In this weeks edition of The Indie Tee Spotlight, I highlight a cool little small business venture led by Steve Orlando, self-described as a reluctant leader, disillusioned romantic and uneloquent philosophaster. Orlando started Robit Studios earlier this year with friend Jeff Gerzseny out of their frustration with graphic tees.Â
I had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Steve about the company he founded, Robit Studios, and why he aspired not to be “just another pretentious t-shirt company.” He discusses his love for small-business and why it’s smart (and worth it) to go “green.”
1. How long has Robit Studios been around? What inspired you to start a T-shirt brand?
We launched our website in March of this year. However the original idea and preparations for that launch began a few years ago. The inspiration to start a brand started when Jeff (the other half of Robit Studios) and I were frustrated with the unfunny slogan tees and obnoxious graphic tees that dominate the retail world. This was before we knew about places like Threadless. Jeff had some screen printing experience and a small wooden press from school so we decided to give it a shot.
2. The tagline “just another pretentious t-shirt company” can be found on the Robit Studios site. What do you mean by this?
When we first began brainstorming ideas and concepts for shirts we thought we were going to revolutionize the t-shirt world. However, as we began studying our competition and becoming familiar with the t-shirt blogging scene we realized that a lot of people not only had the same ideas, but were sometimes better executed. It made me realize that we can’t take ourselves too seriously.
3. Many of your tees have some sort of political message associated with it. Did you start Robit with the intention of producing politically inspired tees?
It wasn’t intentional. But, like a lot of people, we’ve been caught up in the interesting political environment we’ve had over the past few years. I also think that there are very few political t-shirts that are subtle in their message. For example, I would never wear a t-shirt that said “Buck Fush”. I think there was an unmet demand for shirts like “Chance of Reign”.
4. Strong ideals seem to be a huge part of the way Robit operates. From using only environmentally friendly inks to printing on sweat-shop free tees to hand printing each shirt. What made you decide to go the “green” route (and market yourselves as such) and why is this so important for Robit Studios considering the higher cost of these environmentally friendly products.
When we first seriously began discussing the creation of Robit Studios we knew we wanted to do it in a socially and environmentally friendly way. Since then I began working on my MBA in Environmentally Sustainable Management which helped us implement those ideas into our business model. I believe that true sustainability is the solution that will allow us to continue living on the planet in a way we’re familiar with. The beauty of sustainability is that it doesn’t conflict with capitalism, but actually complements it.
5. Your about page says “We [Robit Studios] gear our product toward anyone that appreciates the small businesses and creative minds, or the efforts of individuals against careless corporations that pander to the lowest common denominator.” What is it about small businesses, as compared to huge corporations, that gets you excited? What has the experience of owning and operating a small business been like for you?
Small businesses rock, simple as that. Just imagine if your only choice of t-shirt had to come from Wal-Mart. It doesn’t take much more than that to get me excited about the hundreds of small independent t-shirts brands that are available at my fingertips.
The experience of being a small business owner has been great. Knowing that there are people around the world who are wearing something I created feels incredible. This summer we got to do some festivals and I met a lot of amazing people, artists and bands. We’re teaming up with an amazing artist, Sean Madden, for some new t-shirts as well as another project which we’re hoping to launch soon.
6. Two of my favorite tees from the Robit Studios Store are “Chance of Reign” and “Ragingly Inefficient.” What message are you trying to send with these two tees?
Thanks. Like I mentioned earlier we like t-shirts that aren’t in-your-face with their message. I don’t have a particular point I’m trying to make with any shirt but if someone spends more than a few seconds deciding what it means to them, I feel like I succeeded. I like t-shirts that make me think (but only a little).
7. Of the eleven tees available in the Robit Studios Store, which is your favorite and why?
Wacky Deli. This is our worst selling shirt and I’m honestly not surprised. The cheese is a minor character from one episode of the 90’s Nickelodeon cartoon Rocko’s Modern Life. We created it knowing full well the obnoxious obscurity of it all. However, what made it all worth it was when Joe Murray, the creator of Rocko ordered one from us and didn’t sue us!
8. Finally, what bit of advice would you give to 1. all the other pretentious t-shirt companies out there, and 2. all those wanting to start a brand in hopes of becoming just another pretentious t-shirt company?
One piece of advice: Be friendly to bloggers and they will be your friends. Thanks to people like you, Coty, there is an excellent venue for us small companies with almost no advertising budget. Thanks for the opportunity!
I definitely have to take the time to thank Steve for contacting me (and sending me some nice swag to checkout)! I really feel that Robit Studios is in the business for all the right reasons, which is why it’s so easy to support them! If you want to purchase some Robit gear, please checkout their online store! And for all you tee designers, Robit Studios also offers apparel printing services so be sure to get a quote from them!