This weeks Indie Tee Spotlight, the 21st edition by the way, ushers in a whole new perspective. Up to this point, I’ve been interviewing owners of different indie clothing brands. In this Indie Tee Spotlight, I interview someone that has become an integral part of the indie clothing scene with his honest reviews. His name is Andy Bowness and he is the founder of the popular T-Shirt and hoodie blog, Hide Your Arms.Â
Andy started Hide Your Arms way back in January of 2006, and, as the name implies, started off by focusing on hoodies and jackets but has since grown to cover tees as well. Since then Andy has hustled hard and is considered to be one of the top tier T-Shirt/clothing bloggers around. I’ve got to admit that I was pretty excited to chat with Andy since he has been an inspiration to me as a tee blogger.Â
Coty: You have one the more (some would argue most) succesful t-shirt blogs around. When and why did you decide to start a fashion blog? When did Hide Your Arms first really start picking up momentum in the blogosphere?
Andy:Â I know OMGTees gave me a #1 ranking a while back, but I still think that Karl (tcritic) has the top blog in terms of readers, and a lot of people in the tee-osphere (we need to think of a better name for that, by the way) are writing better stuff than me at the moment, but yeah, I think HYA is pretty successful. I decided to start writing HYA when I was in my last semester at university (January 2006), which is probably exactly the wrong time to start any kind of project, I didn’t like the clothes I was finding in the city I was in at the time and was scouring the internet for stuff I liked, I noticed what Jason was doing at Preshrunk (writing about clothes and being sent free clothes), and thought “hey, I could do that!”
At first things were pretty slow, I had to really hustle to get my name out there, every time I wrote about a hoodie or t-shirt I e-mailed the designer to let them know, sometimes they’d link to the review on their blog or e-mail back to say thanks, and I think that helped early on. I made sure I got involved with the other tee bloggers that were around at the time too, there was less than a dozen of us back then, so it was easier to keep track of who was doing what and what was popular. Things really started to pick up last year, I had a solid base of traffic from the ‘really long list’ articles that I’d put out every so often that helped me to reach a lot of people, and readership tripled last year to around 4000 readers, although it’s hard to verify those numbers. I think that kicking it up to 8 articles a day towards the end of 2008 helped me too, but it was a killer work schedule (I’d do a near full-time manual labour job, come home, then work till midnight on HYA), so I’ve cut back a bit.
Coty:Â You’ve built a pretty strong and recognizable brand with the Hide Your Arms blog. Have you ever considered selling Hide Your Arms branded tees or hoodies?
Andy:Â I’ve been intending to sell HYA hoodies & tees pretty much since I started the blog, but I’ve never got around to going through with it, hell, I don’t even have a proper logo yet!
I think there’s a big risk with putting out my brand of goods, as soon as I have something to sell it means that I’m competing with all the people I write about, and something about that doesn’t seem quite right to me. I wouldn’t do any of the designing myself, there’s a reason why I write about t-shirts rather than design them, but I would love to release some designs that have been created for HYA on a specific theme, I think it could be really cool if I got it right.
Coty:Â Currently, who are some of your favorite indie designers and why?
Andy:Â Oooh, this is a tough one, for a couple of reasons; first, I don’t really like to play favourites, and secondly, I’m pretty terrible at remembering names. At the moment I like Olly Moss, though more for the stuff he puts on his Flickr account than the tees he produces (not that they suck, they’re good too), I think that Linty Fresh/Eric Terry make some of the most wearable designs out there, it’s always good to see Sven Palmowski/a.mar.illo win in a design competition, Tony Aguero/aliadotony has designed loads of tee that are in my wardrobe, I love his style. I don’t really spend much time looking at art if it isn’t on a t-shirt, but I make a point of keeping tabs on Kozyndan, they’re a couple that make me wish I had more walls so that I could put their posters on them.
Coty:Â Other than Hide Your Arms, what do you do for your day job? Are you a designer by trade?
Andy:Â Well, it’s not really a job, but at the moment I’m an intern at the top advertising agency in Philadelphia. Back in England I fulfill a variety of roles at an interior design and project management business. Both sound more glamorous than they really are, I really wish I had some design skills, but I just haven’t got the chops to compete with most of the people I feature on Hide Your Arms, so I’m not going to embarass myself by doing so. I have learned a couple of things at my internship though, so hopefully in the future I’ll at least be able to make the infographics that go with featured posts (like the long lists I do every so often) look a bit better.
Coty:Â You recently moved from the UK to the states. How did the move go and how do you like Philly? What’s your favorite part of living in Philadelphia?
Andy:Â The move was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be. I got myself a great apartment in less than a week, and when you have to fit your entire life into a suitcase and backpack you don’t really have to do a lot to ‘move in’ to your new place. Philly is great, it seems to get a bit of a bad rep, but pretty much everyone I’ve met has been great, which has made moving to a city I’ve never been to before and don’t know anyone in a whole better.
Where I live in England is pretty rural, I have to drive if I want to go anywhere, so for me to be able to walk anywhere in the city I want to go is great (it’s a very walkable city), there’s loads of excellent restaurants here (and I’m not just talking about cheesesteaks), and there are always events going on to keep me busy when the internship and Hide Your Arms don’t.
Coty:Â As a blogger, what tips do you have for creating and maintaining a successful blog?
Andy:Â Write about something you’re passionate about, otherwise you’ll get bored quickly. Keep posting regularly, try to post every day if you can. I usually write lots of posts ahead of time whenever I get the chance, and then set them to be robo-posted at some date in the future, that way there’s always something new going on my site, and it gives people a reason to keep coming back. It’s important to get your name out there and get involved with the rest of the blogging community in your niche; leave comments on other blogs, follow ‘teeple’ on Twitter, not only is it going to help you network and get mentioned on other sites, us tee bloggers are generally quite a nice bunch of people.
Coty:Â What other blogs (not just t-shirts) out there are your favorite to read?
Andy:Â I think I’d probably die if Notcot.org didn’t exist (note: slight exaggeration), it’s amazing. Phoodie.info, Phillyist and Philebrity have been a great help for me getting used to being in Philadelphia, so they’re some of the first blogs I check when I open up Google Reader after work. I read a lot of the usual suspects like Kottke, Boing Boing, Engadget, TechCrunch, Mashable, Lifehacker, and then there’s loads of tee blogs of course, but I’ve actually been trying to cut down on the amount of blogs I read recently because it was becoming information overload, even so, I’m still subscribed to about 150 feeds.
Coty:Â Finally, you’ve been blogging about tees and hoodies for a while now. How many freebie tees and hoodies do you think you’ve collected through the years? Has there been any one package that has really impressed you?
Andy: I don’t know the true figure because I don’t keep them all in the same place, but I’m pretty sure I’ve received about 180, of which 160 are my size, and then the rest have been given to friends and family as presents. When people find out that I get free t-shirts the next question they ask me is usually something to do with what I do with the ones that don’t fit me (people love a freebie). I don’t pay for them, but to call most of the tees I get ‘freebies’ is a little bit of a misconception. I take pictures of them, and then spend around thirty minutes to an hour writing a post, so there is quite a lot of effort that goes into each review, and clearly you put a lot of effort into your reviews as well Coty, so hopefully you see where I’m coming from. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining though, I still love it when I get a package through the mail and don’t know what’s going to be inside, it’s like Christmas all year round in the HYA house!
I’ve got to give a big shout out to Andy for taking the time to answer my questions, it’s greatly appreciated. Keep up the great work you’re doing at Hide Your Arms!