Anime Clothing and Market Opportunities for Brands
Updated: Oct 27, 2021
Anime clothing is a small but scrappy niche within the fashion industry, as well as one of my personal favorite categories to browse through. Brands in this niche have had a lot of success but there are still gaps in the market that are yet to be taken advantage of whether by drop shippers, new entrants, or incumbents.
Trends in Anime Apparel
First, let's do an overview of what's trending in the world of anime garb.
The majority of the anime brands out there make anime-inspired streetwear. Some brands have the licensing to sell clothes that reference specific anime, brands like Atsuko and Project Numa. Others are forced by licensing restrictions to make their own designs, or they make their own designs completely by choice.
It's been a long time since I've kept up on anime media myself, (and Crunchyroll doesn't have a "trending" tab) but what's safe to assume is that some of the most popular anime to be referenced by fashion brands are Naruto, Dragon Ball Z, My Hero Academia, Demon Slayer, and Hunter x Hunter.
Omitting mainstream stores that also have proper licensing like Forever 21 and Hot Topic, Atsuko comes out to be the king of anime apparel. They sell hundreds of attractive designs for hoodies and t-shirts that reference many different anime, as opposed to trying to build a brand from scratch with original designs.
How Anime Artists Play a Role
If you can get the proper licensing to use characters and logos from popular anime shows, this can be very valuable. Otherwise, the way to make a successful anime apparel brand is to use original, anime-style art for unisex t-shirt and hoodie designs, then use proper branding and marketing.
Some brands such as Uwumarket and Kaomoji rely almost entirely on uncovering artists' work and using it for designs in their clothing. On the other hand a brand like Totem is "artist owned and operated."
Here are some examples of different brands and their opposing styles (left to right: Kamifox, Imouri, and Gesshoku):
You can hire artists on sites like Fiverr, 99designs, or Carbonmade. Or if there are some you like from Instagram, TikTok, or DeviantArt, those are also on the table. From what I've noticed, the most popular artists are those that make art that's unique in style. An example could be Sergio Garcia (@brknsergio on Instagram). His work boasts impressive engagement stats on Instagram and even more impressive animation artwork.
One thing to note for competitors in—and entrants to—the anime clothing scene is that all the brands focus on t-shirts and hoodies. There are few jackets and joggers, and strictly no skirts, pants, denim, cardigans, or anything else. This is a significant gap in the market that's worth experimenting with.
The other two gaps I noticed were in collaborations and athletic wear. Collaborations seem to be underused in the anime brand circles, which is a shame considering how beneficial they can be.
For athletic wear, the reason none of these brands sell it is because the anime scene in the US is inextricably connected to the gaming scene, which is not traditionally associated with the health and fitness scene. That considered, it makes sense why only one of the many anime brands sell athletic wear, (Imouri) and even they only have one outfit in the category.
This may represent a marketing taboo, but it may also represent a marketing opportunity no one has taken advantage of yet. Just like how Element, a skate wear brand, panders to both skateboarders and outdoor hobbyists.
Another thing to know about this niche is that Discord servers are really popular. Considering how much Discord has grown in the past few years and effective they can be to build a community around your brand, and how many of the major brands use it, any serious stakeholder in anime apparel should take advantage if this.
The anime clothing niche is small but active. He are the market insights I've found while researching it as a whole:
Most brands can't get the licensing for popular anime and therefore have to make their own designs for their clothes
Hiring an artist to make some original, interesting designs for shirts and hoodies is enough to get your foot in the door in this niche
There's a surprising lack of athletic wear, pants, skirts, denim, and of collaborations in this niche, all of which may represent market opportunities