19-year-old Nader Boraie is living the American Dream. Boraie is the founder of Labyrinth Designs & Clothing, a clothing brand that he started 3 years ago with the idea of providing design help to friends that were in local bands. Since then, Boraie has took his brand to the Internet and has watched it flourish.Â
With a new Fall line being released today, Nader was eager to talk a little about the new direction he took, design wise, for the just released tees. He also discusses the origins of Labyrinth Designs & Clothing and how he is able to balance his time between college and running his own business.Â
Coty: Labyrinth Designs and Clothing has been around for a while now. You began your brand nearly 3 years ago. How and why did you get started in the merchandise design business?
Nader: Labyrinth originally was started as only a design company. Labyrinth was started by myself, and my good friend Lee. At the time we had a handful of friends in bands that needed some design help, so we figured that we loved to draw, so why not help out our friends and make it a business and spread the word? So I started out doing desktop wallpapers, AIM icons, and little things like that and eventually started getting into t-shirt designs. As a promotional idea, Lee and I decided to hand draw some designs and get them printed (and these designs were pretty much made in Microsoft paint and using cheap photoshop filters because we really didn’t know how to use photoshop too well at the time haha). We sold the shirts for $10 a piece and got rid of a bunch of them fairly easily to friends and just people at school and such.
After that, Labyrinth officially became a clothing company as well as a design company, and that’s when we started hand silk-screening shirts and got a bit better at designing. Eventually Lee left Labyrinth all up to me, so I took it upon myself to run it as best as I could. I had full artistic freedom which was a new feeling and I quickly started to design the 07′/08′ Fall/Winter line which was the first actual line to be professionally printed and had 6 brand new designs.
For me, the reason I got into design was purely for the satisfaction of people appreciating my art. Labyrinth was created to design affordable, unique, and creative shirts. I’m not concerned with making a great deal of profit, (although that would be nice) I am more concerned with people appreciating my art enough to wear it on a day-to-day basis. That is the satisfaction of it all. Most of the money I make, if not all is invested back into the company to produce more shirts for a great price.
Coty: Based on your Myspace and Facebook, you’re a pretty young guy. You started Labyrinth while you were in high school. How did you fund this big endeavor and how did you go about managing both school and running your own business.
Nader: Haha, yeah I’m 19, I started Labyrinth when I was around 16. Funding Labyrinth was a little tricky, for the promotional shirts that I mentioned we made before, Lee and I saved up $250 each and used that to print the first batch. Since then, Lee left Labyrinth before heading to college, so I took upon all funding, design, and promotion myself.
Managing school and running Labyrinth has been a little difficult. In high school it wasn’t so bad because I had a lot of free time and the space to print Labyrinth shirts. But realizing that I was going to college while at the same time I was getting better at designing, I decided I would get the 07′/08′ line of shirts printed professionally (by a company called def-star) so I wouldn’t be overworked at school.
Coming to college has been a lot tougher to manage Labyrinth and school. There’s not a ton of free time I get where I can just sit back and relax, but I do my best to manage Labyrinth as best as I can and if that means no sleep, I’ll deal with it. Last year I felt like I kind of sat back on it and let it promote itself, which is a little frustrating in retrospect, but I’m trying to change that this year by featuring a lot nicer options, and freebies with every purchase and at the same time just working a lot more on it and not letting things get pushed back.
Coty: You’ve got a new line with three new tees ready to be released. Tell us a little about the new designs. Design wise, they look different from the rest of your product line (I actually prefer the look of the new stuff to your older stuff). Who designed these and should we expect more designs like these in the future from Labyrinth?
Nader: Thanks- I actually like these new ones a lot better too. The new line comes out this Friday and I’m really excited about it, I put a lot of effort into it. Design wise, these are definitely way different than everything else I’ve done with Labyrinth. I worked on these designs a lot more than the previous ones, I wanted a cleaner feel to these rather than the whole grunge influence I had before. I wanted to design something different and interesting. I wanted to create more of a series rather than a group of random tees which I felt the 07′/08′ line was like.
