Some Friends of Mine

Hey guys, I thought I would share something that I’ve been working on for the past couple of days. They are essentially a bunch of characters (I’ve done 12 total). I’m feeling very creative at the moment and have lots of wonderful ideas in mind. Keep in mind that these are initial concepts and colors and/or other things may change (based on feedback!). 

Anyway, I’m interested in what you guys think of them, if you’d buy them if they were ever printed and what demographics you think these would fit well with. I’ve got ideas to use these guys on more than just shirts (and I don’t mean just buttons or stickers).

Looking forward to any feedback!

Let me introduce you guys to,

Albert:

Rosalind:

Watson:

Mendelev:

100th Tee Fury Tee and First Collaboration

Tee Fury has been around for just over 3 months and has just posted their 100th Tee. Tee Fury posts a different tee everyday for sale for a limited time of 24 hours. The great things about this new tee is that it’s not only the 100th Tee Fury tee to be released, but, it’s the first collaboration tee they’ve done. 

The art on the tee is the work of the many designers that frequent the Tee Fury forums. The idea was first suggested by Craig Watkins aka Wotto who suggested that people should submit their take on the Tee Fury bird logo for use on a collaboration tee. The final design is pretty great and the tee design itself is titled Furyous Omnibus. Grab yours now at TeeFury for a measly 9 bucks!

Indie Tee Spotlight #9: Dance Party Massacre

Welcome to Indie Tee Spotlight #9! We’re back after a one-week hiatus (hey we did two of these things two weeks ago!). 

With this week being Halloween week I thought it was fitting to feature a company whose central theme is centered around horror! With inspiration from old horror flicks floating around in his head, Alex Dakoulas created Dance Party Massacre out of his love for horror and dancing. Before DPM, Dakoulas would often hold movie screenings of old horror flicks in his apartment and then follow it up by having a dance party. He explained in a recent Boston Globe interview:

“You go to a dance party, and everyone there is young. You watch slasher films, and they’re all about young people having fun,” Dakoulas explains. “They don’t think they’re doing anything wrong, and then they get killed for it.” – Alex Dakoulas, Boston Globe, July 2008

I had the great fortune to chat it up with Alex about Dance Party Massacre, some of the creative things he has done to promote DPM and how he was able to mesh together his interests to create his brand.

“I mean, first you need to have an awesome product, but then half of selling it is getting it out there.” 

Coty: Tell us a little bit about your brand, Dance Party Massacre, and what it’s all about. How did you come up with the name and what does it mean?

Alex: I’ve loved horror movies since I can remember, and designing t-shirts became a big part of my life once I started “becoming” a graphic designer. It was probably inevitable that the two would come together. There came a point in my life that fighting for your life, from the literal to the metaphorical, really connected with me. Watching horror movies, doing what I wanted, living it up with friends, and not letting things beat me down was such a release.

Dance Party Massacre was a phrase, and an idea, and imagery that kept floating about in my head during that time. At it’s core DPM is about taking the bad and making it good. It’s a fun take on how we all have demons out to get us, but we just have to kill ‘em and move on!

Coty: Dance Party Massacre was launched in Boston just last year. In that short amount of time you’ve created a successful brand that revolves around knives, blood and gore. When you started, did you expect to be embraced by the mainstream so much so that DPM would be available in boutique stores in England, Australia and Canada?

Alex: I launched Dance Party Massacre with the thought that although it’s not mass marketable, perhaps it could catch on in at least some niche-like capacity. I know that the horror movie crowd (although the indie-dance and t-shirt crowds are pretty tight) is intense, so I was hoping some of that aura would latch onto this. What I didn’t expect was this slew of horror-graphics that started to rise about. I think that trend has both helped Dance Party Massacre with getting into stores, but also hurt it because the line might not be perceived as original. Trust me, if you would have told me the whole indie, DIY, t-shirt trend was leaning towards horror I would have never believed you!

