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ART, BRANDING, & T-SHIRTS: AN INTERVIEW WITH SEVENTH.INK

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I recently got to ask artist and owner of Seventh.Ink, Matthew Johnson questions about his brand, tips on building a brand, having a successful Kickstarter campaign,  getting into an art gallery and more. Seventh.Ink is a brand that has been around for the last couple years that improves with every release. Read below and get to know more about Matthew Johnson and Seventh.Ink.

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What exactly is Seventh Ink and what made you start it?
Seventh.Ink started as a clothing line that evolved into an art and clothing brand. It’s sort of become my personal art playground which has a following that I am very thankful for.
I recall when Seventh Ink’s t-shirts were much simpler and with witty phrases, but now it’s a heavily detailed illustrative style. Even when you first released your Haunted Collection, the Frankenstein’s monster from that collection has a different style from this year’s version, when did you know that was the transition that would work best for your brand?
About 3 or 4 years ago I started seeing all of the shirt-of-the-day type sites pop up that focused mostly on humor and mashups. I contended with them for a while, but ultimately decided that I wanted to push my brand into something more recognizable and unique to itself. It was a bit tough, admittedly, because at the time those humorous shirts were all the rage and a big part of what I had done up until then. But, Seventh.Ink is still around and I think it’s stronger than ever.
What’s your creative thought process when working on a new collection?
It tends to go between what I really want to do creatively and what I think people will actually want. I’m actually not sure how many people would want some of the things that I really have wanted to do over the years because some of it is pretty far out there, but I have tried to find that balance to where I can still do what I want and hopefully get a good response from a release. I usually throw down a bunch of notes and thumbnails over a week or two before I really choose the direction for a line, that way I don’t rush anything.
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Where do you work the hardest as a brand owner online or offline?
I’d say online easily. I only do a few shows/cons a year (which I am hoping to increase), so about 90% of what I do is online. There is a huge bonus to meeting people in person, however, so that is something that is pushing me to hopefully get out a bit more in the next year or two.
 
Do you prefer to market the brand more offline in your local area or online through social media and blogs?
I prefer online because the reach is broader, but as I said above there are some great things that come from meeting people face-to-face.
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Do you feel it is better to have a new theme for each release or have new designs that fit with your brand?
I personally like to do new things and push things, but I do find myself reaching out past the borders of my brand pretty often by doing so. I try not to jump too far away from what I’ve done, but since it is sort of my own personal art/clothing brand I do think it’s okay for me to stretch things from time to time.
 
You’ve released 5 Haunted Collections, clearly it’s a popular collection. Which is your favorite and why? Or is it like parents with their children, there is no favorite?
Haunted Collection is easily my favorite. Halloween is my favorite holiday, so it’s a totally natural collection for me to release. I would actually do Halloween-themed designs all year round, but that is one case where I have to pull in the reigns a bit ha! My second favorite series has been the Gods & Goddesses series. It didn’t quite come together this year, but you can expect the third installment in that series hopefully in the spring.
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You’ve released prints, a leather wallet, a book, skatedecks, mugs, christmas cards, what further products do you want to go into in the future? Pants? Belts? Go back into printing Hoodies?
I almost revisited hoodies for a recent release, but there were some complications with time and other matters that made me hold out. I do love a good hoody, so hopefully that’ll happen next year. I’ve only done one or two hats, and I think that is something that I’d like to do a little more of.
 
Being that you produced various items, what should one look for when looking for a printer or manufacturer?
My advice is to try and get physical samples of their work an try to find reviews about them online as well. Your contact should be interested in your project and will hopefully be a good representation of the type of company that they work for. If they’re not or they’re rushing you around, it’s time to find another company to work with.
 
Are there any plans for expanding Seventh Ink into the retail world or do you feel releasing limited edition items adds that extra level of value for every product released?
I’ve considered it a few times, but I think that part of the current appeal with Seventh.Ink is that the items are limited to the people “in the know”. It’s not a question of selling out or anything like that to me, it’s more about me being hands-on with all of the products and customers. However, at some point I’m sure Seventh.Ink will outgrow me so it’s not at all out of the question..
What were some of the tough challenges that you faced coming up and how did you overcome them?
One of the hardest things about starting a brand is getting a following. The market is flooded and has been for quite some time, so it’s about finding something that you enjoy that is unique and that other people enjoy as well. I’ve fine-tuned quite a few things with Seventh.Ink over the last few years and am still a bit off of the mark that I’d like to hit in some areas, so really you have to stay focused and concentrate on small goals to get over some of the larger challenges that you might face.
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You’ve had a successful Kickstarter campaign, any suggestions for those who are interested on creating a crowdfunding campaign for their project?
Look at what successful crowdfunding campaigns are doing and model off of them, that is a must. If you think you know everything about crowdfunding because you’ve participated before, you’re dead wrong. It can be like pulling teeth to get funded, so make sure you have a solid reason to start a campaign and that there is a level of interest before you put the time into pulling it together. It’s tougher than it looks, especially for items like shirts.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned while running Seventh Ink?
I could write a book about all of the lessons I’ve learned. Hell, I’d probably never have started a brand if I knew everything I’d go through to get to this point (go get ‘em, tiger! haha). If you sell 100 shirts, don’t rush out and order 200 of the next one because you’re asking for some major overstock. It pays off to get feedback from your followers on color schemes and design ideas if you’re not sure sometimes. Don’t spend more than you have, that’s a major one. Lastly, don’t expect that everything you make is going to sell. You have to realize that there are going to be some winners and some flops, that’s part of the business at any level.
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I’ve had this conversation with some designers and even seen it show on forums, being someone whose brand consists of a graphic tees do you see graphic tees decreasing in popularity or is it still growing?
I think the popularity is still there, and could in fact be growing as well. The issue is that the market is flooded, there are so many options out there that if you don’t stand out and connect with your audience you’re going to get swept out to sea with the rest of ‘em.
 
Not only have you worked on Seventh Ink, but you’ve worked on having your personal art featured in galleries. Do you feel it is just as difficult to get accepted for a show as running your own brand?
I’ve really enjoyed participating in gallery shows, they’re a good break and you can connect with new people who appreciate art. Getting accepted can be tricky, but if your work fits the bill then you will likely get a shot at working with a gallery. It does get hard sometimes when there are truly amazing artists in some of the shows you’re applying for, because if your work isn’t at that level then you will likely get shot down and that can be tough. That’s a big reason why I like running my own brand, because I can do whatever I want over here and then apply for shows and either make it in or not. Not everyone has a situation like I do though, so it can be tough for sure if you’re only trying to get into gallery shows.
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Do you have any advice for artists/designers looking to be featured in art galleries?
Put together a few solid samples of your work, make sure it is the type of stuff that the gallery is looking for, and reach out to connect with them. Write a nice introduction email and include your works so they can see you’re actually interested in participating in their gallery. All of the galleries that I’ve been fortunate enough to work with have been extremely kind, so just make sure you get off on the right foot.
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Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Buy my stuff! No, kidding. In parting, I’d just like to say thanks for having me and to all of those people looking to start brands out there… good luck! If you believe in your brand and you’re pulled together you can make it out there.
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Joe Baron

Joe Baron

Graphic designer, screenprinter, photographer, writer/blogger, you might say I am an all around creative fella.
Joe Baron


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