So for these, I was really influenced by animals, whether that be realistic like the “Float Away” chick or the cartoony “Dino’s.” But everything since the 07′/08′ Line has been designed by myself, and all the new shirts are hand drawn designs that I worked on in my sketchbook and brought into illustrator or just drew straight into illustrator.
Coty: You’ve mentioned to me in the past that when you started Labyrinth you printed your own shirts. Do you still print your own shirts? If not, who do you go to for printing and what process do they use for printing? How have your shirts improved, quality-wise, since you first started 3 years ago?
Nader: I am actually trying to get back into printing my own shirts again. My friends and I in Boston are working on building our own silk-screening press at the moment, very inexpensively, which I am really happy about because I have plans for some limited edition shirts. But as for the new line of shirts coming out this Friday, Bandwagon Merch printed them all, and they did a great job with them; I cannot thank them enough for that. Pure Buttons also helped me out with the button packages that come with the first 100 orders.
As for improvements, it can be seen across the board, from the design quality to the quality of shirts and to the quality of the inks used in printing. I have had a strong emphasis on improving the quality of the line. Before, I just wanted to go with the normal cheap stuff (hanes, jerzees, fruit of the loom) to produce a low cost shirt that I could sell really cheap, but after learning and growing as a designer, I’ve realized people will pay for better quality and a few more dollars won’t hurt. These new shirts are all printed on American Apparel 2001 unisex shirts for a great fit as well as comfort, and the inks printed on the shirts are made to be absorbed into the material, so they are super soft and part of the shirt as opposed to lying on top of the shirt. Also, I am very excited to include with the first 50 orders one of three limited edition Labyrinth Posters relative to the design purchased and as another bonus, for the first 100 orders a free “Dinos” two pin button pack.
Up to this point, these shirts have been presold at only $12 and on Friday they will be released at full price, $17, which I don’t think is bad at all. For a regular American apparel shirt, that’s around $16-$20, so for a unique design, free button pack, and free poster, I think this is a great deal.
Coty: Who would you say Labyrinth’s target audience is? How do you market to this target audience?
Nader: It’s weird, I feel like there is no specific target audience for Labyrinth, I mean, of course I’m marketing to a group of people probably from around the ages of 16-28, but I feel like especially with the new designs I have been coming out with, there has been no real target audience. I find that a lot of different people from different social groups find my designs to be appealing, and I like the idea of that – you know? I like having no specific audience, just reaching anyone who appreciates my designs, and my art is fine by me, but that also makes it a lot harder to market.
As for marketing, I do the whole MySpace and Facebook thing. For me, I feel that marketing is my weak point. Lately, though, because of my new emphasis on marketing Labyrinth, I’ve seen a lot of improvement. I’ve been getting a lot of help from my parents, my brother, my girlfriend and my friends. They have helped spread the word by telling all of the people they know and by printing and distributing flyers and stickers. I just can’t thank all of them enough.
Coty: I think that your new line would look splendid printed on onesie’s for babies! Both Dinos! and Float Away are uber cute and I’m sure any mom would proudly dress their babies in your new goods! Any plans on expanding beyond just adult tees (i.e. bags, shoes, hoodies, etc)?
Hahaha, that’s something I thought about after seeing these printed. My girlfriend was just saying how these reminded her of a cartoon show. If there was definite interest in putting these on kids shirts or onesie’s, I would definitely do it; I’m just not sure how I would go about that yet. We will see though! Haha.
I am definitely interested in expanding beyond adult tee’s. I have done hoodies in the past and I am definitely interested in doing more. At some point I also see myself designing tote bags and tees specifically for girls. I’m always looking for new niches to fill. So in the future, definitely look out for Labyrinth evolving, because it is already starting to.
