Learn How 5 Famous T-shirt Brands Achieved Success - GearLaunch (2023)

June 8, 2016

Once upon a time, branding was simple–it was a logo here, a splash of color there, and maybe even a tagline. But as consumers evolved, so too did their need for branding that meant something. Today, consumers crave stories about passion, good-will, and courage. Brands that fail to meet the bar are quickly left in the dust, while those that do are just as quickly rewarded with a boost in social media standing, today’s gold standard.

While this is a relatively new development for many companies, there are a handful of old-school cool cats who found huge success using this approach before anyone knew what it was–long before social media was born. Their continued success is a testament to the power of originality and passion.

But don’t just take our word for it. See for yourself: How 5 Famous T-shirt Brands Achieved Success

1. STUSSY

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Stussy magazine ad 1983 (left) and Stussy Summer 2016 Lookbook (right)

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The founder of the iconic Stussy brand, Shawn Stussy, started as a surfboard shaper who just wanted to sell some boards. In a promotional effort, Stussy printed t-shirts with the same signature he placed on his surfboards and made his way to his first surfboard trade show. The promotional effort turned out to be a hit, but ironically it was the t-shirts that everyone wanted.

The uniqueness of Stussy’s signature drove the initial demand for his t-shirts–the graffiti styling was actually inspired by his artist uncle, Jan Stussy. However, the ongoing demand and consistent recognition of the brand as an icon of streetwear happened because Stussy did what many other brands had yet to discover:

    • Consistency: When Stussy found his niche in casual streetwear, he consistently stayed true to its brand and never followed flashy trends. To this day, Stussy apparel still rocks the unique signature, unique designs, and the laidback attitudes of its first supporters.
    • Word-of-mouth: Throughout its history, the brand has chosen to ignore marketing–relying instead on the influence and recognition of its fans, both big and small. Stussy never had to tell others it was a cool brand, everyone else was already doing it for them.
    • Exclusivity: Stussy kept tight control over the brand’s distribution and availability. Demand rose because he supplied new products in limited batches and kept his brand outside of major retailers. Today, the sheer size of the brand has pushed it into several large retailers, but it still offers exclusive releases only available at Stussy boutiques.

2. JOHNNY CUPCAKES

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Original Johnny Cupcakes tee (left) and Johnny Cupcakes Red Plumber Crossbones tee 2016 (right)

Johnny Earle, better known as Johnny Cupcakes, started his line of t-shirts as a joke. Co-workers often added new last names to his first name–Johnny Appleseed, Johnny Pancakes, Johnny Come-Lately, etc. “Johnny Cupcakes” happened to be the latest rendition while Earle was designing a t-shirt for his band and wanted to add a nickname for himself. Fifteen years and a lot of elbow grease later, the joke has become a wildly popular brand with its own cult following.

What is it about Johnny Cupcakes that causes thousands of fans to tattoo themselves with his signature cupcake and crossbones or stand in long lines for a t-shirt?

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    • Exclusivity: Everything about the Johnny Cupcakes brand is tightly controlled. Fans can only purchase goods directly from the Johnny Cupcakes website or at one of four Johnny Cupcakes boutiques. The brand is also known for extremely limited special releases.
    • Word-of-mouth: Similar to Stussy, Johnny Cupcakes never relied on traditional advertising. Its unique designs piqued the initial interest from locals, but Johnny Cupcakes has grown majorly by word-of-mouth. Whether it’s the novelty of the bakery-themed stores, the personal packaging, or the winding lines for a product release, the brand is always generating positive buzz from fans.

Story: Even more loved than the brand is the man behind it all. Even after 15 years, it’s fair to say that the Johnny Cupcakes brand is an extension of its founder, Johnny Earle. His insistence on overseeing every detail creates a personal experience with his fans. They sympathize with his underdog story–selling t-shirts out of his car in between gigs–and more than appreciate the meticulous attention he still pays to every shirt.

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3. BUSTEDTEES

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BustedTees GILF 2004 (left) and BustedTees Rick Astley For President (2016) (right)

In comparison, BustedTees is slightly newer to the t-shirt scene. Good friends Ricky Van Veen, Josh Abramson, Zach Klein, and Jacob Lodwick started the side business as a fun means to pay for the costs of maintaining CollegeHumor.com. The team sat down in March 2004 to sketch out 10 shirt designs, and the funny T-shirts were an instant hit with the CollegeHumor fan base.

