2010: What we can all learn from T-Shirt Party

31.12.10

Every week, T-Shirt Party design a print and make a video to accompany it, and if you buy one through their website, they’ll print it for you on a white T for a tenner. The designs celebrate that strange mixture of hooligan pride, staunch irreverence, bustling hustle, boozy-eyed nostalgia and supreme sensitivity that’s made London such an exciting city to be in for music this year, and the videos reference the musical street cultures of today and yesterday – grime kids chatting, ravers dancing, rudegirls posing. They say that they are “setting T-shirts free for the people”, and they are my favourite new business of the year.

Untitled from tshirtparty on Vimeo.

T-Shirt Party started out from a Dalston frontroom with £30 investment in March 2010 as “a way to finance my life without working in a shop”, in the words of the anonymous CEO, who calls himself Stan Still. It now turns over a few hundred quid a week, selling between 40 and 60 a week, and sometimes as many as 60 a day. With a profit margin of 80% on each £10 t-shirt, it’s more than a nice little nest-egg – it’s a model that every listless employee with an urge to stand on their own two should be looking at very closely, as should bigger, more established music companies.
This model that produces to order counts, making a short film as the marketing, a frontroom hot-press as the manufacturing plant and the local post office as the distribution centre. So, TSP has zapped three major sources of outlay, and wastes no goods, passing the profits down to the consumer, as they say. It isn’t that radical – cottage industries have been around since before the industrial revolution, and more pertinently, from jungle to funky, much of the music T-Shirt Partyis so fond is reliant on these bedroom entrepreneurs – but those are the reasons that businesses likeT-Shirt Party are so exciting. Labels like the digital-only Pop Manifesto or Pictures Music, even bands like WU LYF, can concentrate solely on getting good stuff to people who want it, buying creative freedom, independence from the mainstream, but most importantly, self-sufficiency and sustainability by refusing to rely on the kinds of investment running a more traditional, and some would say ambitious, business needs. Stan said, possibly facetiously, that TSP was set up to avoid working in a shop, because he has been taking home first-year profits that many small business owners with bigger plans and smaller brains would be glad of.

But the thing that makes T-Shirt Party so exciting is how it combines a great business idea with a great creative idea. In a year that’s seen dubstep’s distribution networks taken over by a dispersed set of global, furiously mutating and furiously weird sounds, T-Shirt Party has delved into its roots – looking back to happy hardcore dancers in their room, writing up the Rudeboy Pledge over a jungle track, turning Dizzee’s Off 2 Work into an anthem for the global prole and commemorating Brother Malcolm’s passing on white cotton.

But style is crucial to music, and music is crucial to style, in so much more than the lateral. It’s often the non-directly musical statement that I find the most inspiring musically. Because, for me, musical movements get exciting when they transcend music, from punk zines to hardcore flyers to funky skanks. By making strangers around the world wear the words “COLLECTIVE ACTION”, and “INNERSTRENGTH”, you’re shaping the way this culture – our culture – views itself, shows itself. While How To Dress Well seems a long way from Newham council, the 32 Boroughs One City (above) showed a pride that it’s impossible to make records like ‘Love Remains’ without. Bands we’ve loved, photographers we’ve commissioned and writers we’ve employed, from Ferry Gouw to Nina Manandhar to Slew Dem to Jon Rust have been part of the greater T-Shirt Party family, and there’s something wider at foot. Like the music it charts and the people it loves, T-Shirt Party and its messages are alive with the energy of entrepreneurialism (“STACKING POUNDS”) and the force of the scene (“COLLECTIVE ACTION”) – too smart to forget, too quick to quit and too sincere to fail.We dream the same dream, indeed.

T-Shirt Party has given a few thousand people something to think about and a nice thing to wear on a night out, and for that, we’d like to raise a glass as 2010 turns to 2011. I phoned Stan to grab some last minute facts last night and he said something interesting about his business: “It’s very simple, really – take something cheap, make it better, sell it on. No different to someone that puts up a shed, really… But it’s nice to be part of the culture, part of what’s going on today, because someone will always be coming along after with a new thing, taking after you, having a pop. And best of luck to them.”