The club night and record label spill the beans

There’s a long and healthy history of bands and record labels minting their own merch. Music and design have long gone hand-in-hand; every musical movement worth its salt has emerged in tandem with a visual aesthetic, often in a relationship that’s mutually encouraging, ideas filtering back and forth between musicians and designers. 

For ICON client Juan Forté, a record label and club night started in Loughborough, creating custom merch has fitted naturally alongside the nights and records which are their mainstay.

They started out in 2016, and have been releasing their signature garms since 2019. Working in partnership with illustrator Charles Sinclair, they’ve created cartoon strip-style flyers, caps and t-shirts. The playful designs speak to their wide span of musical influences, as well as the intentionally playful attitude they try to bring to all of their projects.

We spoke to the team to find out the important lessons they’d impart on anyone looking to start a record label – and how to fit your own merch line into this vision.

How to start your own record label – and create merch to go with it

1. Find a shared passion

At its core, an independent label or club night is a passion project. Of course, some business savvy is necessary to ensure you don’t end up out of pocket, but the starting point has to be grounded in something that you – and your co-founders – believe in.

For the team behind Juan Forté, it was a shared love of UK soundsystem culture. When first starting out in Loughborough, in 2016, some of them were locals and some were students, but all of them had travelled elsewhere in search of the music they were passionate about. As they explain, “We all kind of found each other through a mutual love of soundsystem music.”

Having made the trip to cities such as Leeds, London and Bristol, for nights like Subdub and DMZ, they were inspired by the unflashy style and uncompromising speaker set-ups, and wanted to try and do something similar themselves. “We essentially wanted to replicate these experiences for a new crowd,” they say.

2. Connect with likeminded people  

Collaboration can create unexpected results, and can help you see things from new perspectives. That’s why it’s so valuable to try and branch out, and find people with whom you share some common ground. 

It can also help you reach a broader audience, as the Juan Forté team can attest to. “We try our best to engage with as broad an audience as possible through our work with cartoonists and animators,” they say, “bringing comedy and colourfulness to a music scene that can sometimes take itself too seriously.”

3. Hone your brand

For the Juan Forté team, they wanted their brand to speak to the music – and go beyond it too. “The idea behind the merch is to take the brand to places we wouldn’t reach otherwise,” they say. This means that they try to create a visual identity which would speak to people that aren’t familiar with what they do.

As in every aspect of what they do, it’s about introducing people to things they might not be familiar with, or putting a new spin on something that they admire. “We like to think that this might be someone’s first step towards discovering an entirely new kind of music they hadn’t considered before.”

Want to create your own band t-shirts or record label merch? ICON Printing offer fast turnaround printing on a range of garments, counting a number of clients in the coffee trade, as well as clients ranging from such as WeWork to Boiler Room and the Tate. Get a quote in 2 minutes online.