BustedTees’ success relied on factors different from Stussy and Johnny Cupcakes:

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    • Niche: The co-founders knew their target audience inside and out, having established a loyal fanbase on CollegeHumor. Knowing their niche so well enabled BustedTees to create t-shirts that consistently resonated with fans. A decade later and they remain consistent in marketing funny content to their 18-28 year old demographic.
    • Advertising: BustedTees relied on traditional advertising by placing ads onto CollegeHumor’s site. Considering BustedTees and CollegeHumor shared the same audience and similar content, this move worked tremendously well.
    • Originality: While BustedTees’ designs may occasionally raise eyebrows (it is geared toward 18-28 year olds after all), the brand continues to make efforts to remain humorous and original. If BustedTees were to offer shirts everyone else offered, its customers would have little incentive to return.

4. LIFE IS GOOD

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Original drawing of Jake from April 1994 (left) and Jake on a t-shirt 2017 (right)

When brothers Bert and John Jacobs started the Life is Good brand in 1994 with $78 dollars and 48 t-shirts featuring a stick-figure named Jake, they never would have guessed they were starting a $100 million business. Today, Life is Good merchandise can be found in over 4,500 stores in 30 countries, but you may be surprised to hear what the brothers are not doing.

Advertising.

Instead, their approach can be summed up in the rather hippie expression: “spreading good vibes.”

That very optimism originally kept the brothers afloat in the years prior to Life is Good as they hawked their wares up and down the northeastern coast, surviving on PB&J sandwiches and living out of their van. Following a particularly unsuccessful trip, the brothers debated whether they should give it all up and get “real” jobs. The discussion sparked the idea for the Life is Good company.

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Having made the decision to not rely on traditional advertising, the brothers relied on different means:

    • Charity: Their commitment to raising money for charitable causes guarantees brand awareness. By aligning the Life is Good brand with the conviction that exists in everyone, it endlessly expands the brand’s potential to not only succeed, but to also do good.
    • Word of mouth: Life is Good donates a portion of every purchase to a cause, making every purchase feel like a small badge of honor. Fans proudly wear the Life is Good brand as walking advertisements to their friends and family everywhere. Additionally, the brand backs causes in a way that requires all participants to rally up supporters–anyone who didn’t know about Life is Good certainly will now.
    • Collaboration: The powerful message behind Life is Good has attracted many influencers, creating even more opportunities to amplify the brand.

5. UGMONK

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Ugmonk 1st anniversary t-shirt (left) and Ugmonk Spring 2017 Ripple Effect t-shirt (Right)

After launching Ugmonk in August 2008 with just 4 designs and 200 total shirts, things accelerated quickly for founder Jeff Sheldon. Within 2 years, the fledgling clothing business grew from a side project to a full time operation.

Ugmonk openly admits they do not heavily rely on traditional advertising. Their success can be attributed to several factors:

    • Word of mouth: Sheldon maintains an open line of communication with his fanbase and relies on organic user-generated content to spread the word about Ugmonk. The result? Ugmonk merchandise has made its way into 62 different countries.
    • Unique: When Sheldon drew the first designs for Ugmonk, he knew he wanted simplicity–something that did not exist with mainstream t-shirt designs in 2008. At the time, it was the trend to sport wildly designed t-shirts. Ugmonk chose to express wit and personality through bold colors, typography, and clever concepts. It was a hit.
    • Charity: If we’ve learned anything from Life is Good, it’s that people will stand behind a brand with a cause. Ugmonk is no different. Every holiday season, the brand partners with Rice Bowl to feed hungry children.

HONORABLE MENTION: ANIMAL HEARTED APPAREL

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Featured Animal Hearted Apparel

At GearLaunch, we’re always keeping an eye out for noteworthy newcomers in the ecommerce space. Animal Hearted Apparel has recently caught our eye, using a combination of the success tactics we mentioned above.

    • Charity: Animal Hearted Apparel donates 25% of proceeds from every order to a non-profit animal shelter or rescue.
    • Word of mouth: Animal Hearted Apparel participates actively on social media, but also proactively encourages fan participation through user-generated content (selfies, pet selfies, selfies with pets, etc.). This type of content not only acts as a testament for their products but also marketing for the brand since the content reaches beyond Animal Hearted’s existing fans.

Inspired to launch your own brand? Get started the easy way with GearLaunch.

FAQs

Which brand of t-shirt is best? ›

Top 10 T-shirt brands in India
  1. Levi's. Levi's is an American clothing brand that was founded in the year 1853. ...
  2. Arrow. The brand Arrow is a well-known, established American clothing brand. ...
  3. Blackberrys. Blackberry was founded in the year 1991 by Mohan Clothing Pvt ltd. ...
  4. Jack & Jones. ...
  5. Louis Philippe. ...
  6. Mufti. ...
  7. Pepe Jeans. ...
  8. Nike.

What people made T shirts popular? ›

In 1950, Marlon Brando famously donned a white t-shirt as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, only to be followed by James Dean in 1955's Rebel Without a Cause. Thanks to these two founding fathers, the popularity of the t-shirt as a stand-alone outerwear garment skyrocketed.

