Our team squeal with excitement when we get to work with suppliers that are kicking goals. This week we sat down with the Hannah Chipkin of the co-founders of Merchgirls, a creative agency that is designing and manufacturing stylish and incredibly cool merchandise products that will have your client’s thanking you.
How did the Merchgirls story start?
Merchgirls started on the back of my former business, an independent boutique fashion label called Chip Chop, known for its fun, colourful prints and tongue in cheek graphics. As I was winding up the business, I was approached by the Australian Ballet. The Marketing department liked the style of my work and wondered if I would be interested to create a bespoke merchandise range for their online store. They wanted to create a new vibe of merch that really spoke to their target audience and most importantly, created revenue for the company.
It was really interesting timing, I would say the stars were aligned, as I didn’t have a plan of what I wanted to do next, but I did know that I no longer wanted to work in fashion. The idea of working on a project basis and creating for another brand really appealed to me. I was up for the challenge. But this time, I didn’t want to do it alone. I floated this opportunity to a colleague I had worked closely with during Chip Chop, Pippa. She jumped at the opportunity. So, I took hold of all things creative and Pippa too control of Production and we have been partners ever since.
Your approach to working with clients
We want each of our clients to have the best branding and creative product solutions available for their needs. Each job is treated on an individual basis and needs to be a true reflection of the brand at all times, and as importantly, needs to fulfil the purpose it is intended for.
Because the majority of our product offering is highly customisable, we approach each new enquiry with an individual feel. All our clients (and new enquiries) receive our Merch Menu (fancy for ‘product catalogue’) but the value of working with our product range is that the end game will be 100% theirs – not some generic, slap-a-logo-on-it merch.
Most often with an enquiry, we like to have a video meeting or face to face (if the client is in Melbourne and it’s NOT lockdown!) first to introduce ourselves, learn more about their needs and have a fun show and tell session with our magical stash of samples.
Once we have a clear brief about the project, we will prepare a tailored product proposal, outlining the best products we would recommend based on their needs.
We often include a moodboard of product look and feel at this stage and sometimes we are even tempted to include some teaser mockups so that the client can actually visualise their merch.
There is always some amount of back and forward communication, nutting out the final products – and quite often we will source products that are not featured on our menu, because what the client is looking for very specific (for example, winter blankets for Binge). Once the products are finalised, we then move onto the most exciting part, the design stage. This is a very valuable service we offer to our clients (at no extra cost) and allows us to get creative with branding. We offer a few different directions of design at this stage. Once the design feedback is given from the client, we roll out the design on the suite of products.
Then with approval, it’s go time!
I am proud to say that we have taken our level of service and our ‘agency’ approach very seriously and from this, we have an amazing level of referral and repeat based business. The most common phrase we hear from our clients is “None of the other merchandise suppliers we have worked with in the past offer what you guys do.” and ‘I’m so happy we found you!”
Your design process
Our design process starts with understanding the client’s branding. We have to immerse ourselves in their brand guidelines and get very familiar with all their assets and campaign imagery (if it’s around a particular launch or event). We have to be very clear about the client’s brand parameters, what we can and cannot do.
For most projects, we will start a tailored Pinterest board and research the world wide web for inspiration. For example, if it’s a summer activation for a make-up brand, we might get inspired by sorbet colours and rainbow typography. If it’s a tech start-up wanting uniforms, it will be a fresh, minimal style feel. We have covered so many different projects and brands in our 6 years of business, so there is also a vast knowledge base stored in our heads that comes in handy…
From our top pick inspiration images, we will customise a moodboard, which helps the designer work out the direction(s) for the project and get warmed up.
It’s a collaborative process from then on-in. Designs are developed and sent to the client. Following that, it usually takes up to 3 iterations to get it to sign off.
Commitment to sustainability
We care strongly about the environment and feel that we have a responsibility, as makers of mass product to manufacture with mindfulness wherever we can.
We are the first Merchandise company to say NO to single use plastic packaging. As a corporate merchandise supplier that produces over 500,000 individual pieces of merch every year, we pride ourselves in being ‘nude’. Merchgirls stopped using single use plastic 3 years ago. This has saved over a million (and counting) single use plastic polybags from going into landfill. As a standard, all our products arrive to you ‘in the nude’ (no wrapping) with sustainable packaging options upon request.
Eco Product lines – we have a range of RPET products (made from recycled plastic). Right now, our most popular products are our Eco-Tote and Wonderbag. Our goal in 2025 is to work with 25% recycled or re-purposed fabrications across our entire promotional product line.
Designed to be reused – Merchgirls also reduces landfill by designing merch that will be loved and highly re-used by the consumer. Products you will actually want to keep. Thought and care goes into every item we produce.
Carbon Neutral office – We have recently accomplished our goal of having all local freight and utilities (phone, internet, electricity) offset with carbon-neutral suppliers and we’re working towards having our entire office building carbon neutral by September 2021.
The power of creative marketing products
We are busier than we have ever been. Our clients value the power of merchandise as a physical marketing tool. Merch is tangible. You are literally placing your brand in the hands of consumers whilst also providing them the benefit of the product.
But it also really comes down to the product design. Is it as creative as it can be? Is it original? Does that t-shirt jersey feel good on the skin? Is the fit flattering? If you want someone to actually use and keep your brand top of mind, the merch needs to be on point in the quality, function and design department. You should be proud of your merch, it’s like a big, fat business card. It’s an extension of your brand and should not be treated with a copy, paste approach.
When done well, merch is super powerful. It can create hype on social media, increase revenue, incentivise customers, unite team culture and is makes a first impression and lasting memento of your brand in the hands of your target audience.