Coty: What would you say has been the DPM formula for success?

Alex: Trial and error. I’m just making something I like and and trying to get it out to people. I try something out, and if it doesn’t work I stop. If it does, I continue. For advertising we’ve done dance nights, online advertising, talking with people directly, a street team, guerrilla marketing, and selling in-person at certain events. I mean, first you need to have an awesome product, but then half of selling it is getting it out there.

Design goes the same way. You try out one thing, and it sells, so continue with that idea. If it doesn’t, don’t keep doing it! I keep everything within my vision of this project, but I try to also keep in mind this is a business that needs to make money so I can continue with it.

Coty: You obviously embrace social media, considering that DPM can be found on MySpace and Facebook. How important have these online social media sites been to the success of DPM?

Alex: I think it’s been a big part. Being a really small company there’s no money to have a flagship store. Having recently started there’s not enough exposure to have boutiques coming to us begging to carry DPM. The internet is a great way to cut out the middle-man, and get to customers and fans directly. I think it also makes the customer feel connected more to the brand, and that’s important.

Coty: You already work as a successful designer for a major brand, Converse. Why did you decide to start your own brand?

Well, I had been designing t-shirts for years when I finally decided to start a line with cohesive designs and a strong idea. I interned for Converse right after school, with the idea for DPM developing during that period. When I didn’t land a job directly after the internship I had free time (and some money now) so Dance Party Massacre flourished. It came out of my brain, and it just made sense to me. I launched the line and landed a job at Converse the same month, but that’s just how it worked out.

Coty: What has been the most challenging aspect of marketing DPM? What have been some of the creative things you’ve done to promote DPM?

Alex: Definitely the content. I have friends and family who love to support each other. When I started up a line with knives, and blood most weren’t too keen on wearing it. If you can’t even get your crew to wear your stuff, who will probably like it even if it’s crap, how easy is it going to be to get it onto strangers? There’s been so many times that I’ll sell DPM at events and people look at the designs and kind of laugh or ask me questions, but then they never purchase it. People are intrigued by it, but it takes a certain person to wear our stuff, I guess.

I’ve tried a lot of things to get DPM out there to people, but I’d say the most unique thing we’ve done is start up our “What are U afraid of?” campaign. I really want Dance Party Massacre to not just be a t-shirt line, but a brand with a way of thinking behind it. Being new it’s been really important to push what our concept is about, so that people understand it. “What are U afraid of?”, which simply poses the question to people online (whatareuafraidof.com) and in real-life (stickers), has that double entendre of danger and fun that DPM is all about. It gets people involved, and depending on who the person is someone can answer it directly or playfully. It’s a literal question, but also one that could have people question what’s stopping them from doing something in their life.

Coty: DPM has just made a year, and is just about ready to rollout “Season 2″, your newest line of tees. What sets Season 2 apart from Season 1?

Alex: With Season 1 I was so into it. I didn’t have much else to do, but spend nights developing not only the first season of designs, but the whole concept behind the brand. It became very much about the idea behind Dance Party Massacre, and having everything make sense with each other.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure if people really noticed all that underlying stuff. I put so much time into it, that for the second season I just wanted to make awesome stuff. The groundwork was laid out, and now it could be more fun. So for Season 2 I didn’t focus so much about cohesiveness or drawing inspiration from one direct source. And I think that was a good decision. After coming out with a strong statement to grab people’s attention, the line has to grow and get designs from different areas to stay fresh.

Coty: What are your future plans for DPM? Do you aspire to open a themed boutique store similar to fellow indie Boston tee designer turned mainstream t-shirt icon, Johnny Cupcakes? Or do you see DPM as mainly an online only venture?

Alex: I look at the line as a premium brand that I want to continue getting into boutiques around the world. We will continue to have an online presence, too, as we can control that so well, and it’s accessible to everyone. I would be all-for a retail store if the line ever makes enough money to produce that, but right now it’s not in the works. If a store does happen it would probably be some odd mixture of someones basement, a movie theater, dance club, video rental place, candy store, and a haunted house.

