The Problem With Kickstarter

Creative types have used the crowd-funding site Kickstarter to raise money for everything from independent films, art projects, and video games to men’s clothing labels. Anyone with an idea and a webcam can make their case to the internet as to why they deserve money to make it happen. If users pledge enough to meet the funding goal, the creator gets the cash and the investors get a “reward” based on how much they pledged.

For clothing labels, this usually entails buying a garment well in advance of it being made. But you don’t exactly buy a pair of jeans. You reserve a pair in the hope that one day the brand will be able to make them. Despite the unlimited possibilities this could afford up and coming designers, the offerings thus far have been brain-meltingly dull.

The hopeful promise of the digital age was that increased access to consumers and the means of production would allow previously disenfranchised designers, journalists, artists, etc. to compete against major corporations. To a large part that’s proven true in the menswear world.

Brands like Rogue Territory, Temple of Jawnz/John Coppidge, and 3sixteen represent a new wave of labels that have achieved success and recognition by using the internet to do it all themselves: making their own pieces, selling primarily on their own eshops, and communicating and advertising directly to their customers via social media sites and fashion message boards. These guys worked like dogs to develop their lines, build their reputation, and earn their accounts.

Selling direct to consumer on Kickstarter may make it easier for an aspiring designer to get some attention, but the flipside of removing the middlemen — the standing arbiters of taste — is that it’s nearly impossible to tell the signal from the noise.

Without that filter, many Kickstarter hucksters are just modern snake-oil salesmen, stringing together as many generic menswear tropes as possible in two minutes or less and you have to decide — product unseen and unmade — if they deserve your money. On the rare chance that a Kickstarter brand actually has an interesting product or story to share, it’s often overshadowed by swipes at overseas manufacturing or half-baked brand ideology:

We’re cutting out the middleman so we can take the same high-end garment found in an exclusive boutique and deliver it to you wholesale, right to your doorstep, for a third of the price. It’s made in the USA to the same high standards and with the same great materials in a classic yet modern fit that’s slim, but not too slim. Plus it’s built to last so you can wear it for years to come!

Sound familiar?

In an arena where failure has almost no consequence, designers shouldn’t be so generic, safe, and boring. Almost every brand is making (or promising to make) omnipresent staples like jeans, sweatshirts, oxford cloth button downs, and t-shirts — and the pitches all follow a similar semi-jingoistic script.

That’s the problem, these companies aren’t trying to make clothes, they’re trying to build brands around a two minute video regardless of whatever product they happen to be hocking.

This isn’t to say throw out the Kickstarter model, just change the way it’s being used: Brands shouldn’t live and die on Kickstarter, pieces should.

Last month for example, Temple of Jawnz wanted to release a new version of its leather daypack but it took a couple months of pre-sale to gauge if there was enough interest to go into production. The whole process was a black box until they posted on their Tumblr that they had enough orders to do it. Kickstarter could have added transparency — and possibly a lot more orders — to that whole process.

In TOJ‘s recent farewell message, Drew Keith even broaches the idea that in the future they “could start a Kickstarter and offer tangible TOJ item rewards at the same price they’d normally sell for here [on the TOJ website].” That’s exactly what the site needs.

There are many hurdles existing brands would admittedly face before moving forward: internet brands often thrive off of their aloof mystique, they would lose a percentage of the funds raised to the site, and for the reasons discussed above Kickstarter products have the stigma of being lame.

I hope that crowd-sourced fashion will one day be an experimental place where known designers can throw out their craziest hypothetical creations and see what sticks. Kickstarter would allow them to broach such creative risks without risking loads of money if it fails. I want to see established labels market things so insane they have to be bought before production.

Until that time comes, though, here’s something that should add some excitement to even the most generic of pitch videos.


What do you think about Kickstarter?

David Shuck

David is the Managing Editor of Rawr Denim. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado.

