I’ve written before about the value of associating your brand with a celebrity. And as everyone knows, one of the most effective tools in the celebrity-seeding toolbox is the t-shirt. When a celebrity wears one, it’s literally a walking billboard for your brand. Nobody knows this better, of course, than celebrities themselves. It’s also on the top 10 list of requests that I get from clients these days: “Can you get celebrities to wear our t-shirts and then take a selfie?”
Of course, it’s not quite that easy. Aside from the logistics of wrangling celebrities, there’s an art to creating a t-shirt that celebrities would even consider wearing. To find out more about the secrets of successful t-shirt design, I chatted with Kirstin Gallo, a 15-year, Emmy-nominated veteran of TV and film costuming, whose credits include “Dancing with the Stars.”
Q: How important is the t-shirt design and finished creation in celebrity seeding—especially if they are being paid? After all, if they are being paid, shouldn’t they be willing to wear anything?
A: The t-shirt design is incredibly important. It needs to complement both the celebrity’s personality and the brand itself, so you can cross-promote both brands. (Because, remember, the celebrity is a brand too.) In addition, it needs to be on-trend and fashion-forward. Most importantly, it needs to be photographable since that’s the point of the t-shirt in the first place. The brand must be recognizable from 20 feet away!
Q: How do you go about ensuring that it identifies with the celebrity and the brand?
A: Research, research, research. Study the celebrity’s style from previous photographs. Analyze trends for the season. Merge the two concepts to come up with a design that works for your celebrity and your brand. The branding on the t-shirt should either be subtle and understated or very clever. In addition, the top should be customized to suit the celebrity’s personal tastes. Be sure to send it in their favorite colors or in their favorite styles such as long-sleeves or scoop neck. Crop tops are popular right now. Does your celebrity wear them? How about embroidery or foil overlays—both are on-trend right now. Do they work for your brand?
I recently did three distinctly different tees for a popular cartoon character dog. One was a black muscle tee with a vintage dye of the dog; the second was a white crop top with bright pink ink dye of the dog; and the third was a grey backless top with bright purple foil detail outline of the dog on the front. All three designs are radically different but they all appeal to young hipsters while featuring the beloved dog.
Q: Assuming the celebrity is not being paid, what kinds of things can you do to increase your odds that they will wear the t-shirt?
A: Make sure the t-shirt is of top quality materials and is packaged in a customized box just for them. The t-shirt should also be exclusive. Don’t make the mistake some designers have made of saturating the celebrity seeding market with tees. You don’t want to be so “everywhere” that it’s no longer cool to have one of your tees or hats. You need to pick your shots so that your brand and the celebrity feel special and exclusive.
The package should of course feature a personalized letter thanking them for their interest as well as beautiful wrapping paper and ribbon to wrap the t-shirt—all of which should be branded with your brand.
And finally, be sure to send a second set to the celebrity’s manager or publicist—they’ll be your best friend when you’re trying to garner a celebrity’s participation, so they feel valued and appreciated!
I never imagined, when I was a college student going to my PR classes in jeans and a t-shirt, that I’d be spending this much time studying the science of the celebrity tee. But having placed several photos of celebrities wearing my clients’ brands in publications from Entertainment Weekly to People’s “Pet Watch” column to In Touch Weekly, I have definitely discovered the value of finding the perfect fit!