I sent a few questions over to my friend David Murray, who runs his own clothing line called SEIBEI ( pronounced say-bay). David is a long time friend and showed my the ropes when I was starting my own clothing line years ago.
State you name, what you do in the company, and what your company is all about.
My name is David Murray, though more people know me as David Seibei, or Seibei, and I’m the head of SEIBEI. Seibei is my pseudonym and my outlet for making things that I like, mostly t-shirts, and sometimes I collaborate with comic artist pals on tees (I think comics makers have the potential to be the best tee artists, since they’re all about efficient visual communication). It’s a medium that really interests me and it presents interesting challenges in trying to efficiently and quickly communicate an idea. I design most of the tees and lately I’ve taken on a lot of the tee printing as well, since I know how to do it well and I really missed the process after years of outsourcing to shops (which I still plan to do in the future to supplement what I can print well on my own).
What sets your company apart from other?
There are so many tee makers out there, so all I can bring to the table is myself and my sense of humor. Lately I’ve realized that I need to exclusively make tees that I want to wear, and following this gut feeling allows me to make tees that are more in tune with my unique voice. All I can do is make a quality product (good blank tees, weightless yet durable waterbased prints, good attention to detail) with my unique voice. Every time I’ve tried to make a tee that I thought would sell well but didn’t like it’s fallen flat on its face – I’m not that kind of smart.
Also, I try to only use my own jokes. I furiously Google phrases I want to use on tees and make sure no one else has used them the way I want to use them (as far as I can tell). Not like I’m the only person that does this, but it seems a bit rare in the tee business.
What were your biggest mistakes running a clothing company? How would you of done things differently with the experience you have now?
Plenty of big mistakes, but they were all valuable to me because I haven’t repeated any of the big ones. I wouldn’t buy my tee blanks directly from American Apparel – I spent a year or two doing this before I discovered the big tee suppliers I work with now who carry American Apparel (and other brands) and have warehouses around the country for more convenient and affordable shipping (if you’re curious, I use TSC Apparel and Sun Apparel, depending on where I need tees shipped). I wouldn’t rush any designs. I wouldn’t print so many colors in my designs – less is definitely more. I wouldn’t have skipped the second day of a friend’s wedding weekend to fly to Chicago and sell tees in the pouring rain (that show was typically a huge money maker, but I should have skipped it). I would have sold my tees for a lower price when I did that show in Tokyo since I brought way too many of them. I would have given way less of a fuck about being ripped off (or thinking I’d been ripped off) – that’s just part of the territory with being a tee designer.Going back to printing my own stuff and ditching a lot of my top-selling old designs is sort of my attempt to make a fresh start with all the experience and knowledge I’ve acquired over the years.
What is your most memorable moment running your clothing company?
I’ve made most of my best friends through doing SEIBEI – not that it’s the reason we became friends, but SEIBEI allowed me to travel and meet a lot of people in the arts that I wouldn’t have met otherwise, including you. That’s the best and most memorable part, simply because I’m reminded of it every day. I was awkward and pretty lonely growing up, so putting myself and my work out there, at its core, came from a drive to meet likeminded people through the magic of the internet.
What was your breakthrough moment?
Being featured on Preshrunk, which, at its peak, was the best tee blog around, was huge for me. I had been piddling around and doing little sales here and there, but suddenly, I got 100+ orders in a single weekend – all of a single shirt (the Zombie Hunter shirt that was quite popular for some time). Working New York Comic Con for the first time, all thanks to Sonja Rasula (who runs to UNIQUE series of shows), was even bigger – we sold a stupid amount of tees and had a great time.
What is the best form of advertising you use and how has your advertising changed since you started?
Right now I rely 100% on word of mouth (which is 50% stupid), but I wanna get into Facebook ads – my wife, Kate, has become a bit of an expert with these in running our other business, Telegraph Art & Comics (a comic shop and art gallery in Charlottesville, VA, where we live now) and I keep meaning to sit down with her and have her show me how it’s done. I’ve used print ads and internet banner ads in the past, but I think Instagram and Facebook is the way to go these days.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
Don’t be so quick to leave a good day job, and don’t get in over your head with credit.
Taxes, legalities, business, what is some advice you would give others starting out?
Start off with good habits because it will be 100% more painful to force yourself to get into these good habits later on. If your business starts off small, the responsibilities will be smaller, too, so it’s easy to stay on top of and your skills will grow as the business grows. I wish I’d stayed on top of things from day one. I’m still pretty crap at it.
What advice would you give someone that is starting a clothing company?
Bring something unique to the table, try something new, and decide what’s important to you and what you want out of it. Be prepared to not make money for a while. Don’t blow a bunch of money on needless vanity (specialized packaging, hang tags, labels, etc) straight out the gate.
Where do you do the majority of your business, online, trade shows, craft shows, stores?
I’ve been working less shows lately (Kate and I work a few shows each year for Telegraph, which is plenty), so my business is mostly online and selling to retailers. There was a period of a few years where I worked as many shows as I could to try and get my name out there and it’s just exhausting – I wouldn’t trade (most of) those experiences for anything, but I just try to do a couple of shows a year now and make them great and keep the online store running and keep new designs coming out.
What changes do you see in the future with your company, the t-shirt industry, and the internet?
With SEIBEI, I wanna bring in more guest designers. Comic artists make the best tees, at least in terms of what I want to accomplish with tees and what I like in the medium, so I want to do more work with them. I just want to keep doing what I do but on a larger scale.