Launching A Menswear Brand During COVID Lockdown
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Anastasia Osindero, and I’m a designer! I launched my menswear brand, Boystrous, in August 2020 during lockdown with a collection of graphic t-shirts sporting graphics I made and printed myself at home.
The most popular t-shirt has been the All Love t-shirt - quickly followed by the slogan t-shirts. The t-shirts drew the attention of men and women and even captured the interest of influencers such as Josh Denzel whom I have had the honor of gifting a t-shirt to.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
As an artist at heart, I’ve always loved the opportunity to create something. My interest in design was accelerated in the sixth form where I found myself sculpting and using light to paint shadows for various A-Level art installations. This is also where I had my first experience with Photoshop, using it to manipulate images for my year 12 art project.
I somehow went on to study Information Technology and in my placement year, ended up as a content creator for a start-up company. This is where I taught myself to do more than photo manipulation, and I learned how to make logos, flyers, and to illustrate and edit videos. Throughout my degree, I dabbled in modeling, fashion, and graphic design experimentation - freelancing as a graphic designer and remixing the clothes in my wardrobe when I couldn’t find anywhere to buy the clothes I had in my mind, or if I simply couldn’t afford it. My mother still yells at me for cutting up my clothes to turn them into something else to this day.
After my placement year, I decided that graphic design was what I wanted to pursue, but I was determined to finish my IT degree. Close to my finish in 2019, I thought about starting a modest clothing line for women. When I relayed this information to my partner and shared some of my ideas with him, he said “that sounds cool! I’d wear that if it was for men…”. It was a lightbulb moment!
There’s an undeniable gap in the market for a go-to store for men, in the same way, that women have PrettyLittleThing or Missguided, to name a few, and I knew the struggle my partner had in finding a store that was consistently his style preference. I then pondered over some name choices before ‘Boystrous’, a rebellious spelling of the word ‘boisterous’ came to mind.
As a graphic designer, it was easy to navigate from designing logos and flyers to creating patterns for t-shirts. I was able to test my designs on male and female friends around me to deduce the likeability of the garments. I had been working at Tesco during the lockdown of March 2020 a few weeks after I had gained the courage to register Boystrous. Before my temporary contract ended in late June, I had been able to invest in my business using my earnings, investing in a batch of plain t-shirts, a heat press machine, and a printer. This allowed me to create my first collection.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I started designing through Photoshop, playing around with texts, colors, and sketches from Illustrator to create eye-catching graphics. I was constantly checking the designs with my partner and his friends to see if they were something men would be interested in.
My next step was to purchase a heat press machine and acquire a batch of t-shirts in black and white to print on. For the heat transfer process, I also needed to acquire a printer to print out the designs on the compatible heat transfer paper.
I had finalized my designs based on the test group and testing some extra designs on the t-shirts before finalizing them. This is where I played around with print positioning and ensured the prints were in the right position on the t-shirts.
The t-shirts were sourced from a wholesale t-shirt manufacturer that provided removable label t-shirts so that I could personalize the t-shirts to the Boystrous brand name.
To find the wholesale supplier I had to order samples from other companies to review the quality of the t-shirts and to ensure they were good enough for my brand to be affiliated with.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Two weeks leading up to my launch I used the giveaway strategy. I conducted a giveaway on the brand Instagram spanning the two weeks before the website went live to draw attention to the t-shirts as well as to gain followers for what was to come. This rapidly grew my following and engagement on my social media platforms.
Don’t hold back! Start with something eye-catching, unique, and memorable. Find your niche and harness it - nobody does what you do, quite like you do.
Similarly, with a week to go, I ran paid ads on my Instagram and Pinterest as these were the two platforms where I had the most interest from potential customers. These ads increased the traffic to the respective platforms as well as an increase in sign-ups to the mailing list. The mailing list was advertised with the incentive that those who signed up would receive a 10% off that non-sign-ups would not get. This attracted potential customers to sign-up with the guarantee that they would receive a unique discount code for the store.
Previously, I had conducted a survey given to 15 randomly selected males aged 18-30 to ask them about their shopping habits - the survey ended with the option to sign up for a mailing list for an upcoming menswear brand. This was another way to gain traffic for the launch.
I used Shopify to build my website as I wanted to use a stress-free e-commerce platform that automatically integrated aspects such as various payment methods and shopping basket retention. I purchased a theme that I felt mirrored the aesthetic of Boystrous and continue to use it to this day.
Days before my website went live, I encountered a very frustrating issue - the print on the t-shirts crinkle when washed. This meant that although the printing method worked perfectly and looked amazing - the quality of the t-shirts would not match my initial price markup. It also meant that customers wouldn’t be able to enjoy their t-shirts for long before their prints started cracking!