Coty: Finally, what bit of advice do you have for aspiring DIY indie tee designers?

Alex: DON’T START ANYTHING WITHOUT THE REALIZATION THAT IT MIGHT FAIL. I think people should be realistic. If you’re gonna start up a “t-shirt line”, everyone and their grandmother and uncle have started one too. It’s not going to be easy to make it succeed. You should just be happy with making it for yourself, and if it doesn’t catch on with others don’t let it ruin your life. Don’t put all your money into it and go bankrupt. Don’t beat yourself down if it doesn’t make you a million bucks. Having your own business, I think you can have it run your life from day to night, but if you just sit back and let things unfold I think you’ll be happier person.

Thanks to Alex for taking the time to talk about Dance Party Massacre! Be sure to check out this goods by going to their online store! If you would like to be featured in the Indie Tee Spotlight then please feel free to contact me!

The Emptees Zombie Anniversary Tee

The Emptees Zombie Anniversary Tee has been in the making for the past month. JeffK first suggested on the Emptees forum that Emptees artist collaborate to make a tee filled with zombies. It was such a popular idea that within a few days it was officially endorsed and sponsored by the Emptees staff. 

Long story short, a ton of Emptees designers, including fan favorites like jimmyheartcore, gaunty heavyprints and sittingduck, uploaded their zombie designs. Over 50 different zombie drawings made it onto the anniversary tee. Emptees offered up a Photoshop file and users were allowed to play around with different color combinations for the shirt. The different color schemes were posted and users voted. The following color scheme won and will be printed on silver American Apparel tees. 

“A colossal community collaborative concoction coinciding with our birthday commencement. In other words, a limited edition zombie tee using over 50 drawings by Emptees members.”

Check out the color schemes that didn’t make it here. To see the artwork check out this link. Amd finally, to buy this tee, go here, it’ll ship on November 17, 2008. 

Connect It USB Head – Vote For ME!

Voting is now open for the Threadless Calendar Contest. Show your support and vote for my entry so that I can be in the Calendar and win that Threadless quilt! Here is my submission just to refreshen your memory. Check out the official Threadless vote thread for more information. 

5 Things We Can Learn From The Threadless Story

Threadless was started by two guys that decided to invest in the prize money they won from an online contest. They created a business that allowed its community of diehard followers to create, hype and decide what products get made. There are a lot of things that indie brands can learn from the Threadless model, here, I present five things we can learn from the Threadless story. 

1. You Can Build A Business With Minimal Startup Funds. Threadless Co-Founders, Jake Nickell and Jacob DeHart started Threadless using the $1000 prize money won from another online design contest. If you have extra cash lying around, invest in it wisely, Jake and Jacob did and now they run a multi-million dollar business whose model is built on handing out cash to design winners. The point is, in the grand scheme of things, you don’t need large sums of money to start a business. If you are driven and you  have a solid idea then you will be successful – in one way or another. 

2. Community Can Drive A Business. The Threadless model is entirely built around it’s community of dedicated users. People submit designs and people vote. All the while, free hype and publicity for these designs are generated by the community itself. Threadless is a self-sustaining business, unlike old-school fashions brands like Levi’s, Guess and Quicksilver, that spend millions of dollars in marketing and print ads to generate hype, Threadless let’s it’s community take care of that for them.

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3. Make It Fun and Stick With It. Everything about Threadless screams fun. From the designs they select to the layout of the website. The point here is, if you have a theme to your business, push that theme hard and follow through. Even though the ongoing design contest is a constant, they still have smaller “theme” contests, like the current Threadless Loves Travel contest. Their product shots keep with the fun theme as do the weekly videocast. If your brand has a theme, stick to it ad push it hard. 

