How A Full-Time College Student Turned His Hobby Into A Business

Michael J is the founder of men’s streetwear brand NINETYONE. NINETYONE combines clean, minimal design with a dose of street and pop art. The brand is known for their handcrafted t-shirts and custom products. Michael started the brand as a side hustle while attending college. With his experience in the clothing retail space and a background in art, it wasn’t long before NINETYONE would go from a hobby to a business. I caught up with the Michael to learn more about his creative process and what goes into making a compelling lookbook.

How did you come up with the name of your brand?

Honestly, its just the year that I was born. I had attempted to started a clothing company when I was in high school, but I lost interest in the idea. For the longest time I people told to me to start another brand. I never wanted to because, I didn’t want to start a brand that I didn’t have time for, or the passion for. When I decided, to start a NINETYONE I was up in the air with a couple names, ultimately it came down to NINETYONE, I wanted to create something that I love and know I won’t lose passion for, all the while being unique and new.

What were you doing before you started Ninetyone?

Before NINETYONE, I worked as an assistant manager at pacsun, and a full time college student. I am also currently an artist. Im always looking to create, so when I was at school in between classes I would be bored, I always want to create new things, so NINETYONE filled that void of me being able to create when I couldn’t be near a canvas.

What inspired you in the beginning phase of your brand?

Im a huge fan of all forms of art. I based the whole NINETYONE brand on the concept of art. I am also a fan of plain and minimal design. I wanted to figure out a way I can blend both art and minimal design together and create a unique look for NINETYONE.

Describe a normal work day.

A normal work day for me, I normally just check e-mails first and foremost. Then I check any pending orders from the site. All the products, are made by hand in some way by myself, all screen printing, sowing, sublimation etc. are done by myself in my studio, so I always set time aside to work on the actual product. I never set time aside for designing however. When it comes to designing, I just let it happen. There are times that I can put out a lot of designs and other times I can’t think of anything. Also I have a partner that really helps with the designing process, he comes up with some of the best NINETYONE designs, and also tells me when my designs are just bad. Being a young brand in the industry, its very hard to get into stores or recognition for the brand. So a lot of my day is spent sending e-mails and calling as many stores as we can in the day.

How much of your art work influences the clothing you design?

Honestly, none of my art work influences my clothing designs. NINETYONE is a very minimal and clean designed clothing brand. While my art style is very bold and in your face. I experiment with colors and different mediums. 90% of the time when I paint I have no idea what I’m doing, the painting takes shape itself. While with NINETYONE, I have a look I’m going for and its much more structured then my art. However, some of my paintings I do use as designs for art.

Your lookbooks are always impressive. What goes into the set up of the shoot?

As an artist, I am very into visuals. When I paint, I want people to be able to walk up to my paintings and say, there is no question that is a Michael J painting. I am the same way with NINETYONE. I am all about the visual, I want people to not only know NINETYONE because of the product, but because our visuals stand out. We take a lot of time planning each photoshoot to be unique and nurture the collection we are doing the shoot for. Also at a shoot we have a very free laid-back mentality. I bring the product to the shoot, and the models get to make their own outfits based on the product that is there. This way everything feels authentic, as if they were getting ready for the day.

Do you think collaboration plays a big role in a successful launch?

Honestly, I don’t think collaboration is a big role in a successful launch, I think that a brand needs to be unique, and not in the light of the collaboration. Many people try to reach out to brand or people that are already well known, to help launch their brands. No one wants to work for what they started they just want the success. I started by myself in my bed room, I don’t have partners in the company helping me. I may still make the product in my bed room, but I want people to view NINETYONE for being NINETYONE and not as another brand that was started by a celebrity or another brand that was already established.

With that being said, I do think that having collaborations or celebrities backing the brand will help for sure, but that’s not the path we want to take. I was taught from a young age, if you want something done right, do it yourself. Thats how I have always looked at life, no one is going to do it for me.

What advice can give to brands that want to try the latest trends?

NINETYONE has evolved a lot in the last year, I think that its important to stay true to who you are, and what you believe in. Once a brand starts trying to be another brand or just follow the fashion trend they lose sight of the brand they are. Its best to incorporate the fashion trends with the style of the brand.

If I was asked for advice from someone, I would tell them do what they love. Design what they love, what they would wear. Thats what I do. I look at fashion like art, there really isn’t any rule to what you can do. Do it for the love, not for the money. Its all about passion, once the passion is gone it will reflect in the brand

Do you have any upcoming collaborations or collections with we should look out for?

We just locked down a collaboration with NY based artist Justin Afanador. We feel that his style and passion for photography matches or style and passion for NINETYONE. His collaboration is up for pre-order on our site right now. We also have a black and white capsule dropping FEB. 10. We also have been working on an outdoors themed pack that will be dropping in fall of this year.

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Visit ninetyoneco.com to shop the latest collection.