One of our favorite blogs here at It Goes to 11 is Hide Your Arms, which chronicles developments in the online t-shirt ecosystem (good, bad and otherwise). Andy, the site’s founder, editor and primary writer, turns out a steady stream of posts that report on sales, new designs, start-ups, memes, trends, and exhaustive lists organized around topical themes. He’s also not afraid to level a constructive critique and/or ask the hard question(s), an approach that may not always win friends but does garner respect from his peers and readers.
Below, we talk to Andy in depth about the importance of SEO (search engine optimization), best practices, the fickle nature of the t-shirt (blogger) biz, and his personal tee shirt collection.
IG211: Could you introduce yourself for our readers?
HYA: Hi, I’m Andy and I’m a 26 year-old blogger from the North of England. My main job is writing Hide Your Arms, but I also have a few other smaller websites, and also work part-time for my parents in a general role at their joinery & project management business.
IG211: What prompted you to write a tee blog and how did you develop the handle?
HYA: I was bored in my last few months at university (when I should have been studying for exams), saw what Jason was doing over at Preshrunk and thought it seemed like a fun idea to run a website and maybe get some money and clothes out of it. Back then (c. 2007) there were 5 t-shirt blogs, so I thought that niche was full (how wrong I was!) and decided that hoodies would be a good compliment to them. I don’t really know where the name “Hide Your Arms” came from, but it kind of makes sense for a hoodie site if you think about it, because sleeved items do cover up your arms. However I thought of it, I don’t remember their being a long brainstorm process for the name, nowadays when I think up a name for a new site I take quite a long time over it and consider all the [SEO] implications (which is definitely the smarter way to go about it).
IG211: How much time do you spend on HYA in an average day/week?
HYA: It’s practically a full-time job and am often working late into the night on Hide Your Arms, but then again I don’t get up particularly early so I should be working late. I don’t really keep track of my HYA time, but I would definitely put it around 30-40 hours per week.
IG211: What, in your eyes, is HYA‘s mission?
HYA: At this point I think that its mission is to provide me with a living; that isn’t how I planned it, but that’s what it has become.
IG211: How much of the content on the site is user-solicited and how much of it is stuff you stumble across online?
HYA: I don’t keep a tally but I would say that around 80% of all regular content is user-solicited. I get sent so many e-mails, tweets, Facebook messages and newsletters, that I really don’t need to go out hunting for stuff anymore, but I do like finding things on my own sometimes just because I know it will be a bit different. I introduced a post submission form a few months ago that I think people are getting used to now for introducing their brands and dropping in news, it does mean I get quite a lot of poor stuff submitted too, but that gives me a good opportunity to release a bit of criticism on them (constructively), which I find to be quite cathartic.
IG211: Is there any difference between the tees you like personally and the tees you think will trend well for HYA and its audience?
HYA: There’s a big difference and I think that often comes across in posts. I will always post things I like regardless of how well I think they will do on the site, but I do also realise that HYA is bigger than just my opinions and for it to be successful, I have to play the game to a certain extent and write about things that are important in the t-shirt world and things that I might not necessarily like myself, but will get a good reaction from the audience, or do well in search engines. I’d like to think that regular readers understand that side of business and realise that it’s something I have to do to be commercially successful, generally though I’d like to think that I maintain a good balance.
Beyond keeping me in my lavish lifestyle, I’d like HYA to continue growing to really become a force within the industry and make indie fashion more popular (not that I’m fighting against big brands, there’s room for everyone). It would be cool if people eventually described HYA as the “TechCrunch of t-shirts,” except hopefully with a more likable founder. The site is growing but still a long way off from that. At the moment when I write about someone they might get a few sales out of it; I want to be able to really help give new brands exposure to a wide audience and I think that I am getting there.
HYA: Massive lists are the most reliable kind of linkbait on the internet, if you want people to see your site and share it with others, you should start your title with “the top 10 [something].” I took that model and thought that I’d maximise it to an extent where you wouldn’t just think that the shirts were cool, but would be impressed by the level of effort and dedication that went into writing the list. (Editor’s note: it’s all about dedication to the craft…)
They aren’t just linkbait (or tweet-bait nowadays), I am usually passionate about the subject I’m writing about, and do get a weird kind of joy out of putting the lists together. Part of the reason why they are so long is because I don’t want to look like some kind of authority on subjects, I’m not the person to decide which are the best 10 Star Wars t-shirts ever, so here are 200 shirts and the audience can make their own mind up.
IG211: What kind of time do you invest in a post of that kind?
HYA: Minimum of 24 hours, and that’s now, when I’ve worked out how to do it most efficiently. Whenever I think up a list subject, I make a bookmarks folder for it, then over the next few weeks and month I add shirts as I find them during my regular work, then when I’m ready to do a list I’ll spend a few hours hunting down more shirts on that subject, put out some tweets about it so that companies can make sure their shirts get on the list. Then I’ll write out the post, which is very monotonous and I can easily get distracted from it since it is an awful lot of copy/paste work.
