A warning to t-shirt brands, if people ask you for free stuff, don’t give them it.

by Andy on November 6, 2012

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The following is a real conversation that happened between a t-shirt brand who have been written about on HYA and someone that contacted them:

Mr X: Hi, i’m Mr X and i have a massive following on such and such site/network. Would you be willing for us to represent your brand by sending us an x amount of tees, sweatshirts and hoodies and in return we’ll wear your merch everywhere and your sales will increase ten fold…
Brand Y: Hi, thanks for contacting us. Unfortunately we won’t be sponsoring anyone at the moment, but we’ll keep yo
ur information on file and when we are ready to start a sponsorship, we’ll be in contact with you, regarding the particulars of sponsorship.
Mr X: Thanks for the reply, can’t you just send some merch anyways? and i’ll wear it everywhere…
Brand Y: Hi, no sorry we can’t just give out our merchandise, unless we’re sponsoring you and like we said in the previous email, we’ll contact you nearer the time.
Mr X: Thanks for nothing, your brand is total shit and i hope you go bankrupt.
Brand Y: Hi, thanks for the kind words, have a great day.

Chances are, if you own a t-shirt brand someone will have asked you for free stuff, and you’ll probably have considered it as part of your marketing strategy. I am of the belief that in the vast majority of cases ‘sponsoring’ people and bands will not give you a good return on your investment, especially if those people are coming to you asking to be sponsored or simply to get free stuff and then promote your brand by wearing it.

I can’t give numbers to back this up since I’ve never sponsored anyone (though a misguided actress who was starring a British film once asked for free stuff believing I sold everything I blogged about), and the only person getting a HYA freebie is my girlfriend (and even she insisted on paying for a hoodie in the HYA store), but I’ve never heard any brand talk about how beneficial it was for them in terms of sales to sponsor a local band. Sure, if Jay-Z wears your t-shirt you’re probably going to get some attention and sales, but Jay-Z isn’t e-mailing people asking for a free t-shirt. I think that’s where the crux of the matter lies, people that are popular enough to have a good effect upon your brand merely by them wearing your stuff are too busy and too popular to be sending e-mails to relatively unknown t-shirt brands.

It’s important to remember that people contacting you asking for free stuff most likely aren’t even fans of your brand, you’re just another name on a list being sent a form e-mail (that usually hasn’t even been personalised to your brand). All these people care about is getting stuff from you, they have no interest in promoting your brand. You spent your time and money on a clothing line to be proud of and if you just give stuff away to anyone then you’re wasting your money and devaluing your product in the process. If someone e-mails you asking for free stuff and they actually do have a massive following, ask them for proof, ask how they’ve helped other brands before and get them to name those brands, if they can’t give you decent answers then they aren’t worth your time.

I do believe that there are cases where sponsoring people and bands is a good idea, but you have to go to them, not the other way around. It is fun to see people you like wearing your clothing, getting a celebrity endorsement means something to quite a lot of tee buyers, and even if they aren’t a celebrity or famous band you might just want to give them a tee because you like them. So if you want to sponsor someone then go for it, just have realistic expectations about what you can get out of it.

Of course, there are also some t-shirt blogs that accept t-shirts for review, and I think I’m right in saying that HYA has more hands-on review than any other t-shirt site (possibly even any site, I don’t know how many sites do shirt reviews), so it would be hypocritical for me to not explain why I think it is okay to send shirts to us and not others. I believe that the same rule applies, if a t-shirt blog asks you for a shirt and you haven’t heard of them then it’s probable that sending a shirt will be a waste of time and money. Over the course of almost 7 years running HYA I have asked for a shirt once, and even that one wasn’t for me, and I didn’t feel particularly good about asking (we didn’t get the shirt in the end), but I’ve managed to amass a collection of 300 shirts without asking people for them which is proof that if you don’t beg people will respect you and your opinion and want to give you a shirt for review because they know it will be a real review. All sample offers are now sent to HYA bloggers in the US and UK (to make shipping more reasonable for the brand) and I encourage constructive criticism of the shirt the blogger has received. Each review ranks well in search engines for your brand’s name and is something that a brand can point to as an independent review of their product quality. That is something real and that is something that can be measured and is targeted at people that are visiting this site with the intention of buying t-shirts, and yet I still don’t ask people for a sample. Of course, t-shirt blogs don’t have a massive influence, there’s no TechCrunch of the t-shirt world, getting written about on HYA won’t sell out your line in a matter of hours, but you’re not just throwing your money into a black hole and helping give some kid that managed to inflate their Twitter followers a free shirt.

