It’s been a while since the last Indie Tee Spotlight, hasn’t it! If my memory serves me correctly, it’s been almost 9 months since our last Spotlight interview with Hugo Murray of i/denti/tee. In the latest Spotlight I feature the very intriguing Brian Crabtree of Kafkacotton, a new brand that Brian dreamed up after rereading (and re-loving) Joseph Hellerâ€™s classic, Catch-22. I had the great opportunity to do a little catching-up with Brian, and he graciously allowed me to ask him a few question about his startup brand and his unique take on marketing it across America.
Coty: I’m guessing that Franz Kafka had something to do with you starting your unique line of T-Shirts. What inspired you to start Kafkacotton?
Brian: I definitely took our name from the author Franz Kafka. He writes these nightmarish stories which remind me of stark blacks and whites, long shadows, ominous alleyways -- cool connotations for a t-shirt label.
I started Kafkacotton because I think reading is fundamentally flawed. We used to gather around somebody with a good story and listen socially as a group. With books, we read our stories alone so I don’t know what books you like and you don’t know what books I like. These are connections waiting to happen that just don’t. Kafkacotton makes those connections in a hip, fashionable way. Instead of putting that book back on the shelf, why not slap it on your chest and talk about it?
I also want to help give everyone the chance to read. We do that by donating 5% of our profits towards fight illiteracy. You really have to hustle to promote a t-shirt company and knowing it’s all for a good cause keeps me motivated.
Coty: You started a very unique campaign that someone named “Gregor”, a life-size cockroach costume and the 48 contiguous states. Tell us about that.
Brian: Gregor the roach! Yes, he’s 6-feet tall, illiterate, German, and on a 48-states-in-48-weeks road trip. He’s visiting one college campus a week to raise literacy awareness, give away tees, and shoot hilarious videos which we post to our blog. We started in Florida in early February and, five states later, we’re in South Carolina heading northwestish. We’re just getting started but Gregor has already been featured on CNN Radio, ABC News, and CBS News.
Why the cockroach? “Gregor” is the main character in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis where a guy wakes up one morning and finds he’s inexplicably been turned into a giant insect. I had read Seth Godin’s Purple Cow and realized the most important thing was to not be boring. That’s key. You need to get people’s attention first so you can share your message second. Even if your message is positive and charitable, you need to get your foot in door or no one will ever hear it.
Coty: What’s the typical response you get when people first spot Gregor in the cockroach costume? What has been the most interesting encounter that you’ve experienced during your cockroach tour?
Brian:Â There are three basic responses: 10% are ecstatic and run up to give him a hug, the middle 80% smile and laugh, and the other 10% steer clear, watch him out of the corner of their eyes, and pray to god he doesn’t try to talk to them. The last ones are the most fun.
The most interesting experience would definitely have to be while trying to hitchhike in small-town Alabama for a video related to our new “On the Road” t-shirt. All went well until the police showed up …
Coty: You use Etsy for your storefront. What made you decide to go that route? Why not have a custom store integrate with Kafkacotton.com?
Brian:Â Good question. For a t-shirt company just starting out, Etsy is a great platform. Here are the major pros and cons to think about:
- Filled with people looking for new, interesting designs.
- The $0.20 fee per item is reasonable.
- Very easy to set up.
- Less control over your image.
- Customers need to register with Etsy to make a purchase (that’s a big one).
- Some customers will forget to list their size in the “Message to Seller” box while checking out. This wastes everyone’s time.
- Need to constantly relist items to remain at the top of Etsy’s search results.
- Your Google juice gets spread out among several relisted items instead of concentrated on one, permanent item listing.
- Can’t set up Adwords goals (which basically means you can’t use Adwords).
- Can’t rotate and test sales copy.
I’m glad we started with Etsy but, in my opinion, we have outgrown the site and we will actually be moving to our own cart system and revamping Kafkacotton.com in the next month. I’m really excited about the possibilities! [Coty: This is good to hear, growth is good!]
Just to be clear, even if you’re on Etsy, I definitely reccomend setting up a slick, professional website as well. A blog is critical and you need your own domain for that. Also, certain sites and people will not pay attention to an email sent from “@gmail.com”.
Coty: Out of Print Clothing has a line that, conceptually, is quite similar to Kafkacotton. Both brands bring classic books to the T-Shirt. How would you say Kafkacotton differs from what Out of Print Clothing is doing?
Brian:Â There’s even a third literary-tee company called, Novel-T! We all started in the last six months which I think is pretty hilarious but also shows there’s a real need here.
Kafkacotton is the only label creating new, original graphic designs inspired by the classics. That’s where I want to be. My passion is being able to take a book that may be 150 years old like Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and create a design that resonates with people in a new way. In that particular book’s case, I worked with Reilly Stroope who did an absolutely phenomenal job.
I’m also all about community. When I want to start on a new book, the community votes and picks it. Before I print the shirt, I post two or three completely different designs and the community votes on their favorite. For instance, I’m working on two 1984 designs right now that will go on the chopping block next week. Sometimes my favorite design gets cut but community is all about trust and you can’t fake that.
I haven’t talked about this too much yet but I’ll also be accepting design submissions in the future. Stay tuned for that!
Coty: And finally, what kind of books do you enjoy reading and what is your de facto favorite book of all time?
Brian:Â I agree with Thoreau that we should, “read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.” I mostly stick to classic literary fiction and love a good, memorable character. My absolute favorite book is Joseph Heller’s Catch-22:
“Justice?” The Colonel was astounded. “What is justice?”
“Justice, sir â€“”
“That’s not what justice is,” the colonel jeered, and began pounding the table again with his big fat hand. “That’s what Karl Marx is. I’ll tell you what justice is. Justice is a knee in the gut from the floor on the chin at night sneaky with a knife brought up down on the magazine of a battleship sandbagged underhanded in the dark without a word of warning.”
Thanks to Brian Crabtree, or should I say Gregor, for taking the time out from his busy road trip across America to chat! Now, you guys go and buy some tees from Kafkacotton!