Naturally, I panicked. I made a plan to operate on a pre-sale basis instead to enable me to buy the t-shirts with the advanced payments from the store. But who would want to wait 4 weeks for a t-shirt?! Thankfully this issue only occurred with the white, All Love t-shirts, so I was able to move forward with the other designs and plan to get the t-shirts printed another way as the launch went forward.
Boystrous was fully funded with my own money from my Tesco gig. A friend of mine very kindly offered to pay for my Shopify theme as she had recently launched her own brand and wanted me to have a stress-free start, and my partner bought 5 t-shirts in advanced, allowing me to buy a bulk of All Love t-shirts of higher quality, using a better print method.
The All Love t-shirts were then uploaded as a pre-sale item as the t-shirt printing company I found would take 2 weeks to print and dispatch the t-shirts. It’s safe to say that from this launch, I’ve learned to thoroughly quality check and test your items long before you launch. Iron out every possible risk and have a contingency plan in place, as well as spare funds for a potentially expensive mishap.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Posting consistently has definitely helped in attracting and retaining customers. This means there is daily traffic to my store because my social media platforms are always drawing attention to the store and the available products. Paying for social media ads also increased traffic to my website by 90%. I found it was more effective to tag the call-to-action to be visiting the site as opposed to our Instagram, and making sure the social media platforms are available on the website for them to follow.
The most effective content that garnered high engagement and conversion to sales were those which included men casually wearing the clothes as opposed to images of the items on their own, not being modeled or worn. Below is a comparison of an un-promoted post versus a £20 promotion post:
I promoted the same image on Pinterest and had a much better conversion. Compared to the 4 website visits from the Instagram ad, the Pinterest promotion garnered 132 website clicks. This is increased the website traffic by about 33% and from this outcome, Pinterest has become my preferred method of promotion as the users are more engaging and proactive.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
After comparing my brand to other recently launched, successful businesses, I have decided to take a different route with the products. I started with t-shirts because I was able to afford them with my budget and t-shirts are an undeniable staple in a man’s wardrobe. However, what this journey has taught me is that you can function via a presale basis if you do not currently have the funds you require. Bearing this in mind, I have chosen to do somewhat of a re-launch for Boystrous. The t-shirts will remain on the site, but a new caliber of apparel is arriving.
Overall Boystrous has made about 16% of the total spent on starting up the business. Though this is incredibly low turnover, I have not been disheartened as I know there is more in store for the brand. The next capsule of Boystrous is mock-silk shirts and other vibrant garments.
Make sure you start your business with enough funds in case your business doesn’t break-even or make a profit in the first 2-3 months.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I’ve learned to make the most of the resources I have. Although launching a business with ready-to-ship items using my own finances has been rewarding and commendable by some, I believe a better use of the resources would have been to invest in a collection of samples and then to operate via a pre-sale basis. This would have allowed me to assess the level of interest for the items and to rest assured I had put out my best work.
The marketing decisions made were effective in bringing traffic and creating brand awareness. Even after paid campaigns are no longer running, there are still a handful of users coming to the page and spending an average of 2 minutes on the site. My takeaway from the lack of conversion to sales is that the items are not captivating enough to be purchased, hence my decision to move to the more exciting designs in my roster.
Being a graphic designer has been a great help in the online presence of the store. My skills have been utilized not only to design the logo but to create every social media asset and marketing asset used. This saved me the cost of using a service such as Canva for my promotional assets.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I use Shopify as the hub for Boystrous. I love the seamless integration between apps such as eBay, Facebook, and Instagram shop and courier services such as DHL and Royal Mail. It is also incredibly easy to use and to personalize into the site of your dreams, depending on the aesthetic you desire and the theme you choose as the foundation for the layout.
I have also used the below to upload my t-shirt designs to other items such as phone cases and hoodies. This has been a recent venture and hasn’t produced tangible results as of yet:
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Firstly - don’t hold back! Start with something eye-catching, unique, and memorable. Find your niche and harness it - nobody does what you do, quite like you do. This is especially pertinent if you’re venturing into a saturated market - what sets you apart? What is it that you’re going to do that’s different or better than those who already do it?
Secondly, make sure you start your business with enough funds in case your business doesn’t break-even or make a profit in the first 2-3 months. The aim is for your business to at least be self-sufficient and do not need your personal funds for investing in it further.
Finally - marketing moves mountains! When planning for your company budgets, ensure at least 10% of your finances is dedicated to marketing. Marketing is how your brand increases in ubiquity and ensures its presence has a reach beyond your social following. Invest in captivating visuals - whether through photography or digital art - and push these visuals with marketing. The more captivating the visuals are, the more likely your traffic will convert to sales.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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