Saturday, July 12, 2014

Making Money with Zazzle: My Experience "Creating a New Fashion Brand"

I'm certainly no fashion designer, but I've always admired their collective sense of creativity and freedom. On a whim, they're able to take an epiphany or idea and make it a reality, morphing itself into a photogenic figure strutting its stuff down the catwalk. Truthfully, the nitty gritty of choosing fabric, selecting patters and contemplating styles bores me. It's the branding and cache that certain labels manage to acquire that I find fascinating.

Only a very small minority of shoppers actually pay close attention to fashion trends. The average shopper won't rush to buy a designers' new seasonal collection. In reality, most of us are looking for that luxury association, by way of sporting around an alligator, horse, sailboat, or some other recognizable brand affiliation on our shirt.

While I agree that a Polo Ralph Lauren shirt or Lacoste sneakers may outstrip their Wal-Mart brethren in quality and craftsmanship, consumers are mostly paying for the brand identity, which is meant to convey status. In my opinion, the difference in quality is very much a perception deeply drilled into our heads through a combination of magnanimous pricetags and glossy ads appearing in Vogue and Esquire.

At one point in my life, I tried to "beat the system" and only buy clothes that were unbranded. This morphed into shopping for name brand clothing at thrift stores, a pastime that I still very much enjoy. While I was channel surfing one leisurely night, a documentary about Tommy Hilfiger caught my eye. Someone who used to work for Hilfiger commented that his clothing went "from preppy to gangster and back to preppy."

The American public can be very finicky, but a little publicity can do wonders for a brand. Some famous rapper wears a logo shirt to the Grammy Awards, and the snowball effect can propel a brand into stardom in a matter of months. That's when it hit me: why don't I try to start my own "clothing line" and see if I can make it popular. Not that I expect to become the next Yves Saint Laurent, but it would be a learning experience and it would be fun.

I wanted some kind of logo or slogan that would be a little preppy, original, and play on my "international man of mystery" persona. I bounced a few ideas around in my head, and then something interesting came to mind.

A couple of years ago, I was traveling to Lagos, Nigeria quite frequently for work. While in Lagos, I was shocked to learn that the city has its very own yacht club, unsurprisingly called the Lagos Yacht Club. I don't know why, but this struck me as extraordinary. I couldn't get over the fact that a dangerous and corrupt African city where more than half the residents lived in severe poverty partook in what's commonly called "the sport of billionaires." It just seemed odd and out of place. I thought it would be amazing to have some type of keepsake from the Lagos Yacht Club, such as a t-shirt, but the security guard from my hotel cautioned that the trip would be dangerous and taxi drivers were not to be trusted. No t-shirt from the Lagos Yacht Club, but I had an idea.

That got the ball rolling, and soon I found myself settling on the "Yacht Club" theme for various villainous cities around the world. Kuwait City Yacht Club? Monrovia Yacht Club? Muscat Yacht Club? Finally, I settled on Vladivostok Yacht Club. Although I have never been to Vladivostok, it's one of the places I most want to visit. As a Russophile, I knew about Vladivostok's history as headquarters for the Soviet Navy's Pacific Fleet. Russia has continued the city's tradition as a naval port. The city's Far-East location is also interesting. Nestled close to the borders of China and North Korea, this outpost marks the tail end of Moscow's long grip over the Asian continent.

I got on Google and typed in the phrase "Vladivostok Yacht Club" just to make sure the city didn't already have one. To my shock and surprise, Vladivostok did indeed possess a thriving yacht club, called the "Seven Feet Yacht Club," along with an active sailing scene. No problem though, the name "Vladivostok Yacht Club" was still up for grabs.

The next step was designing the actual shirt. With no budget and an idea, I went with Zazzle.com. This way, I could design the shirt, buy one for myself, and benefit from the website's print-on-demand structure. The benefits were great-no inventory and a platform to easily sell and expand the clothing line. The design process was remarkably easy. I typed in "Vladivostok Yacht Club" in big letters, along with the phrase "Sail with the fleet" below it. I chose a sky blue shirt with slightly darker blue for the letters. An interesting font gave the t-shirt an intriguing look. A few graphics from the public domain really propelled the shirt to glory.

After about a month on Zazzle.com, I sold one shirt. I suppose that somebody with some kind of connection to Vladivostok bought the shirt. Little do they realize that they got in at the bottom of a huge trend in fashion! It's a good start, but I want more. I'll begin taking steps to market Vladivostok Yacht Club in a broader way, possibly using some guerilla tactics. For example, I live in New York City. Maybe I'll wake up early one morning and stand in front of the "Today Show" set in Rockefeller Center while wearing the shirt. Maybe I'll do it on a monthly bases? I'll definitely step up internet marketing of the shirt, visiting sailing blogs or Vladivostok pages on Facebook and Myspace, aggressively linking to my Zazzle store. Down the road, maybe I'll even invest in a website. I've considered www.VladivostokYachtClubClothing.com or something similar.

Zazzle also has a broad range of products for which to expand your idea. So far, I've extended the Vladivostok Yacht Club collection of products to include a mug, magnet, and keychain. Not bad since it took all of about 10 minutes. As with anything new, spreading the message and marketing the brand will prove to be the most challenging aspect of its success or failure. Whether Vladivostok Yacht Club will be compared with the likes of Paul & Shark, Lacoste, or Vineyard Vines remains to be seen. Check out the flagship Vladivostok Yacht Club shirt for yourself and let me know what you think!

Vladivostok Yacht Club T-shirt from Zazzle.com

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