“Nice Shirt, Bro!” Best Practices For Startup T-Shirts

GiveForward's Ethan Austin & the "Giveasaurus" at EE Cincinnati

GiveForward’s Ethan Austin & the “Giveasaurus” at EE Cincinnati


Maybe, at a recent event, you found yourself gawking at startup teams who came dressed for the event wearing their company’s swag and thought, “That’s awesome! How do I get shirts for my startup?”

We boot-strappers know that every penny needs to be carefully spent and maxing out our credit card ordering t-shirts just doesn’t make sense. We also understand that our shirts need to be just right to convey our brand message while looking cool. And believe it or not, there is a certain unspoken standard you should abide by.

From experience with my startup, I have devised these four easy tips to make a great startup t-shirt.

1.     STAND OUT – Pick a style and color that will get you noticed. Hopefully you already chose a bright color for your brand that will easily translate into shirt form. If not, pick a close color or iterate your logo/image to work with the shirt color. Thankfully, with BTSocial, we used organge as our main color which really stands out at events. Not to step on any toes, but blue is way overdone. The biggest tech companies all have blue in the brand sceme. Be bold and different. I think yellow looks really nice this time of year.

2.     KEEP IT SIMPLE – We’re not talking about printing a whimsical graphic T or some amazing rendering from Threadless. You just need a simple and clear representation of your brand that people can understand. Ideally, it would be good to translate your logo to solid white and print it on your bright colored shirt. Not only is this easy on the eyes, but also saves you on multi-color printing costs. The folks at SpotHero are all about this. Your design should also be easy to read and not too wordy. Your logo and call to action are good, but don’t overdo it with a long tagline in a small font that’s too hard to read, requiring us to practically bury our face in your chest. Awkward.

3.     USE THE BACK – Your shirt has a lot of real estate and while it shouldn’t be overused, it also shouldn’t be wasted. Many companies also do back printing, so add something to the back across the shoulder blades so that even when your back is turned you’re showing off your brand. With our BTSocial shirts, we put our website address on the back. It’s also fun to turn around and show people the back in conversation.

4.     COORDINATE YOUR TEAM – When you’re heading to an event with your startup, whether you’re pitching or not, have everyone wear their shirt – its obviously a great way to get noticed. Now, not all events are suitable for your shirts. Some are formal and require a tie, so throwing a sport coat over your t-shirt to make a Silicon Valley Tuxedo is not always acceptable. Look at your industry for best practices. Also, if you are going to a lot of events and wearing your shirts frequently, make sure they are clean. This should really go unsaid, but don’t wear the same exact shirt in the sweaty summer heat to TechWeek. People will notice those pit stains!

Tim Hines is an entrepreneur, consultant, and speaker based in the Chicago area. Follow him @tnhines.

A version of this post first appeared on Tim’s blog.


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