How can I improve my t-shirt business? ›

7 Budget-Friendly T-Shirt Marketing Strategies for Your Business
  1. Research Your Target Audience. Who is your company's target market? ...
  2. Create a Blog. ...
  3. Post Engaging Content. ...
  4. Leverage Social Media. ...
  5. Build a List. ...
  6. Give Discounts to Customers. ...
  7. Reach Out Locally.
13 Apr 2020

What is the most popular type of t-shirt? ›

THE CREW NECK

The crew neck t-shirt is defined by the rounded, circular neckline. It's the most common t-shirt type and worn by everyone.

What was the first t-shirt brand? ›

In the early 1950s, several companies based in Miami, Florida, started to decorate T-shirts with different resort names and various characters. The first company was Tropix Togs, under founder Sam Kantor, in Miami.

Who made the first t-shirt? ›

The T-shirt started as an item of underwear - in the 19th Century the t-shirt was born when labourers in America cut their jumpsuits in half to cope with the summer heat. Although they were starting to be manufactured in1898, the T-shirt really made it in 1913 when it became standard issue in the US Navy's uniform.

Who made the first t-shirt in the world? ›

Like so many things, the t-shirt owes its origins to the armed forces. The Navy introduced this garment as an undershirt. And like so many other things, it took movie stars to change it from mundane to popular.

How many types of T-shirt designs are there? ›

Different Types of T-Shirt Printing Methods: Comparison
QualityDesign Options
Heat Press PrintingMediumHigh
SublimationHighHigh
Heat Transfer Printing/InkjetMediumHigh
Screen PrintingHighMedium
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How can I start a T-shirt business with no money? ›

How to Start a T-Shirt Business With No Money: A Step-by-Step...
  1. Research the Industry and Competition.
  2. Create a Business Plan and Branding Strategy.
  3. Source Materials and Suppliers.
  4. Design Your T-shirts.
  5. Produce Your T-shirts.
  6. Get Started Tomorrow for Free By Using Print-on-Demand Services.
12 Oct 2022

What is the best T-shirt design format? ›

Illustrator, JPEG, PSD and DSC 2.0, PNG, PDF and TIFF are the best file formats for t-shirt printing. There are actually many benefits to PNG files. However, it is important to note that when JPEG file is saved, it is compressed and artifacts built in the process.

How do you make a successful t-shirt? ›

The Must-Know Fundamentals of Great T-Shirt Design
  1. Aim to Delight. ...
  2. Do Your Research. ...
  3. Design Something You Would Wear. ...
  4. Understand Your Usable Space. ...
  5. Consider Color. ...
  6. Use Your Words. ...
  7. Keep Creating. ...
  8. Brand Your Tees.
15 Feb 2021

Can a Tshirt business be successful? ›

Selling T-shirts with your art, words or anything else printed on them is a great way to exercise your creativity and make money. A T-shirt business can make you a small profit on every unit you sell, which can add up to a great source of extra income.

What is the best selling shirt of all time? ›

Leo Messi's Barcelona Shirt Is the Most Sold Worldwide, Cristiano Ronaldo 2nd.

What is the highest quality t-shirt material? ›

Pima/Supima Cotton

This type of cotton is the highest quality cotton available. It is soft, durable, resists pilling, fading, and stretching. If your brand is high-end, this is the high-quality t-shirt fabric for you.

What is the biggest t-shirt company? ›

Here are the top 10 t-shirt manufacturers from across the world.
  • Apparel Empire. Apparel Empire is a t-shirt manufacturer that provides fully customised clothes. ...
  • Gag Wears. ...
  • RESS. ...
  • A.M. Custom Clothing. ...
  • Rainbow Touches Garment Co. ...
  • Only Tee. ...
  • Casablanca Apparels Pvt. ...
  • Apliiq.
18 Apr 2022

Why is it called a Tshirt? ›

A T-shirt, or tee shirt, was originally worn only by men as an undershirt. Now it is defined as a short-sleeved, collarless undershirt or any outer shirt of a similar design. It got its name because it resembles the capital letter T in shape.

Why are shirts so popular? ›

Easy to wear:

T-shirts are probably the comfiest, cosiest, and most casual clothing anyone can own. A wardrobe filled with silly men's shirts and women's shirts is, in fact, even better! These shirts are not only easy to wear but comfortable to keep on wearing throughout the day.

What is the full meaning of t-shirt? ›

: a collarless short-sleeved or sleeveless usually cotton undershirt. also : an outer shirt of similar design.

Is t-shirt a word? ›

T-shirt is a noun. A T-shirt is a thin, short-sleeved shirt with no collar and no buttons.

What is the history of shirts? ›

Shirts appeared first in European dress in the seventeenth century as a kind of underwear, designed to protect expensive waistcoats and frock coats from sweat and soil. By the early eighteenth century, shirts had assumed importance as garments in their own right.