4. The Appeal of Limited Edition is Hard to Resist. Whenever things have the “Limited Edition” moniker slapped on it, people buy it up. I think that having a design available for purchase on a limited basis and then marketing it as such was a brilliant move by Threadless. “Limited Edition” provides a sense of urgency whenever a potential customer is deciding whether or not they should buy a tee and instills the idea of “I should buy it now or else it won’t be available next time I visit.” I’m surprised that there aren’t many indie tee designers that market their tees as being a limited prints when in fact they are, especially when they print just 50 or 100 of a particular design. I think independent designers should take advantage of the “Limited Edition” moniker. If you do, let me know if people start to buy your stuff up. 

5. The Physical and Online Worlds Can Mesh. Threadless was able to build a physical store from the success of its online store. Johnny Cupcakes did the same thing. The physical and online worlds can mesh if there is value in both. The online community is the strong point of the online Threadless store. The physical Threadless store is able to incorporate things that they otherwise would not be able to do on the online store, for instance, the Threadless Art Gallery. Building and maintaining an online store is relatively cheap compared to opening and managing a physical store. A physical store might not always be necessary, but, if your brand can grow and if there is added value to the physical store than it might be something to consider.

Was this article helpful? Let me know. Have your incorporated in Threadless techniques into your own business model? If so, how? 

Horsebites Featured at the Threadless Gallery

Congratulations to fellow Emptees member, Horsebites, for being the featured artist at the Threadless Galleries in Chicago. If you’re in the Chicago area be sure to check out the new Horsebites gallery at the Threadless Store. The gallery will be up until November 5!

Follow along as Richard Minino aka Horsebites talks about some of his art up in the Threadless Gallery.

HorseBites is the design and artwork of Orlando, Florida based artist Richard Minino. His inspiration includes the juxtaposition of the enchantment forced upon him growing up in the shadow of Mickey Mouse and the disenchantment of punk rock (also very near and dear to his heart). His work explores the true meaning of aggression and violently shoes the mind into another realm of the imagination. His most recent work revolves around music with delightfully tacky, aggro works ranging from CD layouts, t-shirt designs, advertisements and tour posters. He has worked closely with bands like Less Than Jake and New Mexican Disaster Squad.

The Return on Involvement

In this post I talk a little bit about how you can invest in being involved with social medial and your customers. The return on involvement can be a tremendous one with word of mouth being the catalyst of that return. 

These are just 5 tips that I thought to list, based on things that I have read and based on past successes. There are potentially tons of ways that you can become involved with your customer base. Attack every one of those opportunities. 

If you have additional tips on how, as a brand, you can be more involved then please list it in the comments. I will be sure to use it in a future update post!

1. Bloggers Are Your Friend. As a brand in 2008 you need to know how to maximize your presence throughout InternetLAND. One of the best ways to do this is to build relationships with bloggers within your niche. Build a list of all the blogs that you can find, within your niche, and get to know the blog, the writer(s) at that blog and that blog community. As a blogger I love it when people within my niche contact me regarding feedback/suggestions, product announcements, or requests. More times than not, I will oblige to the request and if that request means mentioning a new product that that means free advertising for the person that took the time to contact me. Now imagine if that person contacted 10, 20 or even 50 other bloggers – and at least half of those bloggers made a blog post with the request. Bloggers = free advertising.

Real World Example: This one happens all the time with me, brands send me promotional items and I am more than happy to make a quick post about the product or their sale. I sometimes even do a quick Twitter post. In fact, it usually goes a step further and I end up doing a much larger feature on that brand. 

2. People Like Free Swag. If you’ve got extra stock lying around, why not give some away. The return on that investment will be well worth it. Instead of having that old tee sit around, unpurhased and unadored, ship it off to a t-shirt blogger, hand it off to a friend or even a random person. You may even want to try and send it to a famous person that you know wears styles similar to your brand. It’s about creating buzz and involvement so when you give your free stuff away remember to mention a little about your brand, where they can get more (i.e. your online store or website), and any “new” products that you have available. People like free stuff and so when they get free stuff they tend to talk about said free stuff with family, friends, and co-workers. Word of mouth is a powerful tool and giving away free stuff will get that word of mouth ball rolling.

