A T-shirt that tells a story. That’s the goal of California-based supplier Lane Seven Apparel (PPAI 630869, Standard-Base). Lane Seven kicked off a series of interactive experiences designed to engage customers and end users at South by Southwest, the annual mid-March festival focused on creative pursuits including film, interactive media and music.

Meghan Brazzelle, senior sales manager for Lane Seven, lives in Austin, Texas, where SXSW takes place, and she knew the festival would be a great way to connect with and support emerging artists. “It’s more than just a music festival, or TV and film,” she adds, “so you really reach all creative types.”

Milissa Gibson, L7 sales director, agrees. “I don’t think that there is a more organic and central point anywhere in the current market that you can bring a brand to and then have it blow up immediately after that,” she says. “You’re reaching and engaging with everyone from Porsche all the way down to a garage band.”

The Road To SXSW

Shortly after she joined the team at Lane Seven last May, Brazzelle reached out to a friend who also happens to be the merchandise manager for SXSW to secure the company’s spot as the official T-shirt sponsor for SXSW 2024.

A big part of the deal and its appeal was the SXSW merch truck, which made its debut in 2023. Social media posts alert followers to its location as it travels to different SXSW events across the city, adding the excitement of a scavenger hunt.

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Lane Seven partnered with Supacolor (PPAI 820922, Standard-Base) to bring on-the-spot, live decoration to the merch truck to further engage customers. Once a buyer purchased an official SXSW shirt, they could add their choice of L7’s art via heat transfer for free, and they were invited to post photos with the hashtag #L7SXSW.

Lane Seven also solicited artwork via social media to adorn a free-with-purchase tee that was given out at SXSW. “The idea with that was to piggyback on the innovation that takes place at South by Southwest and hopefully inspire our customers [with] the opportunity to have their artwork to prominently displayed on South by Southwest merch,” says Alexis Shubin, marketing manager for Lane Seven.

“We’re showing off what we do, but what we really love is showing off what our customers are doing,” says Gibson. “There’s so much creativity and ingenuity in this industry. … I’m awestruck by what people come up with.”

Lessons For The Road Ahead

Brazzelle says the SXSW activation proved to be a great way to showcase Lane Seven merchandise, as well as make a lasting impression – both on the shirt and in the customer’s mind.

“It’s more than just printing or decorating a shirt or a hoodie,” she says. “It’s also being able to create those unique and memorable moments that someone can take home to build a deeper connection with our brand.”

As official sponsors, the L7 team was able to set up not only next to the merch truck but also in the SXSW official merch booth, putting them at the heart of the action where they were able to engage in valuable conversations. “Engaging with up-and-coming artists about the significance of merch in building their brand was not only enlightening but also incredibly rewarding,” says Brazzelle.

And SXSW was only the beginning, adds Shubin. “We plan to have the tour keep going to trade shows, so hopefully it takes on a life of its own,” she says. By the end of March, the team had already completed two more activations: one at a decorators’ trade show and another during a large distributor’s internal conference.

“We’ve learned a lot, and we are so excited to explore where this tour is going to take us,” says Gibson. “Being at SXSW and seeing firsthand the engagement people had with the art and garment was a great reminder of the power of merch and how much it can tell a brand story.”