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  • FLDenim211

    This really hits the nail on the head. To state my case and make a comparison, lets look at Rogue Territory (I have been watching and really wanting to get into their clothing) Karl built the whole brand himself, he worked for other people to gain the skills and a enough of a name to be able to present himself and his work when he was ready. He developed his own cut, his own staples and signature additions (pen pocket, looped stitching on the back pocket), he even came up with the idea of pushing for collaborations through the “Keep the Trade Alive” program which is also the motto/mantra on the website. He went to developing stuff that could be used or desired that people didn’t know they wanted at that moment. He began to expand faster and faster he took the time to figure out what sells, what won’t, he truly did the marketing research. The ISC line he did was sold out in a very short time, the Drake Deadstock just as fast, he now also has done the Wash Me Over line. That is why Rogue Territory stands up as well as the other brands that hold to this same story. Not to begin to take away from the Kickstarter companies but lets use Gustin (no hard feelings, just the easiest). They began the project and succeeded well over their goal and started their website, the problem is that they haven’t begun to push and really try and sell themselves they have stuck by the idea of “keeping out the middle man” but they also haven’t evolved the business structure and marketing plan; they still sell their items as if it were on Kickstarter offering only a certain amount of the jeans in the fabrics available (which is usually 100) so they do not keep a set line up or any consistency in their product. To further my personal dislike for their system they leave up the fabric selections that are no longer offered and even leave links that loop you back to the top of the page meaning that they can taunt you if you were a day late or dollar short to buying the pair you wanted. This is all I really feel like typing at this moment.

    • wow

      wow, cool story bro

  • Kyle

    Good article. I find that I’m rather tired of all of this denigration of “the middle man.” Retailers play an important role in distributing and promoting products for several reasons:

    – Real-life storefront: if a retailer in your city carries Dry Bros. Manufacturing & Co., then you can go and try it on. You can feel the texture of the fabric, turn it inside out and get a good look at the construction, and ask a (hopefully) knowledgeable salesperson about the qualities of the garment. Especially with high quality denim and other clothing, I think that it’s essential that you be able to handle the fabric in person, especially if you’re going to spend hundreds of dollars on the item. For cheaper Kickstarter-grade jeans, it lets you see if they thing you’re considering is a dud or not! Most importantly, you can make sure that you get what fits right.

    – Other items: A good store that sells your favorite brand of jeans likely has other things that you might want to buy, which you wouldn’t necessarily encounter without visiting the place in person.

    – Environment: Going to a good clothing store is fun. I have a much more enjoyable experience going to Dessert Hill’s Market or a Flat Head company store compared to buying something online. The stores are interesting and enjoyable to walk around, and I usually end up chatting with the staff and asking them various questions that I probably wouldn’t via email. You can talk about nerdy denim topics with somebody in real life, which is a luxury few of us have. Oh, and also you might make friends with another denimhead.

    I can’t comment on other aspects of Kickstarter and don’t know a whole lot about the various denim projects on the site, but I find it rather hypocrtical that such brands can talk about “doing things the old-fashioned way” while denigrating a traditional retail model in favor of doing everything via online business. Those people working in a shop want to have jobs too, guys.

    • Johnson Benjamin

      I agree with you about the “cut out the middle man” business model. Retail stores have worked and work for a reason. For all the reasons you stated a brick and mortar store is important.

    • goldushapple

      This is a great post. I appreciate “going back to the days of quality and one-to-one service” but whatever the independent shops are advocating the bigger corps probably have done it back in their glory days. Not only that, but the independent shops act like they invented quality and whatever they spout. It’s simply ignorance, ironically. They want credit for what’s been done by others. Like I said, I appreciate what independent shops are doing – but with all the rhetoric I find a lot of smugness and pretentiousness. It’s frankly laughable.

  • The Bandanna Almanac

    Kickstarter alleviates the things that make all great work important; blood, sweat, and tears. KS is a place to bring new, and challenging ideas to an already established audience, not a forum for you to show off your pet-project…

    • Johnson Benjamin

      I can not completely agree with this. There may be a lot of turds on Kickstarter, but there are some gems.

      • The Bandanna Almanac

        There are plenty of good things on Kickstarter. I’m just of the mind that establishing yourself first, and showing your progress are important first steps to earning respect from your audience.

  • Devan Prithipaul

    I have said it before that I didnt like the new kickstarter projects and this article just re-affirms that. for me, the biggest problem is that the denim itself is boring. On kickstarter they could take risks, brands like n&f could do so well on kickstarter and actually flourish in real life. brands who use the whole “cheap, construction, USA” arguments are getting old and there are way too many of them. take risks on kickstarter!

    • n&f ambassador

      for god sake, can you please stop comparing other jeans brand to naked and famous?

    • Devan is 15.

      You’re a 15 year old child who wants to look smart. You’re a small dick. Don’t talk about taking “risks” when you don’t know what that entails.