Bottom line, if you want to give away your products as part of your marketing then do your research and see if you will get good value out of your investment, even if it is just to say that your favourite band likes your designs.


    I’ve done it and feel like a twat for doing so. I know I should have known better but it seemed like it would do more good than harm to send a tee to the kid with 300,000 twitter followers who’s website said he was an aspiring blogger. “I’ll promote the shit out of your brand!” he said. He seemed like a friendly kid. But upon receiving the item, all we got was one paltry mention on twitter. Not even a fucking link. Now he has what he wanted he’s gone cold, no communication. “I fucking knew this would happen” I thought. And I did, so why did I do it anyway?

    Especially after already getting my fingers burned before. An Olympic hopeful wanted to wear my brand, so he said. I sent him a tee, never heard a thing again.

    I feel ike Bart Simpson in that episode where LIsa is experimenting on him like a lab rat. Every time he goes for the treat, he gets an electric buzz. Undeterred, he goes for it again. BZZZZZT! OW! BZZZZZT! OW! BZZZZZZT! OW!

    Suffice to say, I finally learned my lesson. If someone wants one of my tees, they’ll pay for it. Fuck the freeloaders.

  • http://twitter.com/mlgst Malgusto Tees

    Promotion works best when the promoter believes in what he’s selling. And if he doesn’t want to spend 18£ on a t-shirt seems to me that he’s not a true believer.

    Or as we say in Spain “Faced with the vice of asking, the virtue of not giving”

    Great article.

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

    “BZZZT! OW! Made me laugh. Nice one. Good to read of some other peoples experiences

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

    Very useful read Andy

  • http://hideyourarms.com/ Andy (Hide Your Arms)

    I remember hearing about that Olympic hopeful, maybe it was from you (or maybe he was just e-mailing everyone). The temptation is really strong, that’s the problem, you see big numbers and think it’s worth a punt, but it seems to rarely work out.

    About a year ago a Youtube “star” that I’d never heard of randomly tweeted about a post I’d written about some tees, he had about 150,000 followers and lots of followers on Youtube as well. I got about 1000 views out of that, which makes me think that it’s possible to get decent short term bursts of traffic, but it needs to be targeted and they need to be passionate about your brand.

  • mekazoo

    great read! It’s funny i received one of those mails right after reading this. It starts like this:

    Dear The
    Good Folk at MKNK Clothing,

    My name is X and I have accepted a
    challenge – a challenge set by… myself.

    I have pledged to wear a different T-shirt every
    day for the whole of 2013. That means I will need to source and wear 365 different
    T-shirts if I am to complete my challenge.

  • http://hideyourarms.com/ Andy (Hide Your Arms)

    I wonder whether if I wrote to every mMichelin starred restaurant and told them I’ve set myself a challenge to very well for a year they’d offer me a free lunch.

  • mekazoo


  • jimiyo

    I have firsthand knowledge that not even celebrity endorsements will do anything for you… Maybe over the long haul, you get some bragging rights for internet pimpage and street cred with some impressionable young people, but then, young people don’t have money… except those on that http://richkidsofinstagram.tumblr.com/

    I’ve come to believe, if you are going to give a free shirt away, it’s better to randomly gift a previously supportive customer… nothing like a unexpected gift to foster longterm relationships with your 1000 True Fans http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2008/03/1000_true_fans.php

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