It's been a hell of a month. I'm not going to lie to any of you, this has been the most difficult month in my career. And I'll explain why. We had (several dozen) orders for embroidered caps, and my first supplier...well, they screwed up the last job they did for me. So I went with a new supplier...who then jerked me around for a couple of weeks, so I had to fire them. Then finally, at long last, I found someone who was "Just Right," in the parlance of the three bears. They're a local veteran-owned company who is as devoted to quality as I am.
The person who did our caps is me in 30 years. I grew up in screenprinting; that person grew up in embroidery. When I went to pick up the Fandom Menace caps, at long last, we both lamented how nobody cares anymore, and swapped a couple stories about the issues we've experienced recently.
Before I founded crypto.fashion, I'd been discussing the possibility of taking on a project as an account for the company I worked with (and for whom I still occasionally do contract work).
The gentleman with whom I was negotiating told me that I was thinking much too small--I needed to start my own business. He then walked me through the what and why of how I should do it. Gave me a tremendous amount of invaluable advice. He doesn't know anything about my industry, he left the expert-knowledge to me, but his business experience, especially in tech, gave him some valuable insights.
But the main thing he told me was "focus on a quality product."
I spent seven months learning new skills, catching up on some things that have fallen by the wayside over the course of my career, improving my network, and selecting the best possible blanks for our customers. Well, the best without breaking the bank--there's a reason our regular retail price is $22 and not $40.
Printed apparel is skill-intensive, labor-intensive, and increasingly high-tech, with digital art taking the forefront in the early 1990s (I remember my folks taping acetate and vellum sheets together to create designs for screen-making, before the advent of Photoshop. They had design software, but it was easier to manipulate printouts).
Everything has changed with the advent of Digital Direct-To-Garment printing back in the early 2000s. But that technology is buggy and expensive--at least until recently. It's very much been an "if you want to have one, you need two" prospect--because if one goes down, you need a backup machine. At least until recently.
We don't have one. We contract with a company who has dozens of them for the high-res prints that are so popular now. The problem is that our contractor is slow and expensive. And if we have a glut of orders, we have to wait for them to get them to us. So we've had to update our shipping times accordingly. Not fun.
On top of that, it costs me more in time to process your order than I earn if you order a DTG print. That doesn't change that they're awesome prints, and thankfully they aren't the bulk of what we're doing yet, but when I started CF, I didn't expect to capture the Comicsgate market--it literally didn't exist yet. I figured we'd be doing meme-y political shirts for a year or two more, but then AltHero, Jawbreakers, and Cyberfrog happened, and now--more than that. So here we are.
And it's funny, because I've spent much of my career in fandom, which is dying. I started crypto.fashion to get away from that market. Yet the New Fandom found me. So alright then.
A standard, screenprinted tee is fine, those are always profitable, and upgrades moreso, but our reliance on a contractor for DTG prints is not sustainable. Standard prints which we do in-house (low-fidelity work, you know, that single color print you ordered, or the three color front / one color back, etc.)--those are profitable. But DTG prints cost me more in time than the profit margin allows.
It's not that we're in any kind of trouble. You have all been awesome. It's that we want to grow to the point where we, ourselves, can show the big-box printers how it needs to be done--with a strong commitment to quality and service. And yes, to get away from the censorship culture that plagues our industry (there may be some things we can't sell anyway--because payment gateway TOU agreements are a thing, but we want to be as independent as possible, and clear a path away from the major gateways.)
But one of our biggest new clients came to us because a Big Box merch company said their design was "hate speech." How is "Get Woke, Go Broke" hate speech? "Woke" is a subjective term. The Right and the Left have both appropriated it and utilize it on a regular basis. Is this the Left ceding ground? I don't know. What I do know is that it isn't the same as a swastika or a hammer and sickle.
We have the best customers--which is why we not only refunded the Fandom Menace caps, we also issued $20 gift-codes to their delayed orders (the extra $20 was because I wasn't more proactive in addressing the issue with the customers. Never again.)
I have two options for the growth this company needs. Either we can sell out--take on some investors with their inevitable restrictions. Or we can approach you for your support in this effort. We're growing fast, but at the current rate of growth it'll be at least a year before we can do this organically.
I'd rather remain independent and become even moreso. But towards the end of the month, we'll be launching our own crowdfund campaign.
The goal will be $50,000, for the following:
1) DTG Printer (Likely the Epson 2100.) Plus a pre-treatment machine. $22,000
2) Keep our present warehouse space secure for the next year. $6,000 (doing biz in the rural south rocks. Roll Tide.)
The remainder of that goal will be spent on cost-of-goods-sold for rewards and staff-wages. Stretch goals and rewards are in discussion. We know how enthusiastic you all are. In my 18 years in the industry, I have NEVER seen people more supportive than the Comicsgate crowd or our more politically-oriented customers. I absolutely love you guys.
I've been in negotiations with several of our clients to provide support for this effort--with exclusive artwork and other rewards. We appreciate the confidence they, and you, have placed with us. We're a small operation, but we want to be able to handle everything you throw our way.
So, towards the end of August, look for our campaign.