I began by growing a large authentic audience on Instagram under the artist name NKAQUIRK which involved posting my own illustrations and using various marketing techniques to reach new audiences. I was successful and did not have to use sponsored posts in order to build engagement.
Once i reached 10,000 followers and gained access to swipe up links within instagram stories; I began to release merchandise on this account to capitalise on the popularity of my illustrations and online following - I analysed the insights that Instagram offers business accounts as well as completing my own research by releasing certain art prints and reviewing what was most popular and had most commercial success.
I created an Etsy store to trial selling different art prints and reviewing which themes and styles were most successful.
Below are some examples of the listings on Etsy.
From the success of selling art prints I decided to trial embroidered t-shirts. I chose embroidery as it allowed me to keep the upfront cost of materials much lower than if I had invested in screen printing.
I created 5 different limited edition embroidered designs that varied in style and theme. I had a huge demand and interest for my 'sailor moon' inspired t-shirt (pictured above on the right).
The middle pictures show how I advertised the t-shirts on my instagram- I wanted to keep it very 'low-key' and relatable style wise to match my audience.
Because of the huge demand and interested in the sailor moon themed t-shirt I decided to invest and produce a batch of screen printed designs.
The t-shirts were really successful and I even released a limited edition negative version of the t-shirt which was white ink printed on black. I shared and reposted all the images of people wearing them and encouraged people to post and share. It allowed me to reach a wider audience and boost sales.
Once I hit over 100 sales I began looking in creating my own online store rather than using a platform like Etsy.
You can see in the graph above how my sales rocketed and you can see the huge decline when I decided to leave Etsy.
At the same time as launching my own website and online store, I decided to create a second instagram that would allow me to focus solely on illustration.
Creating this allowed me to push merchandise on my main account 'nkaquirk' and keep an ongoing theme of astrology/lgbt+ themed art on 'nkastars'.
From my own research into social media and my audience I knew that keeping an instagram feed consistent was better for engagement levels so I would need to separate them in order to keep audiences interested.
As I predicted, nkastars was a success and I hit 10,000 followers in under a year. I had higher engagement levels on this account as it was all one style. In order to capitalise on this loyal and engaged audience I created a webcomic in a similar style that kept people interested in what I was creating and I also used this account to push my apparel and original account 'nkaquirk'.
Around this time I also launched a pride themed t-shirt. 10% of the profits went to a LGBT+ charity. I used the artwork from 'nkastars' with the advertising to allow me to engage both audiences.
Next I moved into embroidered hats as I wanted to expand what products I could offer. To promote both my new hats and my other designs I created an online 'doll dress up' game where you could create a character dressed in my own merchandise.
Pictured above are my hats. They sold out in the first few days and proved to be a really successful product. In the picture you can also see the enamel pins on my backpack (some of those are also created and sold by me so this helped to push them).
Below are photos and assets I used for my online dress up game - used to promote my products.
The game was a success. People could make their character and then save it and share it on their socials.
After this I returned to my original sailor moon themed t-shirt and created an updated version for winter. (I also wanted to create a design I knew would sell as I was beginning to order in larger quantities and didn't want to end up with excess stock that potentially would have to go to sale).
I drew up a sailor moon inspired drawing in my 'nkastars' style and had it screen printed by a manufacturer.
Since I had been selling products on my own website I gained the ability to capture customers data (inline with GDPR), track and promote sales more accurately and create email marketing to send out to existing customers to support the release of my new products. You can see in the graph below that my 'wicked lady' (sailor moon winter inspired) outsold all other designs and was by far my most popular design I released.
You can see in the images above that I now could promote the t-shirt on both 'nkaquirk' and 'nkastars' and get similar engagement levels.
After the success of my wicked lady t-shirt I invested in releasing a thick jumper for winter time. I decided to get back to my own designs and wanted to experiment with just font rather than illustration as I had always received requests for apparel with just writing.
The jumper was really successful and has allowed me to delve into text apparel in the future.