Preparing for a merch-fest

Have you ever seen a middle-aged man with a beard propping up the bar in a pub, wearing a music festival t-shirt that looks like it dates from the Jurassic period? We all have. You could look at him and think he’s stuck in the past, reliving the glories of his youth, or you could look at the shirt and realise: that’s good branding.

If you design merchandise for your festival and it’s still being used decades later, you’re doing a fantastic job. Merchandise is important throughout the music sphere, but particularly in festivals, where a captive audience is more willing to spend on food, drink and merch throughout their experience.

The festival market is increasingly competitive – and tons of promoters are creating amazing festival merch – so make sure you’re considering the right questions before wading into the field of merch design. Here are the crucial things to ask yourself:

Why are you printing merch for your festival?

We have reached peak festival in the UK, which is amazing for music fans, less so for festival organisers who need to keep turning a profit. If you’re keeping ticket prices down in order to remain competitive, merchandise is one of the best ways you can recoup some of your budget. But it’s not all about the bottom line: merchandise is also one of the best ways to promote your brand and build interest in your festival, from one year to the next.

What kind of merch will be most effective?

We think that merch should always be imaginative, but with a festival you can go particularly crazy. Of course, you’ve got to cover the basics: t-shirts and caps are staples for a reason, people love them and they sell. But why not think beyond to tote and drawstring bags, cushions and posters? If you’re in a spot where people are covered in glitter and wearing fancy dress, they might be willing to invest in something more unusual, like inflatables for Secret Garden Party or costumes for Bestival. Don’t be afraid to get crafty. And if all else fails and you want to give festival-goers something they’ll really use, there’s nothing British partiers need more than a bottle opener.

How do you want your festival to be remembered?

When designing your merch, think about the primary message that you want to convey. This merch is going to advertise your festival long after the last stage has closed, bringing people in for the following year. If your festival has been running for decades like Glastonbury, then it might be wise to emphasise its rich history by listing the highlights of each year. Music fans love repping their favourite bands, so it’s never a bad idea to put a line-up on your merch. If you have big-name artists, you might want to highlight them over the identity of the festival itself. However, if you’re a smaller festival with lesser-known acts, lead with strong design and colour, which will entice newcomers into wanting to know more about you. 

What’s unique about your festival?

With such a crowded festival landscape, you’ll want to emphasise the unique characteristics of your project with your merchandise. Do you host a particular style of music? If so, try to emphasise that in the aesthetic of the t-shirt, picking colours and designs that will suit those fans. What is there to do at your event besides music? Some festivals pride themselves on extra-musical activities such as talks, comedy events, film screenings or handicrafts; all aspects you may want to incorporate into your design and merchandise. And as the climate crisis becomes ever more urgent, festivals are focusing more on being environmentally friendly. If this is something you prioritise, share the message on your merch, and make sure your printed products such as t-shirts are made out of sustainable materials.

How much merch do you expect to sell?

While you want to promote your brand and give people a good product that will last, never forget about the bottom line. Consider the business questions: how many items are you expecting to sell? Do you know the right sizes, colours and quantities to order? You don’t want to run out and lose valuable sales, but order too much and you’ll end up with merch clogging up the attic, no good to anyone. By bringing an artist’s eye to design, a manager’s mind to logistics and a music lover’s heart to your festival organisation, your merch will represent all the best things about your event and bring in a tidy profit, too.

Want to print merch for your festival, event or club night? ICON Printing offer fast turnaround printing with a wide-ranging catalogue from t-shirts to caps to bagsGet a quote in 2 minutes online.