Real World Example: Please Dress Me is doing this now by giving away free tees daily as way to promote their new T-shirt search engine.   

3. Build Mystique. Flyers are great but they often get tossed – I’m guilty of doing that. One thing that people, especially in the 18-25 year old demographic, would be less likely to toss would be stickers. Many indie tee companies have stickers printed with their logo, brand name and address of their website. Instead of plastering your site address on the sticker, i.e. www.lintyfresh.com, why not just have your logo and brand name on the sticker. The psychology behind this tip is that people can be complacent at certain times, when you give them too much information they take it for granted and will tend to forget it. Give them a piece of the puzzle and build mystique. Provide just the brand name or even just the logo and, if interested, they will definitely (I know I would) be more inclined to do a Google search on the brand or ask around about the logo. Same can be said for other promotion materials like buttons. Make them work a little. Mystique builds interest and that interest will pay off.  

Real World Example: Never In Wonderland (NIWL), recently featured in the Indie Tee Spotlight, plaster stickers wherever they go. The stickers just say NIWL on them. All it takes is one kid to see that NIWL sticker and then Google them and then a potential sale is born.

4. Be Accessible. If you’re an indie tee brand then try your best to be as accessible to your customers as possible. You’re not a multi-million dollar company (yet) so you can’t afford to have a dozen assistants answering emails and phone calls. You need to do this on your own. You need to be committed to doing this. Creating and building a good rapport with your customers is very important for 1. word of mouth and 2. trust. Consumers, myself included, trust independent sellers that much more when they know they can get their questions answered. Imagine a potential buyer, unsure about sizing, who emails you and asks whether or not he would fit a medium or larger based on his measurements. If you don’t answer this potential buyers email that might lead to a lost sale. Answer that email and 1. the chances of that potential sale increases and 2. word of mouth (yes, again) – he goes off and tells friends that “the owner is accessible”,”I’ve talked to him”, “you don’t need to worry.” One email can impact multiple sales, remember that the next time you think about skipping or auto-deleting an email. 

Real World Example: Gary Vaynerchuk, host of the very popular Wine Library TV, is noted as answering every email he receives. If he can answer emails in the hundreds and thousands, there’s no reason that you can’t. 

5. Non-Issue Replacements. InternetLAND is a very loud and vocal arena. Make ONE customer angry and that might lead to negative publicity and the loss of multiple sales. Imagine a customer that contacts you regarding a “missing” t-shirt in his order. You can deal with this customer in two ways: 1. call bullshit and assume he is lying, or 2. take the risk on the bullshit and assume he is telling the truth. Option 1, assuming you did not offer a refund or replacement, might lead to an angry customer that expresses his anger on multiple blogs and forums with a negative review of your brand/company. You save $20 on a replacement tee but potentially lose hundreds or thousand of dollars of lost sales based on one customers angry review. Option 2, assuming you sent a full refund or replacement item, might lead to that now happy customer (whether or not he lied is a moot point) to post on multiple blogs and forums about how great the customer service at your site was. You lose $20 but potentially gain hundreds or even thousands of dollars in sales because of one happy customer (remember word of mouth?). Upset one customer and they might lead to an enormous amount of lost sales. Make one customer happy and you’ll see a return on your investment.

Real World Example: “Best Buy didn’t want to honor the sale price of the 2GB flash drive Matt ordered through their website, so when Matt arrived to pick-up his purchase, the store’s assistant manager called customer service and, pretending to be Matt, asked to cancel the order.” Needless to say, the story ended up on the Consumerist and on Digg and was seen by millions of potential buyers.