The importance of criticism to t-shirt brands (and why I should tell you what I think)

by Andy on September 4, 2012

andy flying a kite, isn't he handsome? [That's me flying a kite at the weekend, because what picture would have really made sense for this post?]

You may have noticed that over the past few weeks I’ve been a lot more ‘honest’ on the site.

Some people might think of it as me bashing brands that don’t know any better or being purposely controversial because that will somehow make Hide Your Arms more famous or popular. That would be incorrect, I (and the other writers) don’t write on HYA to cause offense to aspiring entrepreneurs or make enemies, I’m just tired of letting poor business be submitted to this site without comment when I have spent more than six years looking at clothing companies and whilst I’m not an expert, I do know a thing or two and want to help people.

Criticism is important. Constructive criticism is very important, and even insults can be useful. Getting a pat on the back is great, you feel good and it reassures you that you’re doing the right thing with your business, but what about when people keep telling you things are great when your t-shirts aren’t selling? Exactly, it gets you nowhere and you need some help from someone outside the bubble of your friends and family that can give you honest advice.

This idea that I should be trying to help people with more than just a link and a bit of exposure for their brand comes from personal experience. You are probably aware of my camera accessories website Rigu, it’s doing pretty well now but back in February I was frustrated that I wasn’t where I wanted to be with my little business, I knew it had potential, but I just wasn’t getting the sales I expected and it was demoralising. I know the site isn’t perfect, but I didn’t think it was back, nice and clean, good selection of products and colours, but something wasn’t right so I thought I’d head to a place for advice where people don’t pull any punches, Reddit, and r/entrepreneur in particular. I gave some background to the site and what I was doing and then asked what people think I was doing wrong and how I could improve the site.

It was brutal. When complete strangers who you will never meet are given the opportunity to tell you what you suck at, they tell you and they don’t feel the need to sugar-coat it. My first reaction was denial, they didn’t ‘get’ what I was going for with the site, these people must be boring and not interested in colourful camera straps, what do they know?

As the comments started to flow it dawned on me that if they didn’t ‘get it’ then that was my problem, I wasn’t getting the message across and that was putting a wall between visitors and making a purchase. After that I started seeing my site with fresh eyes, taking a step back and looking at it as if I were a visitor rather than the person I was, someone who had spent many, many hours poring over the code of the website, sourcing camera straps, investing my hard-earned cash, and taking all the product photos. At first I was pretty down, as anyone would be, but it made me realise that if I was going to make a success of Rigu that I didn’t do it by moping, I had to get on and work, work harder and smarter. So I did.

I’m not going to explain what it was that I had to do to get Rigu on it’s current (and far more successful path), that might be a post for another day, but I wanted to explain why it is that I am now “telling it like it is” and telling people how I think they can improve their site; because I don’t want other people wasting their time and money when there are obvious problems that can be fixed quickly and simply. It might hurt at first, but in the long run I’d like to think that people would thank me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/megglesworth Megan Lara

    Excellent post! Critique should be the most valuable thing to an artist. It may hurt, but it WILL make you better. <3

  • http://twitter.com/CathieTranent Cathie Tranent

    Good on you! There is a massive difference between “slagging off at someone’s work/endeavours” and offering constructive critique. I’m just going to say ruthlessly here that anyone who can’t accept aforementioned critique just isn’t going to make it as an entrepreneur or business owner …..

  • The Tree Shirt House

    Hi Andy,
    I read your post and absolutely understand why it is important for you that HYA remain a qualitative benchmark for tee shirts. Today’s tee market is so fierce, it is primordial that “REAL” product feedback is given. Maybe add in the submission section that all submissions will be tied to the appreciation of HYA team and that the feedback will be “honest” & “real” and could disappoint some designers.
    As a designer, i believe criticism is constructive, yes it hurts the ego sometimes but it makes you grow..
    Cheers to HYA from all The Tree Shirt House team xxx

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Douglas-Henderson/783540299 Douglas Henderson

    Thanks Andy and you are a braver man than me asking for a critique on Reddit! I can only imagine. I don’t think some of the people who submit on HYA, get your critique and possibly get annoyed have any idea of the difference posting here and Reddit, One/two critique vs possibly hundreds on Reddit. Blazingly honest ones. On another note, good to hear Rigu is going well and I would like to see the post explaining how you changed things for the better.

  • Ron

    Hey Andy this is a good article!! Keep up the good work. It is good to hear how other people see your site and your business. I hope all is well.

  • teegazette

    Bravo, Andy! Keep up the great work :)

  • http://www.deadhippo.com/ Alan

    I see no reason you should be anything other than honest. It’s always been my policy.

  • random_angles

    Well, you could just blandly list t-shirts every day, and mention new sites without offering any views on them, but where’s the fun or value in that? HYA readers want to know what you think. At least I hope they do.

    PS – delighted to hear Rigu has taken off. You have a great range of products on there.

  • http://twitter.com/TwinSerpents Twin Serpents

    Excellent post!

  • http://www.facebook.com/lazytulip Leah Williams

    Well said, Andy, and these companies should be glad they have someone as involved and knowledgeable of tees giving them feedback – it’s priceless, even if it might sting, it’s really priceless.

  • http://www.seventhfury.com Matthew Johnson

    Glad to see this Andy! Criticism is the best way for people to improve, I can’t say enough about how much I’ve learned over the years. HYA continues to be a great resource for both designers and consumers alike, keep it up!

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