That time when I sold T-shirts instead of studying

I was 17 when I came up with the idea of selling T-shirts representing my polytechnic’s faculty. The process was straightforward albeit time-consuming. A 5 month long, arduous process profited me a four-figure sum of future business capital, in exchange for a steep drop in GPA and lots of sleepless nights. Here’s how you can make that same mistake too (don’t).

Step 1: Designing the t-shirt.
Designing occupied my whole thought process, I was constantly thinking of minor details and looking everywhere for inspiration. Instead of concentrating in lectures, I find myself doodling on my notes. Lunch-breaks would be me pestering friends for their opinions and validation on my design work. This went on for about a month. Looking back, I really appreciated my friends’ involvement and encouragement, for without them I would have been so low on confidence I might as well dropped the whole idea. Nonetheless, designing was probably also the most fun I had in this process, I never knew that time could pass so quickly just trying to align a curve perfectly on Adobe Illustrator. That being said, I feel that if I ever took up a job in designing, I’ll be worst person to rely on meeting a deadline.

Step 2: Getting the school management’s approval.
This was tricky, because I had to rely on good connections that could get me to the right person responsible for my project’s approval. Fortunately, I made the acquaintance of a lecturer that helped me speed up the process and taught me the right things to say. I learnt the art of knowing right words to use, a skill of underrated importance. Eventually, after a few to and fro we had an approval. Big sigh of relief.

I learnt years later that some students tried to repeat my project but skipped this step. They had to reverse all profits and efforts. It was a pity.

Step 4: Collecting orders.
This required lots of communication, reminders, and answering questions. During this period I learnt how to successfully communicate instructions. It may sound like an easy task until you figure out that some people are just bad at receiving messages. Designing a fool-proof way of carrying out the collection of orders was in itself a user-thinking process. I created an easy-to-use order system, which updates itself directly to a Google excel sheet and generated error-free results for consolidation.

Step 5: Printing the t-shirts.
Finding suppliers is an easy process, but negotiating prices and processing-time isn’t. While one can acquire a lower price point by using a manufacturer from a neighbouring country, in our case Malaysia, the wait-time is thus increased to 8 weeks instead of 4. Ultimately we had to settle for a shorter time period in consideration of the students. My thought-process then was that it will be a wiser choice to provide better service and gain trust, even though with a sacrifice of profitability.

Step 6: Shirts are done, time to distribute.
Pretty straightforward. Seeing people wear the shirt you designed from pouring your heart out will probably the most rewarding part. Much of the proceeds also helped healthcare organisations and charities in Singapore. I’ve donated a percentage of sales to the Cancer Society and Red Cross. All in all, the whole project took around 4 months and losing my honour’s roll streak. If I could do it all over again I would have balanced my studies and entrepreneurial project a little better. Can’t blame myself for all the excitement over a first-time project like this though.

I think it is also fair to thank the people whom helped me with this little project from many years ago. So special thanks goes to Rajan, Wanlin, Gordon, Amira, Edgar, Gabriel and Jeffrey – without you guys I would have flopped it.

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