Coty: Have you ever seen any of your designs being worn in the wild? If so, how did you react?
Nader: Haha yeah, its funny, I get random calls from friends saying they passed by a kid wearing one of my shirts in a mall and stuff like that, but until recently, I haven’t spotted many myself, I actually just saw 3 people wearing Labyrinth shirts in a day a few weeks ago, I knew two of the kids, but one of them I had no idea how he grabbed a Labyrinth shirt, and I just kind of pointed and said to my friend, “… Hey… I made that… that’s weird.” Haha. It was a bit of a shock, but it’s a great feeling, and I hope that I see a lot more random people wearing my stuff.
Coty: As a young entrepreneur, what advice would you give to a high school kid or up-and-coming designer that wants to start their own brand and business?
Nader: I would definitely say do a lot of research. That was one of my main setbacks. I pretty much just dove into Labyrinth with no expectations or real knowledge about how a brand or business worked. But over the past few years, I have been learning a lot of essential things (i.e. marketing). It’s kind of like a trial and error process.
However, the past year and a half or so, I’ve been doing a lot of research on other companies, gathering ideas, comparing, seeking inspiration, and getting feedback from friends, family, and anyone that is willing to help. You have to be willing to have an open mind and hear what others have to say. You have to step outside yourself and take a look at others around you and see if you can benefit from previous examples. The best piece of advice I can give you youngsters is just enjoy it.
Thanks to Nader for taking the time to chat with me about Labyrinth Clothing! We look forward to great things from Labyrinth in the future! Be sure to check out Labyrinth’s MySpace and online store if you’re interested in purchasing some of his new tees!
Places like Big Cartel make it easy for anyone interested in selling their custom merchandise to folks in InternetLAND. Big Cartel offers a slew of options and the ability to customize individual stores. Here I offer a few easy tips that people can use to enhance their online stores, like the ones on Big Cartel, and a couple of more complex tips that can be used by people that have coded their own shops and built their sites from scratch.
Each of these tips will hopefully increase user interaction and improve the way that people browse and purchase tees from your site!
1. Large Previews. One of the things that annoy me the most about online stores are small previews. If I can’t get a nice large view of the product then chances are I won’t buy the item. Thumbnails are too small to get an idea of the detail of the design. Threadless uses nice and large preview images for each of the shirts that they sell. They use previews that are 640 pixels wide – this is a nice size, anything larger might be overkill.Â
2. Actual Product Shots. Photoshop mockups are great and look nice but what’s even better are actual shots of the printed item to supplement the mockups. You can do this by doing you own photo shoot or you can make it interactive by encouraging buyers or fans of your brand to send you their photos. Another idea would be to set up a Flickr account for your brand and have a Flickr group so that your customers who are Flickr users can upload their photos directly to your group.Â
3. Make Your Site Social. Comments are great to building a community. Why not have the ability for users to make comments on individual product pages. iTunes does this quite well by allowing members of the iTunes community to comment and rate tunes that they purchase. Wouldn’t it be great if you could leave a comment and even rate tees that you purchased on the product page of the design you loved?Â
4. Top Sellers List. Having a section that lists the top 5 or 10 designs in your store is a great way to sell even more of your most popular items. People tend to gravitate toward items that they know are popular. These can either be based on sales, ratings or a combination of both. Having a Top Sellers or Popular Items list points these customers in the right direction!Â
5. Out of Print Gallery. Indie tee designs are pieces of art and they should be treated as such. I often wonder what out-of-print designs from my favorite designers looked like. Why not have a section set up that showed off your designs that people can NO LONGER buy. Make people want what they can’t have! This will make people want to buy items that you currently have in stock (in fear of them being sold out and gone forever) and will provide word of mouth (they’ll start talking about your old stuff that they can’t have).
Do you run your own online store and have tips that you would like to add? Feel free to mention them in the comment section below! Think these ideas suck or wouldn’t work – let me know why!