we’re actually seeing people who want to support our brand, who they are and what they’re wearing.”
Answer some key questions along your journey so you understand what makes your buyers tick: Who are they? How old are they? What are their favorite apparel brands? Where do they shop? What’s their price point? Do they follow trends? What impacts their buying decisions? You’ll be able to build your brand more strategically, design products they want and distribute them in places they’ll encounter them in a cost-effective way, whether it’s on social media or working with a micro-influencer.
Lesson #3: Decide how you’ll source and create your products.
There are a few options for sourcing and designing your products that you may already know, but it’s important to choose the most budget-friendly path for your brand, including designing your own apparel and getting them manufactured by a vendor. You could also design your own apparel, and cut and sew it in-house.
However, the easiest way to start getting your apparel out there is buying premium products at competitive prices from a wholesaler like BELLA+CANVAS. As far as designing your apparel graphics and then decorating the t-shirts, you can also do it yourself or outsource the work to a graphic designer and a printer.
Lesson #4: Decide where to sell your products.
If you’re starting out, you can use affordable, easy-to-use ecommerce platforms like Shopify, Big Cartel or Etsy for your online store. Your first option is to create and sell custom-designed apparel through a print-on-demand service, where either you or a third party print and ship t-shirts only after a customer places an order. If a third party handles your POD service, you won’t need to deal with the hassle of inventory or upfront costs.
As you grow, you may also sell in pop-up shops or special events, mall kiosks, through local retailers or even national big-box chains. For their part, Clark and Watts say mall kiosks on three-month leases is one of the best ways to sell their products. “All we pay for is rent, the team members and merchandise,” Watts says. “We’re already around people who come into the mall to buy clothes, so it puts us in position to make that sale.”
However, they don’t shy away from selling online either. “We could sell 2,000 shirts in an hour,” Clark says. “You can’t carry 2,000 shirts at a mall kiosk, you know what I mean? So it’s only a certain amount of money you could actually make in that time span of being up. With the online space, it’s literally unlimited. People can keep coming as long as you have products.”
Lesson #5: Decide whether you want to do drops, collections or both.
WRLDINVSN does two product drops a week as they continue to grow their audience. “We build our base off of selling one or two items and gaining a mass amount of people,” Watts says. “Now, it’s like they want the next album. We’re putting out new merchandise for people who are hungry for it and want to tell others, ‘Oh, look what’s new.’”
The duo is always testing out the balance between doing drops or collections to see what resonates with buyers. “Frequent drops let you keep creating content and engaging,” Clark says. “If you do a collection, your advertising campaigns can go longer as you print and sell the shirts over a couple months.”
Lesson #6: As you grow, know when to hire help.
While Clark and Watts started their business doing everything themselves, from sewing on tags to shipping shirts, they got to a point where they knew they needed to pause and build a team. Now, with a thriving staff of 30 people, the duo is laser focused on building their brand to blow up, reaching thousands of new customers.
“We mapped out the aspects of the day-to-day operations like folding t-shirts, printing and shipping orders, and found people to start doing those tasks,” Clark says. “Marlon and I needed to only focus on what nobody else can do.”
Lesson #7: Don’t forget to nurture the intangible inner fire you bring.
As Clark and Watts have shown, they’re the faces behind the brand, but they’re also the brand. That means you have to continue cultivating yourself along the way. “You don’t just have to invest money,” Watts says. “Invest in yourself and knowledge. Seek out mentors and read books. Look at who and what you surround yourself with, since that’s what you become.”
Finally, Clark advises being consistent. “That’s one of the hardest things because you could start off with firepower, you know what I mean?” he says. “And then you could just go down. So, continue to be consistent.”
Clark and Watts’ entrepreneurial journey offers valuable lessons for aspiring entrepreneurs with limited budgets on how starting small, engaging withy our audience and making wise sourcing decisions can launch your brand into the bigger leagues. The road ahead involves consistent growth, strategic hires and a continuous investment in personal and business development. As you forge your path, remember their key takeaways: perseverance, adaptability and a genuine connection with your buyers will propel you toward sustained success.