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You’ve probably read our complete guide on How to Start a Clothing Brand. Maybe you’ve also taken a look at our Essential Steps to Starting a Clothing Store. But wouldn’t real-life advice from someone who’s been there just be the clincher? We know. We get it.
That’s why we’ve spoken to singer/rapper, creator, and businessman Kaysha about his clothing line Shadawear. Born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and raised in France, Kaysha is a well-known artist with over 246.5K monthly listeners on Spotify. He’s been nominated for an MTV Europe Award and won several Kora awards.
He’s also the owner of a successful print-on-demand clothing brand.
Interested in how he did it? In this article, we’ll share Kaysha’s top 6 tips for how to build a thriving apparel business using POD—and what you can do to get started today.
Kaysha knew early on that a brand’s purpose, why your business exists, has to be at the core of everything. “Even as a musical artist, I’d always say: think about what your message is, who you are, and what you want to convey with your brand. You need a reason why someone will come to you—listen to your music, buy your products—rather than somebody else. Once you have those answers you can create with a central goal or vision.” Defining an intention and solidifying your brand’s purpose will help you build trust, encourage engagement, and increase customer loyalty.
When Kaysha released his first album in the late ’90s, fans started asking for t-shirts. In the beginning, the record label would create some tees, get 200 or so printed in bulk, and give them to fans along with the CDs at autograph signings. But after two albums with Sony Music, he created his own label Sushiraw and started his journey as an independent artist.
“I knew from looking at American artists and how they’d use their brands to branch out to other things aside from music that I wanted to do the same.” So when it came time to create merch, he decided to go a different route.
“From the get-go I wanted Shadawear to be known as my brand, but I wanted people to be able to represent themselves rather than represent their fandom. So, I have one or two Kaysha t-shirts and some Sushiraw products—but Shadawear is first and foremost a clothing line.” Having this clear vision has helped Kaysha grow Shadawear into what it is today.
Interested in how you can better define your brand? Learn more with our Definitive Guide to Brand Storytelling.
In the beginning, Kaysha worked with various print-on-demand companies to produce his clothing line so that all his international customers could be served. He had one US-based company, another Australia-based company (that shipped to the UK), and yet another print-on-demand company based in France. He had to direct customers to different websites to get their needs met, and it was exhausting juggling it all.
He also didn’t like the fact that some of the companies he used weren’t white-label. His customers would have to create an account on the company’s website (not his own) and the site would often advertise other products to them.
Then he discovered Printful. “I was touring the world at that time, so I had no time to think about dealing with merch, handling stock, etc. I wanted something where I could have my site, do my clothing line, and have it be white-label. I was print-on-demand from the get-go, but Printful was the next level.”
You can easily make white-label products your own with original designs, distinctive branding, and personalized packaging. Find out more about custom branding for white label and POD products with Printful.
A well-designed and user-friendly online store is a must for any successful online clothing brand. The first step? Researching your options and making an informed decision about which ecommerce platform to use. Kaysha agrees: “Understand the differences between the various ecommerce platforms and online marketplaces. You have to study all of them and consider how their features meet your needs. That’s the technical part, so once you master it, you’re ready to create.”
Take a look at this ecommerce platform and online marketplace comparison to get a better idea of the different options. Or, if you want more in-depth info on the top platforms and marketplaces, check out this informative video:
Kaysha knows that getting started takes some time, but there are a ton of resources at your disposal. “Setting up pricing, figuring out shipping—all of that can be daunting, but it’s really important. Make sure you spend time learning about it.”
If you need help with pricing, review our Beginner’s Guide on How to Price Your Products Online and watch this Printful Academy lesson that goes into POD product pricing strategies.
And for shipping, don’t forget to check out this video tutorial on how to set up shipping rates with Printful.
Here’s a handy checklist to stay on track while you set up your store and build your online business.
Kaysha started out with t-shirts and hoodies, and went from there. Now Shadawear offers a wide range of different products (even kids clothes) and all of Printful’s fulfillment techniques (direct-to-garment printing, all-over print styles, embroidery).
How does he decide on which products to include in his collections? “I choose what I like and then I look at whether or not the product is available everywhere. I want all my customers to have the same opportunities to purchase the designs.”
Shadawear’s bestsellers are products that are emblematic of the brand. “Our t-shirts that say Africa is my DNA do really well. The Represent collection is also very popular because a lot of people in the African diaspora love to wear where they come from.”
For Kaysha, expanding his collections has come naturally: “It’s a means of self-expression when I design new products. I keep up with what’s being released and I see them as canvases for artistic expression.” He gets inspiration from different places, including major retailers like Zara or Pull & Bear. “When I go to the shops, the question isn’t ‘do I like it,’ it’s more, ‘can I do it myself.’ There’s a uniqueness in designing your own stuff and creating your own wardrobe.”
It helps that Kaysha isn’t afraid to experiment and evolve Shadawear’s offering based on what his audience wants. “As embroidery has gotten more popular, my designs have adapted. When I’m given the tools and different options, I’m going to try it out.”
He also recommends building excitement for additional apparel lines. “Once you’ve got some momentum, think about making seasonal collections or creating exclusive offers that are only available for a limited time.”
With POD, it’s easy to try out new products—all you have to do is create a design and then list your offer online. You can test what sells without upfront investments or worrying about leftover stock.
Kaysha has been active with social media marketing, and it’s paid off. Here are some strategies that have worked for Shadawear:
Reaching out to followers and influencers has been an effective way to get his clothing line out there. “When a dancer came to my show, I sent her leggings. I just said, ‘I’d love to send you something and in exchange for a post on your IG, I’ll use your photos to post on mine.’” It’s a win-win: followers get to try your products for free, and if they share the clothes on social media, it’s more exposure for your brand.
Collabs like this have also helped increase sales. For example, Kaysha recently offered a sweatshirt to a follower, which turned out to be a smart move. “It was just to connect with him and say ‘hey, I love your videos.’ I’ll always say ‘if you want to post a photo, here’s the name of the website, but you don’t have to.’ He posted a photo on his Twitter, and all of a sudden, I started getting notifications about sales. There was a real spike.”
Another great way that Kaysha promotes his brand is with freebies. “I’ll give away free t-shirts, etc. to Club Shada viewers on my Youtube channel. I’ve found that sending someone something is much more effective than, for example, paying for ads.”
Free products work to positively influence your followers’ perspectives about your brand. It can strengthen loyalty from current customers and also potentially inspire new customers to buy from you.
“Over the years, I’ve built a community to promote my music, but I can promote anything with it. My community is scattered around the world and people ask me all the time if I ship to their country. Most of them come from music, but others come from my YouTube channel or other platforms.” By regularly promoting Shadawear across social media, he’s able to create awareness with current followers and keep sales up.
Authentic engagement is the number one tactic that Kaysha has grown Shadawear with. “Don’t just be there pushing products, there’s a lot of saturation and people want a brand they can identify with.” What does he recommend?
Kaysha also insists that being consistent with how you post is a must. “You have to be disciplined and try to set up a posting schedule, for example 3 times a week.” And from time to time offer something to your best customers—it’s a nice way of thanking them for their loyalty.
Want to learn more strategies for successfully marketing your clothing line? Check out our article on How to Market a Clothing Brand Online.
For those who want to start a clothing brand but haven’t yet taken the plunge, Kaysha keeps it short and sweet: “choose Printful, it’s the best.”
Sarah is a Senior Content Writer at Printful with experience in editing, translation, and teaching. She holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and is passionate about language.
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