Where are the most T-shirts made? ›

Shirts are sourced and sewn all over the world. The US is one of the leading producers of cotton. However, the largest producers are China and India who together produce 31% of the world's fiber.

Why are white T-shirts popular? ›

Making the White T-Shirt Cool

The white T-shirt became a true pop-culture sensation worldwide in the early '50s when it was donned by celebrities in "Golden Age" Hollywood films, the way Marlon Brando did in 1951's A Streetcar Named Desire, and James Dean in 1955's Rebel Without a Cause.

What country do most T-shirts come from? ›

Yet most of the cotton in the Planet Money T-shirts was grown in the U.S. In fact, the U.S. exports more cotton than any country in the world.
...
Bowen Flowers, a Mississippi cotton farmer, shared some of the numbers behind his operation.
People13
Mechanics / technicians3
Supervisors2
1 more row
18 Mar 2015

What is a branding t-shirt? ›

Branded T-shirts are one of the easiest and most effective ways to get your team, clients and customers literally wearing your brand identity on their sleeve (or anywhere you choose to place your logo or design).

How can I sell T-shirts fast? ›

There are numerous ways to sell t-shirts online, so you need to find the option that works best for you.
  1. Print-on-demand sites. Example sites: Redbubble, TeePublic, Spreadshirt. ...
  2. Online marketplaces. Example sites: Amazon, Etsy, eBay. ...
  3. Online store builder. Example sites: Shopify, Wix, BigCommerce.
20 Aug 2021

Is selling Tshirt profitable? ›

Selling t-shirts online can be a profitable endeavor. While many people use print on demand services to sell t-shirts without keeping their own inventory, you can also build a lucrative business by purchasing plain t-shirts in bulk and customizing them yourself.

Can you make a living selling T-shirts? ›

Short answer: yes. Selling shirts is not hard and while everyone and their grandma is doing it now, not everyone is doing it right. If you take the extra time to do the small things, you can get started and profit from T-shirts in 2021.

Which is the No 1 shirt brand in India? ›

Louis Phillippe Shirts

This is one of the best-branded shirt manufacturers in India. Along with Louis Phillippe, they also own Van Heusen, Allen Solly, Peter England — that personify style, attitude, luxury and comfort.

Which brand has best t shirts in India? ›

HRX by Hrithik Roshan
  • 4.5|21. NEW SEASON. United Colors of Benetton. ...
  • 4.3|134. NEW SEASON. ADIDAS Originals. ...
  • 4.1|50. ADIDAS. Own The Run Running T-shirt. ...
  • 4.4|41. AD. WROGN. ...
  • 4.9|14. U.S. Polo Assn. Denim Co. ...
  • Juventus. Men Brand Logo Printed T-shirt. 899 699 (Rs. ...
  • 3.9|43. NEW SEASON. Calvin Klein Jeans. ...
  • AD. NEW SEASON. Arrow Sport.

Which shirt is best in India? ›

Top Shirt Brands in India
  1. Indian Terrain. This is a man-focused branded shirts manufacturers well-known among young people for its selection of hip shirt designs. ...
  2. Peter England. ...
  3. Allen Solly. ...
  4. Louis Philippe. ...
  5. John Players. ...
  6. Raymond. ...
  7. Blackberrys. ...
  8. Flying Machine.
22 Aug 2022

Which brand is famous for clothes? ›

Most valuable fashion brands
Brand2020 Brand Value $
1Nike$36.8 b
2Louis Vuitton$32.3 b
3Hermes$18.3 b
4Gucci$18.2 b
96 more rows

What type of shirt lasts the longest? ›

One of the most important qualities is durability. Of the most common fabric types used in t-shirts, polyester is generally the most durable. 100% cotton, cotton/polyester blends, and cotton/polyester/rayon blends are also good choices for this resilient wardrobe staple.

What are luxury Tshirts made of? ›

The Best Materials to Make a Good-Quality Custom T-Shirt
  • Cotton. Rightly called as the 'king of all fabrics', cotton is a common material for t-shirt printing online in India. ...
  • Polyester. ...
  • Poly-Cotton Blend. ...
  • Linen. ...
  • Tri-Blends.
25 Jul 2019

Which fabric is mostly used for T-shirt? ›

Cotton is the most common type of fabric that is used to make t shirts, but you should remember that there are a few different types of cotton that can be used for shirt production.

Which cloth is best quality? ›

6 Fabrics Rated Best to Worst
  1. Hemp. Hemp is the most versatile plant on the earth, and serves many uses. ...
  2. Linen. On par with hemp, linen remains traditionally and historically one of the best and most sustainable fabrics to date. ...
  3. Bamboo (the same as Rayon or Viscose) ...
  4. Cotton. ...
  5. Wool. ...
  6. Polyester.
13 Feb 2019

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