that's always going to be an issue with a brand, isn't it? someone likes your designs, but not the shirt. everyone has a preference. i prefer a lighter ring spun, someone else wants a six ounce all cotton. since you can't please everyone, you can do your best to appeal to your market. really, it probably doesn't make much difference in the long run as everyone will lose a sale for *some* reason (oh, i really love that design. i just wish it came in purple with pink polka dots and rhinestones that, you know, did something electronic!), but you're right, rob, you don't want to lose a sale because of quality. really, any ring spun should be better than your average gildan in terms of perception. too, discharge and water-based is something you want to tout as big plusses.
when i said alternatives, i should have been more specific. no way you should sacrifice the quality just because johnny cupcakes' shirt are not miraculously impervious to the laws of nature as much as viewed as a product some corporate-minded bean counter sees as there being more profit to be squeezed out... of... from. good grammar, huh? i really meant that see if you have some buddies that can help out with the website. are you printing your own shirts? basically, of those things you can't do yourself, is there a way you can learn at least enough to squeak by, or do you know someone that knows how? i look at it as trying to find ways to save money to put back into the business. do you advertise?
let's say i could swim and decided to be a surfer. i would buy your shirt if i knew it existed. what are you doing to let me know you're out there? or i'm a rock climber, or spelunk on the weekend, or i scuba. how do those people see your product?
here's another question: when i look at your designs, all i see is surfer lifestyle, so is that in itself a niche large enough to sustain a business? you want to have this adventurer's shirt, but all i see are surf-related designs, and those that aren't don't scream 'adventure' in any specific form. at first blush, i'd say that you'd sell far more shirts out of a shop on the boardwalk or beach store, eh?
a few little changes might get your enthusiasm going right now, because it seems like you're in a rut more than anything. like royce said, you're worlds ahead of most folk, but you don't realize it because you've also had more disappointment than most. i feel as if you're one little idea away from having that confidence boost you obviously need.
i'm guessing that your primary market is the white male, 18-30, interested in surf gear and accessories? he's probably an active guy, unmarried? he's probably a democrat if he sat down and thought about it, and his religious beliefs tend to be here nor there, but more on the non-traditional side (at least in our culture) if he had to choose, or at least might call himself christian even if he hasn't been to church in ages? he probably has a little college, or plans to go, and earns above minimum wage (or so you hope)? if he doesn't have a smart phone already, he wants one. he probably doesn't have much of a problem finding a girlfriend and his personality, while laid back, tends to be on the aggressive side in a lot of areas? his other interests may include nice cars (which he can't afford, but probably drives a foreign car) and partying on the weekends. his clothing is comfortable and casual, but he's not the white tee shirt kind of guy, per se. he rents.
i'm just making all that stuff up.
can i go into marketing now? lol.
you did the trade show thing and sold a ton of shirts. you know your product is good even if it does lack the scope of adventure you're seeking. a brand like yours i would say would be a good choice to offer stickers for. and as much as i hate to say it, your brand seems like one of those that might benefit from slapping stickers up all over the damn place around the beach and the bars where your market is likely to hang out. is there a way you can sponsor an event or a surfer? i really think this is one of those brands where you're gonna have to get out there and promote it on a grass roots level along with whatever other ideas you have going on.
as far as johnny cupcakes goes, as i remember how the story goes, he was a bassist in a band that was touring the country. so, he already had an audience that would stare at him for hours on end. then he came up with an amazing design for a t-shirt and started wearing that in his shows. now, if i could come up with an amazing design and get hundreds or thousands of people to look at it for an hour, yeah, i'd probably sell a lot of shirts, too, lol. a lot of folk look at him and draw inspiration from what he did, but they're usually not seeing the definitely unusual circumstances behind the reasons, namely his great idea and his exposure. of course, this is why you sponsor someone, to pay them to be your bassist on tour, an MMA fighter, a hot dog surfer, a skate wizard wearing an amazing design. give the leader of the pack a free shirt and his followers will do what sheep do (sheeple if you're a conspiracy nut). is there any interest in the blog? if so, i would want to find out who the well-known players are and ask if they'll take a pic of themselves wearing your gear and use that in your site, especially your facebook (or maybe even better yet, printerest?).
this all sounds pretty expensive to me.