      • Devan Prithipaul

        I don’t think my age has any relevance whatsoever. To me, taking risks is just doing something that hasn’t been done before, that’s basically n&f’s business model and it works pretty well for them. We have a ton of brands that rely on quality and craftsmanship as a selling point, don’t you think it’s time for innovation? And what better place to take a risk then on kickstarter, its perfect for that!

        • n&f ambassador

          and for the love of god, please for the sake of angel, quit… just quit talking about naked and famous!!!

        • The Bandanna Almanac

          You mean the mills that N&F source their fabric from should do a kickstarter? Because N&F states themselves they don’t make any of their denim. They just sew the jeans, they didn’t invent, nor improve anything.

  • JMS

    You hit the nail on the head. I cant respect any “brand” that is launched by someone whom has never worked with the material they are pushing. You come up with your grand idea, create a video, go to Kickstarter and plead for backers, and if youre lucky get funded and ship the work out to a sewing company. All that when you should have been in the workshop laying down blood, sweat and tears like the rest of us. I work a full-time job to fund my small goods business until I can hopefully get it off the ground. Ive lived this craft 24/7 for years and would never trade that for instant funding.

    If you have an already present brand and want to Kickstarter a specific project a la Corter Leather and their bottlehook thats perfectly legit. But when your first step is to come to Kickstarter your brand is already a joke and you deserve zero respect from your industry peers.

    • Johnson Benjamin

      You make some interesting points. I do agree with you, but perhaps in not such a ‘black and white” way.
      I think there is a good middle ground. If a person,brand, company has worked with their products, designed well, maintains a sales base, and can produce efficiently, why not. Even if they use contract production in comparison to in house.

      I would not be against a semi-established brand using kickstarter to further their brand. I believe Kickstarter could be an excellent propellant into new markets for a brand.

  • selapista

    Yes. Lets keep praising super overated samurai jeans and the likes and feed those “i am so alternative i dont even need to reply to my potential customers” denime type of egos and trash honest straight forward ideas like Gustin…. gotta live denim nazis…

    • Jim

      Samurai isn’t even mentioned here you dumb cunt, what the fuck are you on about?

      • kelp

        How about disagreeing with someone without resorting to sexist insults?

        • EatShitKelp

          Stop being a pussy.


          im not the author of the comment, but i felt it was warranted. also, stop being a pussy.

        • selapista

          Me thinks you dont understand the maningnof the word sexist.

  • Black & Denim

    The case for a Brand that used Kickstarter:

    English is my second language, so please be patient. I was debating for about 30 seconds whether to leave a comment or not. Here is why:

    We are a brand that used Kickstarter in the past. I tried to play the Bingo card with our video and pitch and I could not get a Bingo. Please feel free to play with our video. It is here:

    I believe the article is spot on the “fakes”. Who are those? The people that have not worked on a brand concept, saw a “wave” and decided to ride it.

    7 years ago when we started, I saw the problem. Overprice clothing fueled by the real estate bubble. I audited a big box retailer (I was an auditor in my previous life) and saw how retail operates. The problem spilled over to boutiques. Mom and Pop shops clearing 500,000 dollars a year selling $700 pair of jeans and $200 tees. There were about 2,000 shops by 2008. Today there are barely 300. A lot more are springing up.

    For us, it was important that we did not take a cheap shot at “China” or foreign manufacturers or “the middle man”. We built our brand and earn over 70 boutiques within the East Coast and the Mid West.

    Kickstarter has allowed us the opportunity to connect with real customers where we can expand. How? by asking them where they live and contacting boutiques in their towns. That is the reason why we have not “sold out” to big box retailers.

    We would have loved to purchase 15 machines, quit our jobs and start like Roy Denim. But that is not a feasible or perhaps the choice that everybody wants to make.

    We have seen the insane amount of copy cats that have came out of the wood works to “cash in”. All in parts to The article by a few guys from a company called SOMA. The article was title “How to Hack Kickstarter for 100k”.

    This gave people a “framework” of how to raise funds without putting in the “work” or having a compelling argument for their clothing.

    I know this to be true, because I personally reached out to tons of people that have done projects. I can spot from a mile away who used the guide and who did not.

    In short, we are going to use Kickstarter again. To launch a crazy idea that we think would be cool enough that people might like it. Is it worth it? I think so. Could we fail? I hope we do not, but if we did, we will not have gripes or complain about it.

    Lastly, I can tell you that I have seen other brands that has 10 employees or less and are true to their core. Companies like:

    Imogene + Willie





    These guys have been incredible. Gave us pointers and told us where not to make mistakes. The blood sweat and tears is a collaboration.


