1. I like to start interviews off with the basics, so for our readers that don’t know, how and when did you start Linty Fresh?
I started LF back in the early part of 2006 with the printing of my first shirt, Once Upon a War. I sold it to friends and people I knew online, and within a few months I had the cash to print a second tee while still having remaining stock from the first design. I continued to build the line this way for the next year and a half, until things picked up so much that I was able to print tees every month.
2. You are one of the few indie tee brand owners that runs your brand full time. When did you start running LF full time and what has the experience been like?
I went full time with Linty Fresh in June of 2008. I had set a goal for myself in per-month sales and expected to hit it by the end of the year but managed to do it a little earlier. Looking back, it was probably something I could’ve held off a little longer, since maintaining a day job would’ve helped financially, but at the same it was SO nice to work for myself. I’m not sure I’d do it differently, given the chance.
3. Why did you decide to keep Linty Fresh entirely in house/run it as a one man show? What have been some of the benefits of this?
One of the key things I’ve come to appreciate as a business owner is that no one will ever care about the company as much as me. It’s my creation, my sweat and tears. I labor over little things because I love it; It’s not just a job I’m getting paid for. I think this is reflected in what I do and how I interact with customers. They know that if they have a question I’ll be there to answer it quickly, and if a problem comes up I’ll do all I can to resolve it. Quality is hard to maintain with expansion. The other reason is that, until recently, it wasn’t really necessary. However, as of this month I currently have one employee helping run things while I live abroad.
4. You release a new tee every month instead of a few tees every season. Why did you decide to do monthly releases instead?
A couple reasons. One is that it establishes a pattern for customers and fans to count on. People know the first of the month means new releases from Linty Fresh. That means regular anticipation for products and that each tee is that much more special. Instead of a tee just being “part of the Fall line” it’s “THE August release”. Because in the end, I’m not just making tees, I’m making characters. And characters have stories, personality, and a unique identity.
5. What has been the best selling Linty Fresh tee to date?
The best selling design has been “The Most Fantastic Things”, now in its 4th printing.
6. How important is branding to you and how do you use it for LF?
I learned a long time ago that to succeed as a small business, you can’t just copy what the big guys are doing. Because the big guys have more resources, can do it cheaper, and will always have more customers. So in order to make it, you have to carve out your own niche in the market. You have to brand.
For me, running Linty Fresh solo, it was inevitable that my brand would be a reflection of me. So I went with it, incorporating my own interests into the brand. Since I enjoy writing, I wrote poems to be released with each tee. Since I’ve got a fascination with monsters, aliens, and other oddities, I added those too. I found it was easier to just project myself through the company rather than inventing something entirely new that I’d be unfamiliar with. And it seems to work.
7. What type of advertising (if any) do you use for LF?
Once in a while a free advertising opportunity arises and I’ll take advantage of it, but otherwise I never go out of my way to advertise. I’d much rather put my money into bettering the product itself.
8. I have read on your blog that you are moving the company to China. Can you tell our readers more about this decision? How do you think the company will change as a result of the move?
To clarify, I’m moving to China, but the company will stay at its current office in the US. I’m moving to oversee the launch of a Chinese version of my line. I’ve been to China a few times and thought my products would do well, so I’m here to give it a shot. In the meantime, operations will continue in the US as always.
9. What is something that you are excited about in regards to the future and Linty Fresh?
China has opened my eyes to a lot of possibilities with clothing production. The t-shirts belonging to the Chinese version of Linty Fresh are made entirely from scratch, and overseeing that process has given me a ton of new ideas to experiment with. Once I perfect this system I’d like to start exporting these products back to the US.
10. Are there any trends in tee shirts or design that you are tired of?
I see a lot of brands popping up these days that look alike. They see the success of some brand they look up to and wrongly conclude that it’s all about the designs. They track down popular designers or popular styles and stick their brand name on it. They sell a few shirts and think they’ve got it all figured out, but they aren’t thinking long-term, and eventually the momentum of the fad will run out. So without being too specific, I’d say I’m most tired of people not knowing who they are and not doing their own thing.
11. Where do you see Linty Fresh in 5 years?
I think one of the things that sets me apart from other brand owners is that I have no desire to be the next big thing. My absolute favorite thing about running Linty Fresh is the freedom it affords me. I work a few hours a week to keep things going: staying connected with customers and working on new products. But the rest of my time is spent living, doing what I want to do. The way I see it, I’m living the life that a lot of people look forward to after retirement, but I still have a bit of work to keep me busy and focused and I still have my youth to enjoy the freedom. I love traveling, writing, art, reading, studying other languages, making music, spending time with family and friends. To me, that’s what makes this so much fun. Sure, it’d be nice to be the next popular fashion trend, but I’d hate to have my company running me and not the other way around. So to answer the question of where LF will be in 5 years, I imagine I’ll have more things in the shop, but hopefully
I’ll maintain that small-company feel.
12. What is your favorite thing about running Linty Fresh?
Apart from what I just mentioned, the satisfaction. Satisfaction in seeing it grow, satisfaction in hearing back from thrilled customers and inspired entrepreneurs, satisfaction in knowing that people are willing to spend their hard-earned cash on things that I’ve created. It’s really been an awesome experience.
13. How important has attending shows and fairs been? And what is your favorite memory/experience from a show or craft fair?
Shows have been a great way to connect with customers and supporters of my brand and find out exactly who’s buying my stuff. This market typically attracts a certain demographic, so to see folks I’d never expect buying my products for themselves is always amusing and gratifying. I can’t put my finger on a single experience, but one of the things that really stands out is when people come to shows just to see my booth or meet me personally. In a couple instances, people even drove from other states to buy something from me in person and get a picture next to me. That’s something I’ll never take for granted, nor forget.
14. What are some things that inspire you?
Inspiration is a funny thing for me. It comes from everywhere, from the obvious places like gig posters, album artwork and photography to obscure things like LEGO creations from Flickr groups, screenplays and Rube Goldberg machines. I have so many hobbies vying for my attention because it takes so little to trigger that urge in my brain to create something. I do my best to funnel it into Linty Fresh, though, since that’s what pays the bills.
15. To end, what is the most important piece of advice you could give to someone wishing to work in the tee shirt industry or someone wanting to start their own company?
Find out what makes you unique from everyone else and develop your brand around it. People aren’t dumb; They can sense insincerity immediately.
If you’re just trying to be somebody else, they’ll pick up on it and go elsewhere. If you don’t know what makes you unique, wait until you do.
How can you expect to make a product other people will want if you don’t know what you want?
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- Says Jeffery Kalmikoff, Former CCO of Threadless.comStart your own clothing company and become the next Mark Ecko, Obey, or Johnny Cupcakes! Learn how to dominate the t-shirt business.