Sometimes satirical shirts do well too. The one on this blog cover is on eBay for $1,000.
How much is a T-shirt worth to you? $5? $10? $15? $20? $100? How about $10,000!? A couple of years ago, a real mental case rabid Australian fan of Led Zeppelin purchased one of their vintage tees for 10 big ones. Man, I knew I should have started that garage band back in High School when I still had the chance!
If that wasn't stupid surprising enough, sometimes there are T-shirts up on eBay that are priced even higher than that. It doesn't mean that buyers actually fork out the cash for them, but it still begs the question: what are people thinking!?
Well, I suppose we all perpetuate idiocy together, right? First there are greedy collectors who list their shirts at a ridiculous premium, and then there are the suckers who actually buy them. I'm not really sure which is dumber, but one has to wonder what it's like to own a shirt that costs four figures. What do you even do with it? Do you wear that thing around town? Careful not to spill mustard on yourself.
But hey, we all want to cash in profit from our awesome merch, right? So maybe there are some lessons to learn here. Here are five not-so-bogus ways to generate more dough from your merch designs.
1. Use Simple Designs
Contrary to what you might think, the most high-priced shirts aren't generally the ones with the best-looking, most dazzling, most colorful designs you've ever seen. Some of them don't even have more than two tones or much of a graphical design to speak of. Of course, what they represent is important. It's like the Bob Dylan "Rolling Thunder Revue" shirt that was valued at $800. It's just text on a shirt, dude! But it's from the 70s, so that makes it cool all of a sudden.
It might be a long shot, but using a picture of David Bowie (he seems to be on a lot of high-priced shirts) with an incongruent Engrish slogan like "Fat Guy furrery Taiior made keepin good repair" might be a goldmine. My rationale for this is that it would appear as though it's a bootlegged, foreign or misprinted rarity that nobody has. I should really stop giving away my best ideas.
2. Stir Up Controversy
From satanic imagery (like the $699 Venom T-shirt) to nudity (like the $1,000 Nirvana Sub Pop shirt) to obscenities (Metallica's "Metal Up Your Ass" shirt at $1,000) to racial innuendo, many of the most expensive shirts tend to be at least a little controversial. That also might explain why they aren't in ready supply.
So this is a bit of a catch-22. On the one hand, if you make an obscene merch item, it could get panned or even banned. However, because of its infamy, people might be willing to pay a premium for it later. A lot later (see point five). It's a bit of a gamble, but it could pay off, if you know what I mean.
3. Use Head Shots
It has been said before that people are drawn to other people's faces, but man, who knew using your mug on a T-shirt could get you several hundred if not several thousand dollars a pop? From now on, every piece of merchandise I make is going to have David Bowie's face on it.
Quite likely, the best results are going to come from combining a recognizable face with a controversial slogan or catchphrase. Like a picture of George W. Bush's goofy smile accompanied by the text, "Moron".
Oh, and from what I've seen, the head shot doesn't necessarily have to be realistic or even look like you (as long as your name is included). It could even be a comic-book style drawing of you (like the $1,000 James Brown T-shirt that reads, "I'm Black And I'm Proud"). You might want to keep your gender and race consistent, though... Not a hard and fast rule.
4. Create Seasonal Items
Like the John Lennon and Yoko Ono T-shirt at $801 ("Happy Christmas"), it appears that seasonal wear sometimes has its green-appeal (you know, because money is green?). We've mentioned the Slayer "Holiday" sweater in awesome posts from days past, and it is very clever in the ironic sense.
So anyway, back to the "Happy Christmas" shirt. The "appeal" of this item could have more to do with the notoriety of Lennon and the band-wrecking female archetype Ono than anything else. However, most of this just goes back to point two anyway. If you're going to do a seasonal item, put your own spin on it, and make it funny, ironic, or offensive.
5. Make A Long-Term Plan
Finally, for all intents and purposes, make a long-term plan. Or just use a time machine. Led Zeppelin was active from 1968 to 1980, and the $10,000 shirt mentioned earlier was purchased more than 30 years after their hay day. Lennon and Ono met back in the mid 60s. Kurt Cobain joined the 27 Club in 1994. James Brown passed away in 2006. As you are surely beginning to see, there is usually a correlation between being dead and the inflating value of associated T-shirts. No, just kidding, but it probably couldn't hurt.
At least it is fair to say that there is an ill-conceived loose connection between rarity, controversy, age, and the value of a shirt. Hire dying band members; go back to the 70s and play big tours, make a shirt with a distasteful slogan on it, and you should be good to go my friend.
Bonus: Sign Your Merch
Sometimes people place a higher value on things that are signed, right? If you had a guitar that Jimi Hendrix personally signed, it would be worth a fortune. So make sure to sign stuff when your fans ask for it (yes, even cleavage; what a hard life).
Anything else we should have added? Don't forget to leave a comment before you go!
Cover Image by Metallica World UK