June 27, 2008
We interview Chris H., owner of Urban Royal Tees Clothing.
TM: When did you decide that t-shirts was your thing?
CH: It had to be a little over a year ago I think. Actually, I first started out designing skateboards about two years ago and of course, with that, I threw in a few basic t-shirt designs but nothing like I am doing now. I used to do graphic design for fun and one day a friend asked if I would design a skateboard as a gift for her fiancé’s birthday. I said yeah sure and came up with three different deck designs. She ended buying two of the three. I fell for deck designing right then and there. From there, I started experimenting with different types of t-shirt designs. Once I started to really get into the whole t-shirt thing I decided this is the route I wanted to travel. There are so many possibilities and so many creative variables associated with t-shirt design and the t-shirt industry that it was too intoxicating to pass up. The next thing I knew, I sent Urban Royal Tees Clothing into full motion.
TM: How long have you been in the t-shirt biz? And what have you learned?
CH: Officially, just about a year. What have I learned??? Hmmm… Well, I’ll tell you this, it’s more than I ever thought it would be. There are so many possibilities and avenues that you should consider before starting a career in the t-shirt business. There are different types of t-shirt production that I didn’t know about in the beginning. Knowing these would have been much more helpful to me when I was first deciding what kind of printing I wanted to do. The one great truth I learned about myself was that I loved designing and that this was the business I wanted to be in until I retire. And hopefully it will afford me the ability to retire really, really well!
TM: Which of your shirts is your favorite?
CH: Oh man, I can’t answer that question. Don’t want to make the other tees jealous. One thing I’ve found is that the more I design, the more detailed the designs get and with each new phase of my skills, I move from one favorite to the next often. So basically, each tee is my favorite at some point! At the moment though, the most popular tee with my customers is RED UTOPIA. And second to that one is LORE DOMINATION. Both of these two designs rank well with me.
TM: Do your run your label alone or do you have a team?
CH: For the most part, yes: design, screen, ship, build site, update site and so on. I am a “if you want it done right, do it yourself” kind of person and prefer the control aspect of handling it myself. But, I do get help on occasion with different aspects of it all. My cousin is a designer (she’s got a degree!) and she helps with technical ideas that require cutting, sewing, special stitching and so on… I don’t know how to sew for the life of me but I am learning these techniques from her. I also sponsor a collection of young skateboarders and BMX-ers from all over the globe. They are my promotional team. I am a big supporter of drug & alcohol free athletes and these are the types of people who make up my teams. They are really good guys who are drug & alcohol free, smart, talented riders and who also really dig the gear and are committed to URTC as well. I also have a small group of folk that I call my rep crew who are not necessarily skaters (even though they can be) but more so artists, musicians, photographers, athletes and so on who help promote our products and get input from others about our gear which they relay back to me. They are very helpful to our growth process and again are very groovy individuals. I include all of my team riders in design idea discussions and I truly value all of their input.
TM: Where do you get your inspiration from when it comes to designing t-shirts?
CH: Everywhere, everyone and everything: skateboarding worlds, BMX worlds, music worlds, photography worlds, my family, my friends, my teams, the urban scene, the streets, nature and life itself. I am a photographer as well so I often get my ideas from photos I’ve taken, thoughts that are perpetually darting around in my head and from the people I keep around me and support. My team is encouraged to share their ideas with me and to let me know what they think about designs in the queue and/or about what they want to see (and wear!) in the future. Most of the time my designs start off as one idea and end as another. It’s like that game where you tell one person one specific story and then they tell the next person and so on and so on and then by the end, the last person has a completely different story to tell than the first person told. That’s how my designing seems to work.
TM: What label(s) do you see as your biggest competition/the leader(s) of the game?
CH: Hmmm, that’s a hard question. There are so many great indie companies around, each offering something super swanky. Ha, the fact of the matter though, is that since we are still small and plan on remaining very grass roots, pretty much any company with a massive production and advertising budget is our competition! But that won’t slow me down or bog me down. There are enough people in the world who wear t-shirts for all us to have a tasty collection of customers. However, if you were to go through my closet you’d find t-shirts from L.R.G. (much respect to these guys & their grass roots philosophies), Stussy, Volcom (have a cool printed thermal from them), Fyaskö LTD and a small collection of randoms.
TM: What would you say is your target audience and what has been your best marketing vehicle in targeting that audience?
CH: Well, if you asked me this at the beginning of my run I would say my target audience was males, ages 12 to 22 who were in the skateboarding world. That has decisively changed. We still design mostly for guys (women and kids are in the works so don’t fret!) but now I would say we’ve expanded to the music, urban and artsy worlds and the age range has opened up to the mid to late 20s. This will continue to expand over time because I am designing tees and accessories that open us up to an even wider age range.
TM: You recently expanded into selling other products in addition to your tees. How did you make the decision of how, when, and what to expand into?
CH: Yeah man, very true. I’ve recently added chokers to our list of products. I’ve always been a big fan of chokers, especially those indigenous to the late 1970s. Natural beads, shell chips, semi-precious stones, brass, metal and pieces of sterling silver are what I like best. So I made a collection of chokers that I would like to wear myself and hopefully my customers would too. I hand select and bead/thread each choker personally (I screen each tee personally as well) so each has its own energy and uniqueness. I plan on expanding on our collection over the next 9 months adding belts, buttons, postcards and bandanas. Plus, I produce everything (tees and all) in limited run quantities. So I may make 100 of this choker, 50 of that one, 200 of these tees and 30 of this choker because I just don’t want to become one of those companies that produces so many of each item that I lose my hands on feature. Know what I mean?
TM: What’s in the works for the future of your label?
CH: Well, first up is a new collection of tees slated to be released throughout this summer. Also, I will be adding at least two new chokers to the inventory as well. I am working on studded leather wristbands and have designs on file for bandanas but I’m not totally sure when those will be put in play. As inspiration hits, I write it down and come back to it so the best way to know what’s next is to check the site or visit the blog.
TM: What tips could you give to others trying to get into the t-shirt biz?
CH:First thing first: do some research friends and fellow designers! Find out what type of t-shirt business you want to be in. Do you want to be a designer for someone else? Do you want to design for yourself and have them outsourced to a print shop or do you want to print them yourself? And if you do, then do you want to silk screen them? Do you want to use plastisol or water based inks? Or do you want to use a heat transfer process in which case you’d have to price custom transfer companies that will transfer your designs to heat transfer paper and of course you’d need a heat press. What size press will you need? And if you are going to silk screen will you be doing one, two, three, four or six color printing?
So research your options first. Each has a different set of expenses associated with it so you’ll need to know what works best for you in the space you have to create in. Once you’ve settled on a process, be patient. Take your time to create your best and then know that it will take some time for people to become familiar with your products and to want to take a chance on giving you their money so they can wear your gear! If you do it, have fun with it and allow for mistakes… allow for plenty of mistakes before you really start to get it right. There’s always something new to learn and you could really enjoy yourself, just remember to be patient and stick to it no matter what others may say. Believe in you and you will believe in your work.
For more info on Urban Royal Tees Clothing, check out UrbanRoyalTees.com