First off, tell us about yourself. Who is Jason Carne?
First and foremost, I’m a self taught print designer at heart working under the moniker Mainframe Media. Last fall I took the plunge into owning a brand and designing and buying designs for myself (which is difficult as us designers are always our worst critics) for Among Villains. I’m also very passionate about music that has meaning and real message behind it.
What made you want to jump into running a brand? How did you make the leap from designer to brand owner?
It seemed like a natural progression to me to move towards owning a brand as a creative outlet from client based design work. Among Villains is something that I’ve had in my head for a few years, and it seemed like the money and timing would finally be right last year for it to come to fruition. Playing art director and being the client for once in the design game felt strange, but I worked with an all star line-up of artists such as Craig Robson, David Smith, Brian Luong, George Daugherty and the guys over at The Black Axe whom made starting this brand up a pleasure.
Let’s jump from there, why did you call the brand Among Villains? Was there a deeper meaning behind the name or just something that sounded fun?
As I said earlier, I’m a sucker for music with a message, and politics are at the forefront of my lyrical interests. The name Among Villains carries a sort of dark irony and sarcasm to it. Society largely labels the hardcore, metal, punk, and hip-hop communities as degenerate groups that are mostly up to no good, when in my life experience the inverse of that is almost always the reality. Good people deemed bad by social stigma and unwarranted judgement is what it boils down to!
Definitely see the connection there. In getting started with Among Villains, what would you say was the biggest hurdle for you to overcome? So many designers seem to think “I already make designs, why can’t I sell shirts?” Sounds simple enough, but was it really that simple for you?
I think I overestimated how easy being a brand owner is like many other designers before me have. I had the notion in my head that if I just had solid products and designs in the shop that they would fly off of the shelves; sort of a “if you build it they will come” mentality at its onset. However, as any indie brand can tell you, it’s NOT that easy, and that’s something I learned pretty quickly. It takes a lot of hard work and marketing to get your product out there, especially as a start-up. With no hesitation, I’d absolutely say raising brand awareness and spreading the reach of the brand is by far the toughest obstacle, and it’s one you have to deal with on a daily basis if you ever want to go anywhere.
Venturing away from the hardships, what’s been your favorite part of starting your own brand?
Shipping new orders, hands down. So many brands seem to take their sales and their customers for granted, as if they are just more money in the bank. The money matters of course (anyone would be lying if they said otherwise), but it’s the fact that those customers spent money on MY products over anyone else’s is what brings me happiness as a brand owner. In a sea of competition, making a sale means that the person who bought your shirt or poster or whatever, did so because they genuinely enjoy what you’re offering, and that’s all you can really ask. Appreciation and recognition from your customers is a great thing and it’s not to be undervalued.
Digging deeper into the shipping, you did custom packaging for your garments. Printed boxes and custom tissue paper. What do you feel that added to the experience, and do you feel that it was financially worthwhile?
It definitely was a big hit to the wallet, but I feel like it was worth it without a doubt. So often you see just standard envelopes and mailers that blend in with the rest of the mail, but I didn’t want that for my customers. I wanted something that they knew immediately was an Among Villains shirt, something they will remember my brand by. The screen printed boxes and tissue paper really add to the total experience and standard of high quality I try to maintain with the brand in every area. It’s my way of saying thank you to my first 150 customers for supporting Among Villains in its infancy.
A couple more for you, then we’ll wrap things up. What do you see as the near future of Among Villains?
At the moment, I’m working on making my way into more retail stores and trying to branch out into different products rather than just t-shirts. I don’t want to give too much away, but there may be some accessories and custom items in the works soon.
How has your experience been thus far with retail? I know that retail stores tend to pay less for products where you make volume profit instead of regular profit as opposed to selling the item yourself. As an indie brand, how is that working for you?
The profit margin definitely is a bit lower, but being placed in a retail environment gives a whole new dimension to your sales. At the moment I’m only in two shops, but it helps gain information about what products sell where and why. If you are willing to trade exposure for a few bucks per shirt it’s worth the venture, especially if wholesaling as you get a bigger payday and move a lot of inventory at the time. Consignment is a tough gig that I don’t recommend, especially if you’re working with shops that are too far to check up on yourself as you never know when your paycheck is coming (if ever). The one downside for me is that I don’t get to know my customers when selling that way like I do when selling online, otherwise, it’s a great way to build awareness and spread the shirts around to new markets.
On the topic of exposure, are you getting into band/tour sponsorship at all? If so, why? If not, why not?
I’m not doing any tour sponsorships, I feel like they are a waste of money for what you get out of them (unless you have the time and resources to travel with the tour). However, there are a few bands I’m looking to work with that seem to share my outlook and my views and could represent the brand well. Nothing is certain on that front yet, but I don’t rule it out. There are definite benefits to having touring bands wear your merchandise all through the country and abroad.
Time to wrap up! Anything else you’d like people to know about Among Villains? Any promo/coupon codes you’d like to give out?
Everyone loves a discount, don’t they? For 15% off your entire order enter the coupon code “THREADBIRD” at checkout, it will be good for up to 20 uses. I’d like to thank you for taking the time out to do this interview, and I’d also like to thank you for doing a killer job printing up my shirts. If all goes to plan, sooner rather than later I’ll be back to print some more with you guys. I hope anyone who’s read this has enjoyed doing so, and if you have any further questions you’d ever like answered, just shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org – take care!