  • driftwoode

    What a load of crap. While I can agree that it gets old when every tom, dick, and harry introduces a new line of the same clothing (read: Selvedge denim) via Kickstarter, to say that those who do so are nothing more than “Snake-oil salesman” is just snobbish bullshit. I am grateful that the Kickstarter model allows non-established brands to gain a toe hold. If they offer something I like, then great, I’ll back the project. If not, then I won’t. It’s that simple. I, for one, do not need any retail middleman to be my “arbiter of taste”. I’m a big boy and I can very well determine for myself what I like and don’t like and even more, I’m smart enough to discern the “Signal from the noise”. Saying that the Kickstarter model should be restricted to support pieces rather than brands sounds like nothing more than sour grapes from know-it-all snobs who think they know what’s best for my wardrobe (news flash: They don’t). I’ve got a better idea: Let the Kickstarter model continue to be used for all those who want to hawk their wares–whether they be brands or pieces–and let the free market sort it out. Then we can all be free to choose without the tyranny of those “Standing arbiters of taste” who think they know what’s best for us and want to continue to charge us three times what we should be paying.

  • J. Davis

    This article is an insult to thinking people everywhere. Kickstarter is nothing more than a vehicle for the free-market to flourish. It’s not meant to be an arbiter of taste, nor should it be. If you happen to like or believe in a project (be it clothing, or films, or whatever), then back the project. If you don’t believe in it, then don’t back it. Who gives a shit if every Johnny-come-lately wants to sell jeans using Kickstarter? I mean really, what the fuck do you care? Just don’t back it and let the rest of us make up our own minds. David needs to stick with sprinkler repair and keep his nose out of people’s closets.

  • Johnson Benjamin

    I feel you are addressing two issues here. The lack of creativity and ethics in new brands, and Kickstarter being a mode for these brands.

    I could not agree more about the bulk of bland brands. People who get a tshirt screen printed and claim they have a fashion label, ‘heritage’ selvedge denim brands, and etc are all part of this. The internet is a wonderful thing, but it sometimes allows the wrong people attention.

    Perhaps an argument could be made for more creative regulation of Kickstarter but that would require moderation and a lot of subjectivity. That may be another conversation completely.

    I say while this article is harsh on Kickstarter, it does call out the mind sets of many people. The buzz words and phrases of these independent start-ups are regurgitations. Is it a lack of sincerity, transparency, or creativity with with these new so called brands?

    • J. Davis

      Really? And who’s going to “Creatively regulate” what goes on Kickstarter? You? The idiot who wrote this article? I don’t think so. The fact is that there is already a system for regulating the content–the free market. People decide if they want to back a project or not and that settles the issue. If you don’t like what’s on there, tough shit! You don’t have to. Kickstarter works fine; it’s not broken and there is nothing wrong with it (contra this article’s premise).

      • Johnson Benjamin

        I did not suggest regulation. I suggested an argument could be made for it.

    • prick my paul part vans

      this is stupids as it gets. please enlighten me about the heritage and design in selvedge denim of samurai jeans being 15 years old or studio dartisans @ 25 yo… bulshit… if the thing is heritage, then only levis, lee and wrangler have a story behind, and for japanese denim, maybe big john and edwin…

  • Jeans

    RPMwest used made in San Francisco as a hook to sell the locals, they are not going to be made in San Francisco. Manuel, is this correct?

  • disqus_uAxMyyWeiI

    This is actually the most thoughtful rawrdenim article I’ve seen in months. More please.

  • K9H20

    The article makes a good point. In my opinion Gustin is an example of a company that sort of ran with the Kickstarter business model in a good way. Granted, they have only two cuts of jean, but they have already toyed with some really cool fabrics. Early accounts suggest that, while they may take a while to make and ship, the quality is beyond what the price suggests. Wallets and belts have followed, and it looks like producing small runs will enable them to experiment in all sorts of ways.

  • Aaallp

    This article was childish thrashing of any brand started on kickstarter. Just a few articles ago people were raving about these kickstarter brands, but now everyone hops on the bandwagon to hate. How can you claim these brands are all the same crap, while brave star is offering customization of their jeans, and look on gustin’s website; gustin offers many unique fabrics. They have offered indigo on indigo fabrics, lovely heavyweight slubby fabrics (looks to be the same fabric as n&f big slub) and are now offering a rainbow coloured nep fabric. Clearly not all just the same old crap these brands are giving people many more options for budget denim than just simply unbranded. People should stop being petty denim snobs and be more open minded. Just look at the n&f thread on styleforum or the unbranded, everybody was thrashing them when they first came out but now everyone raves about them.

