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the philosopher's shirt
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The Philosopher’s Guide to Success

By Reading Time: 4 minutes

This blog article is based on an interview with the founders of the Philosopher’s Shirt. Subscribe to Printful on YouTube to never miss a video!

Turns out that philosophy is not just a pursuit of knowledge, it can also be an incredibly fun and lucrative business—Markus and Alex, the owners of The Philosopher’s Shirt are the perfect example.

Launched in 2016, the Philosopher’s Shirt is a gold mine for philosophy enthusiasts, and, as Markus puts it, “book nerds”. Shoppers can find t-shirts, hoodies, coffee mugs, posters, and other products with funny philosophy memes and references to famous philosophers, like Aristotle, Nietzsche, Foucault, and others on their store.

The Philosopher’s Shirt was born in 2016. Markus had recently graduated with a degree in philosophy and psychology and worked in a marketing agency. He noticed a lot of ads with stores selling graphic t-shirts, and realized that selling t-shirts could be a fantastic business opportunity. An idea popped in his mind—why not sell philosophy-themed merch? 

That’s exactly what Markus did and opened The Philosopher’s Shirt. After a while, he teamed up with Alex, a graphic designer. Markus is the idea generator (with more than 200 ideas on their Trello board) and Alex takes care of the designs.

The Philosopher’s Shirt mission

When asked about their business mission, the answer is simple—“be bold, entertain, and educate.” Not only do they sell apparel with witty philosophical puns and jokes, but the two men also invest time and energy to explain philosophical concepts to their customers who might not understand them. For example, Markus and Alex explain the meaning behind philosophy memes in their blog and their Instagram posts’ comment section.

the philosopher's shirt
Source: @the_philosophers_shirt

Above all things, the founders value the close connection with their audience. From writing emails to creating designs, Markus and Alex do everything themselves and can proudly say that they maintain a direct line with their shoppers. 

Markus shares an example of this close connection. A Philosopher’s Shirt follower, a philosophy professor in South America, even borrowed Markus’ idea to make her classes more fun for her students, and now runs meme contests. Whenever she has a seminar on the German philosopher Hegel, the best meme wins a special prize.

Markus and Alex are relieved to be entirely free to post whatever they want on social media. There aren’t any guidelines that regulate how they should present themselves to their audience. As Alex puts it, “The Philosopher’s Shirt is like our baby, our brand, and we can shape it however we want it.”

The key to their success

Although the store is doing well now, it wasn’t so easy in the beginning. When Markus launched the store, there already were businesses similar to his. Or, as Markus puts it, “The cake was already eaten.” However, Markus and Alex didn’t despair and focused on the things that would make them stand out from the competition

Here’s what Markus and Alex did to succeed.

  • Picked good quality products from a reliable print-on-demand provider. Alex explains that other stores that sold philosophy-themed apparel, offered cheap and poor-quality products. For The Philosopher’s Shirt owners, quality was more important than price, so they chose Printful, even though their products seemed pricey in comparison to other companies. As Markus points out, “highly-priced products are often seen by the customers as better quality”.
  • Used paid advertising to stand out. Paid ads were one of the most important tools Markus and Alex used to create a recognizable brand identity. They targeted Tik Tok, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.
  • Provided excellent customer service. The Philosopher’s Shirt has a 5-star rating on Trustpilot. Their secret? They engage with their customers in a “non-commercial way,” according to Alex. This means that they communicate with their customers directly in the comment section of their Instagram posts, send subscribers a weekly newsletter with the best memes curated and explained by Markus and Alex, and more. The founders are convinced—if they show their clients that there “are people behind the business”, then customers will be more likely to buy from them.
  • Had a well-defined niche. Markus says that not everyone gets their designs and that’s fine. After all, it’s impossible to please everyone and it’s not the goal of The Philosopher’s Shirt either. As Markus explains, their target audience mainly consists of philosophy students and university professors. It’s primarily people with previous knowledge of philosophy who would appreciate their designs and the ideas behind them.

As far as order management goes, Markus and Alex knew that Printful was the right choice. They picked Printful because of the possibility to integrate with Shopify, premium product quality, and outstanding branding options. Alex remembers, “we didn’t even consider other POD providers, it was always Printful”. 

Advice for other store owners

For Alex, the biggest thing to keep in mind is superb customer service. He claims that “a happy customer will always return.” 

Markus says that as a store owner you’ll have to do and know about a lot of things you’ve never encountered before, like taxes, data protection laws in your country, shipping costs, pricing strategies. For those beginner store owners who might feel overwhelmed with everything they’ll have to tackle, Markus advises choosing one topic you really like and making it your master skill, whether it’s social media marketing, web design, or something else.

As Markus says, in ecommerce, there’s always the possibility to learn more. He points out that “your quest is to dig deeper and understand—you might feel like Sisyphus rolling the stone, but remember that you can succeed if you don’t give up. It’s always possible, so keep on trying.”

Marta is a Content Marketing Specialist at Printful with a background in Social Anthropology. She's passionate about marketing, UX research, and the Oxford comma.

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