When the post goes live, I’ll let the initial flurry of tweets and Facebook shares die down then start promoting it myself, tweeting at companies that are on the list, a few relevant celebrities and companies (such as Edgar Wright, director of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, for the Scott Pilgrim movie t-shirt roundup, and Whole Foods for the food t-shirt list), and then write individual & personalised e-mails to blogs and websites asking them to take a look at the list and hopefully write about it. It’s a lot of work but it usually pays off and leads to more repeat traffic.
IG211: I’ve been writing It Goes to 11 since July of 2008 and there’s something to be said for consistency. I look around and I feel like so many of the established tee blogs from that period have fallen off. Thoughts?
HYA: There has definitely been a bit of a drop off in the amount of people running a regular t-shirt blog. I think some people saw the niche and thought they’d start a blog, write about tee sites with affiliate programs and get load$ of money and free t-shirts. I can testify that it doesn’t work like that, tee blogging is not particularly hard to do, but it’s no get rich quick scheme.
There are still plenty of people out there writing good blogs though. I do wish there were more “characters” out there though; when Jason ran Preshrunk he wasn’t afraid to say what he thought and I liked that, too many tee bloggers just say nice things, which is fine, but not everything is awesome so there’s no need to act like it. I was worried that Coty was going to stop, but now that he’s completed his Ph.D. and become Dr. Coty it looks like he’ll be making a return. There are people that say the blogosphere as a whole is dying, being taken over by social media like Twitter and Facebook, and that may have been a factor for some people, but I think there will always be space for t-shirt blogs. Twitter traffic is very fleeting and it’s hard to fit a post full of information into 140-characters…
IG211: Any new projects you’d like to mention?
HYA: ShirtDeck, my new-ish t-shirt coupon code website is rolling along quite nicely. It’ll be a while before it is a really useful resource for the t-shirt community, but the amount of coupons on there is growing every day.
I’m also currently in the process of bringing onboard regular [contributors] on HYA to focus on specific brands (such as Dee, HYA‘s dedicated Threadless blogger) to take a bit of the workload off me and help turn HYA into more of a news resource, covering lots of brands regularly as well as introducing and highlighting new brands.
Finally, I’m also working on a t-shirt design & resource marketplace. That’s been in the works for a long time, but it’s a complicated thing to get right and if I can pull it off then it should be great for the whole community and make connecting brands and designers a simpler process.
IG211: Have you ever thought about parlaying all of this writing, reading, editing and archiving into a book (deal)? I know I have…
HYA: Honestly, I haven’t. I’m continually trying to think of new ways to expand HYA but I just can’t see how I’d write a book about t-shirts that wouldn’t cover ground that has been covered by people already. I tend to buy most of the books about t-shirts that are released and whilst they are a lot of fun to look at, I don’t think they usually see that much worth in them beyond a picture book (publishing being what it is, by the time the book has been released quite a lot of the shirts are no longer on sale and sometimes the company producing the shirts has shut down).
That’s one of the problems with HYA being as much of a news site as it is, a lot of the information I provide has an expiry date. I have considered writing a few guides for brands about marketing their shirts that I suppose could end up as a little eBook or something like that.
IG211: On a related note, any advice on the best ways to approach bloggers (not just tee bloggers)? I imagine you might have some insights on this subject.
HYA: This is something that I have been thinking about writing a guide to for a long time (I’ve got a Word document somewhere titled “How To Contact T-shirt Bloggers”), because a lot of people do seem to be fairly clueless about it, they’ve got a good product but do themselves a disservice with poor marketing.
I think that the top tip is fairly universal to life; treat people how you would expect to be treated. Bloggers aren’t robots, we need to be treated like humans, address us by name if possible, don’t use a copy/pasted e-mail, try and form a relationship with the blogger over time and they’ll be a lot more likely to post about whatever it is you want. Make the bloggers life easy, provide them with a simple e-mail with useful information about your product, some well-produced product photos (you don’t need a pro-photographer, just look at your photos and ask yourself if you would like the shot if you were an outsider to the brand, if the answer is no, try again), a coupon code if you have them available, and thank them for their time. Very rarely is a brand reinventing the wheel, so don’t act like you are, bloggers have heard it all before and don’t need to hear your hype, they need a link to your store and a few pictures…
(Graphic sourced via.)
IG211: Lastly, tell us about your t-shirt collection. Is it massive?
HYA: Yep, I have way too many t-shirts, at least 300. I haven’t done a proper count but last time I did it was 200 tees and that was over a year ago. It’s still a thrill when someone offers me a sample t-shirt, though I have to be a bit more picky these days about what I have sent simply because I’m running out of space in my house (sucks to be me, right?).
(Editor’s note: truly, an embarrassment of
IG211: Solid points, all. Our special thanks to Mr. Bowness for taking the time to pen such thoughtful replies.
Pictured below: our interviewee wearing a design from Wrongwroks.
Why Waltz When You Can Rock & Roll: travis [at] founditemclothing.com