  • Jeffrey Todd Shafer

    Dear Rawr Denim,

    First off, I want to thank you for producing such an amazing site. I absolutely love you guys. I always look forward to FADE FRIDAY. The best!

    I have been a denim designer since 1992. I have always loved denim, especially Levi’s “red lines” since back the in the day. In 1993, I toured many of the independent Japanese jean shops all over Japan. It blew my mind. Since that trip I have been obsessed with making jeans using vintage shuttle loom selvage. I love and use extensively the fabrics made by Kaihara, Kuroki, Kurabo from Japan, Cone Mill’s White Oak line in the USA and Berto Blue Selvage from Italy.

    I think your article about Kickstarter throws the baby out with the bath water. For years our industry created hundreds of new brands and designers every season. Over the past 5 years, the pipeline to bring these fresh ideas and creativity to market has dried up. It is almost impossible for a designer or indi-maker to get a start without being independently wealthy or sell their name and/or or their soul to a big corporation. This is exactly what happened in the music business before it was reinvented just a few years ago…

    Crowd Funding changes that. Now, if you have a great idea for a brand or product you that can make yourself, or a business that you can source locally, you can start out on Kickstarter or another site like it. THIS IS HUGE. Yes there are snake oil salesmen. Yes there are people who will not deliver. Yes mistakes will be made. But for the most part, these people are honest and they are promoting sincere projects.

    I own two denim brands: Agave Denim and Bluer Denim. Agave is now 10 years old and sells in some of the nice shops in North America. We make incredible product in Los Angeles.

    Bluer Denim is a brand new. Bluer’s will be a consumer direct brand and include selvage in four fits, men’s rigid denim in four fits and three washes, Women’s selvage in one fit and one wash, and stretch denim four fits in three washes. Bluer’s not trying to take business away from denim shops or compete with brands listed in your margin. I am a good friend of many of the surviving denim shop owners.

    Bluer’s mission is to go after gigantic companies like, Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, Banana Republic, Gap, American Eagle Outfitters, etc., who sell JUNK JEANS made anywhere but the USA, often creating ecological blue river disasters and utilizing slave labor, but always wrapped up in Red, White and Blue Americana. We are not trying to “sell at wholesale”, or trying to “cut out middlemen”, just flip the tables on corporate dictators by providing amazing value to their customer base through huge efficiencies created by the new business model.

    With the success of Bluer, I hoping to pave the way for a new generation of craftsman, makers and entrepreneurs to follow suit, and use Crowd Sourcing to finance their dreams, just in case they are not independently wealthy.

    ~Jeffrey Todd Shafer
    Owner & Designer
    Agave Denim & Bluer Denim

    • selapista

      After reading this i think the author should just grab a plastic bag. Preferably a overpriced japanese one and do himself a service and the comunity to…. and wear that bag in the head

      • goldushapple

        Really? You think the author should commit suicide because he wrote an article that you disagreed on? It’s f_ckin’ jeans. Get over yourself.

    • goldushapple

      As someone who has jeans from Hollister and A&F, their jeans are quite good for mass produced stuff. So don’t get too high and mighty just because you sell and work at an independent shop.

    • Zac Smith

      Great, appreciate the positive outlook!

  • print paul dick

    fuck that … where is the design and heritage in Samurai Jeans and other repro brands?? fuck off… Most japanese brands are 50$ worth of denim and work, and 500$ worth of bulshit to fill the ego of denim nazi twats

  • Peter Hyatt

    I have a pair of 26 ounce denim that are amazing. The denim is gorgeous, the break in has been a war, but after 60 hours, they are not only fading, but starting to feel like sweat pants. They are less than 1/2 the price of the others made with that much denim. The quality is terrific and they will be great winter jeans in New England.

    That I got this wonderful pair at 50% less and had to wait 2 months?

    Not a problem.

    • Gustinsnipe

      Way to comment on an article written over a year ago, doofus G-unit fanboy.

  • Zac Smith

    well written article

    • Zac Smith

      And a thumbs up to everyone who has ever tried to figure it out… win or lose, kickstarter or old fashioned bootstrap, the reality is that to be successful it takes hard work and attention to detail, for as long as you want to exist. Those still standing do are doing so because they deserved to make it.