The Value of T-Shirts at BPMCAMP

Scott Francis
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IMG_8595We printed some great t-shirts for BPMCAMP, and then coincidentally I saw a post that made the topic worth writing about on the blog as well.

Just recently local Austin entrepreneur Joshua Baer posted on Medium on the subject of startup t-shirts: “Your $4 t-shirt is costing you millions“.

“I’m as cheap as the next entrepreneur, but I’m here to make the case for spending twice as much on your t-shirts so that you get 10 times the value from them.”

His key point is that the cheap $4-5 wholesale shirts – no one is going to wear them.  So you’re really just wasting the money. But a really high quality shirt will be worn all the time -by your team, and by anyone else who likes the shirt.  For a consumer brand or product, this is a great marketing tool. But even for a specialized or enterprise product, the community is smaller than you might think – your employees are likely to run into your target customer audience more often than you might guess based on their percentage of the population.  Techies run in tech circles and they’ll get to know each other.

“My shirt of choice these days is by Canvas, but other good brands include Pima, Next Level, and of course American Apparel. My favorite for softness is the tri-blend 50% Polyester, 25% Cotton, 25% Rayon.”

I agree – once we discovered Canvas, I was sold.  That’s our shirt of choice (and the tear-away tag isn’t a bad thing either).  Josh has some great advice about your t-shirts: including putting the year in the design, paying a designer to help, and not making white t-shirts.  And he had a nice shout-out to Outhouse Designs, who have been at it forever in Austin, and are a great local option.

But going back further, I think Adam Nash has written the standard of practice when it comes to t-shirts and company culture here.

“In a rare combination of serendipity, passion, and empowerment, I personally ended up with one of those unspoken roles: the most prodigious producer of LinkedIn t-shirts.”

So why do t-shirts matter, according to Nash (now CEO of Wealthfront)?

  1. Empowerment
  2. Incentives
  3. Tribal Cohesion (if you’re in the tribe, you have the shirt)
  4. Tenure based seniority – based on how old your oldest t-shirt is!  (I always wonder if this is why there are a subset of newer employees who always try to get the oldest possible shirts!)
  5. Branding

Adam Nash posted a second time on the subject to explain his views on how to make a great t-shirt.

We certainly aren’t keeping up with the pace Nash recommends: a new t-shirt every quarter – but we’re getting better with t-shirts.

Our first t-shirt failed the comfort test – we gave them away at career fairs but I wonder how many times they were worn after the first wash. Our next one was a variation on the simple “centered-logo” premise that Josh wrote about in his post.  Our team still wears this around the office a lot.  But now we have four new shirts from BPMCAMP pictured in this blog post, and during the conference we made a bit of performance art out of it by having the t-shirts dyed while you watch (made to order, so to speak).  Our friends at Native Factories (another awesome Austin-based company) did a great job producing our shirts live at our customer reception – of course, we had some pre-printed as well for those who were too impatient!

The end-result was a big success – I couldn’t make up my mind so I got one of each design…  and judging by the smiles, we did well with the shirts this year.  I have to thank the creative team at Red Velvet Events for interpreting our guidance to produce such great, unique designs – that don’t over-emphasize the brand, so that they’ll be shirts both our employees and our fans can feel comfortable wearing.

So what’s the value of a t-shirt at BPMCAMP?  First of all, we’re welcoming attendees into the club – only people who attended will have these shirts.  We wanted to produce something that would be fun to wear, and respectful of the person wearing the shirts (branded but not obnoxiously so), and something that will be flattering to wear.  We also enjoyed exposing a little bit of the behind-the-scenes process of printing t-shirts to our customers – we paid more to do so, but we liked the results.

You’re always looking to tie things together when you produce and event for your team and for customers; it felt like we hit it on the head this time.

PS- I was wearing the “where food trucks are fine dining” shirt as I wrote this post.