How to Design + Order Cool Merch.
Merch, it seems to be a coveted item for a youth group to have, but how realistic is it? How difficult is it to bring together? How do you talk to printers? Where do you order from? I’m going to give you some basic tips, tricks, and how-tos. We are revealing all!!!
Step 1: Brainstorm!
You need to start brainstorming the next season of merch at least 3 months in an advance. If you want really custom pieces with high quality/high demand products as your base, you need to give your printers at least 2 months. Don’t rush this. Now this doesn’t apply if you are just ordering a simple t-shirt with a print on the front and back. Then you just about 2 weeks to brainstorm and design, and 2 weeks for printers to print and deliver.
There is nothing new under the sun. Everything is an inspiration from another thing. Where are you pulling your inspiration from? The end goal of youth ministry merch is not to be the most original, but to create a product that your students like well enough that are willing to pay for it and wear it on a regular basis. Why is that important? Because the purpose of merch is NOT to make you look cool but to get your youth group name out in the schools. The goal is for your students to wear something that makes them feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves, a part of a family. It gives them ownership. “This is MY youth group, I’m proud of it, and you should come.”
I say all this because most of our ideas are not really that original. We search ASOS, Zara, Fear of God, and other famous people and basically take what they’ve made and make it our own.
An example of this would be our newly released blue kangaroo distressed patch crew neck sweater. We found this pink hoodie online and changed out the base garment and the word to be our own.
Once you have your inspiration picked out, order that product and send it to your printers. There they can tell you the best options for material and cost, and how much time they will need to make it. Sending them an image of the product is not sufficient; you need to physically send the printers the garment you want to be made. This is vital. Experience has taught us this more than anything else when it comes to producing merch. If you walk away with nothing else except for this piece of advice then I’ve made a difference in this world.
Now that you have your inspiration, you need to sketch out your designs, and then make a mock-up on the computer. There is not much detail to give here that is not already widely known.
Step 3: Emailing and sending your mockups to your printer.
- Attach .ai files, your size breakdown (I recommend more mediums and L and XL than any other size.), and the date you want the product in hand.
- Explain with examples how big you want your print to be on the shirt, and the location with pictures to show. (When you print something on shirts, know that on different sizes the print will be smaller or bigger depending on the size of the garment. I’d really communicate with your printer on what size garment you want your print to be sized to. So if you tell them you want a print that fills the whole sleeve. Do you mean the whole sleeve of a small sized shirt or a large size shirt? That makes a difference)
- Call your printer and walk through every detail to make sure you are on the same page.
- Send a recap email to cover anything you discussed or changes you made.
NEVER ASSUME they will understand what you want just by your mock-up.
Step 4: Picking and Ordering your Garments.
You should already be in communication with your printers. I suggest Wünder Print and Design in NYC because they will be able to direct you to which garments match your inspiration best. If you don’t want your company to sew completely custom garments then you are going to be greatly restricted by the type of garments you can print on, and here is why. Not every garment you find online is wholesale and not every wholesale product is available to your printer. The availability depends on who they have a dealers account with and the availability of that dealer.
Listed below is the chain of command for products.
The company who makes the product -> The wholesaler -> The Printers -> You
Here’s a great example of that.
Comfort Colors (A sub-brand of Gildan) -> AlphaBroder.com -> Your Printer of Choice -> You.
You personally cannot order from most wholesale companies without a particular license.
So why is this all important?
Because sometimes you will find a product you want from the company who makes the product but the wholesaler your printer buys from does not have it in stock or even carry it, therefore you can’t order it. This happens often.
Here is a list of wholesale companies I recommend in a rough order of pricing and quality. (High to low)
- American Apparel Wholesale (This company makes really unique garments, with trendy colors like baby blues and pinks, but they are really expensive and their quality isn’t necessarily #1)
- Comfort Colors Tees (This is the long sleeve of all long sleeves, this is what colleges and sorority wear.)
- Alternative Apparel (Have really unique garments, and colors, they even have worn, and torn garments but are getting up there in price)
- AS Colour (Have yet to order from them but they are super trendy and have this really cool book that breaks down everything about each wholesale product. They are based in Australia so ordering from them may require more time. I’m not even sure about their pricing.)
- Bella Canvas (Unique fabrics and prints, soft, decently priced)
- Next Level (Really soft, great price, now very unique products)
- Gildan (Dirt Cheap, feels like plastic)
When it comes to ordering hats and or beanies, just have your printers help you find something comparable to the hat you picked from your inspiration.
And now, here’s
Once you have your printers mockups approved, and you know the dates of delivery. Ask for tracking numbers, plan a merch photoshoot, and wait for the arrival of your product!