So back in February I wrote a post titled “What makes a brand truly independent?”. If you haven’t already seen this post, you can catch up here http://vihmiru.tumblr.com/post/16787695167/what-makes-a-brand-truly-independent
Caught up? Ok…
The feedback I’ve received for this post so far has been all positive with additional comments emailed from others firming up my views with their own.
Lara, from Outcry Apparel, agreed with what I had to say but also felt that Big Cartel had taken a step in the right direction.
And she does make a point – Big Cartel have made a vital first move – but that’s only in ‘raising awareness’ for independents which is a by-product of the movement itself anyway. How I interpret the ‘Shop Indie’ mission statement leads me to believe Big Cartel’s intentions are not just to raise awareness but to promote independence and originality that supposedly enables customers to make an informed choice on their purchases.
I’ve decided to elaborate this a bit further, address Big Cartel and then leave the ball in their court.
The below statement can be found on the Shop Indie Movement website:
Support independent artists.
Stand up and declare your independence from corporate chains, mass-produced products, and uninspired junk. #ShopIndie to experience the satisfaction of owning a unique item, made with love and attention, direct from the artist themselves.
Let’s analyse what the message is;
It communicates to customers (only after clicking a ‘Shop Indie’ badge on brand’s or artist’s website) that they should support that independent brand or artist and pick up something ‘unique’ instead of shopping with a corporate chain counter-part or picking up junk.
The statement also communicates to other brands and artists, ones that may currently be unaware of the movement, and encourages them to ‘add the badge’ to their website to inform their customers of the movement and to support them.
In short, when an independent brand or artist places a ‘Shop Indie’ badge on their website, it appears ‘Shop Indie’ or ‘shopping independent’ is supposed to inform customers that the brand or artist are free from corporate chains, mass-produced products, and uninspired junk.
That all sounds pretty good, doesn’t it!… Well, it does on the surface but if you look more closely you’ll identify the problem I have.
How does Big Cartel govern this? How does Big Cartel stop brands or artists using the ‘Shop Indie’ badge when those brands or artists are offering junk or aren’t really independent? Offering the exact thing the movement is supposed to be against?!
The simple answer is they don’t; they leave the decision up to the brand or artist to make the call as to whether they embody what the movement stands for.
I personally think this is incredibly lazy and poor-sighted (more so on the latter) considering the massive potential this movement has to offer.
Big Cartel, I put it to you… If you are going to start a movement on behalf of brands and artists, a movement to support independence, a movement to support unique items, don’t you then have an obligation to honour and monitor that?
As mentioned in my previous post, there are brands / artists (or non-brands as I like to call them) currently using the ‘Shop Indie’ badge and are selling the exact opposite of what the ‘Shop Indie’ movement stands for. For them, it’s a convenient and inexpensive way of promoting their junk but this devalues the movement and devalues the true independent brands and artists that do offer unique items.
So surely you, Big Cartel, should be doing more to facilitate how a customer can discern the differences between Brand Junk and Brand Unique?
Usually it’s up to the customer to take that gamble but with the ‘Shop Indie’ badge you’re now giving brands and artists a way to say, “Hey, we’re independent, we’ve got unique stuff, shop with us”… but when ANYONE can use the badge it’s pointless.
I feel I’ve now made my point, through this post and the original post. What do you think to it, Big Cartel? Are you going to do anything about the issues I’ve raised?
Here are a couple of ideas for you to think about…
You could just focus on highlighting stores that are unique and original by utilising Big Cartel’s Featured Friday Stores – Every store that features has surely earned the right to that badge. Having that badge should mean something substantial and not be or become a dime-a-dozen thing. So only Featured Friday Stores would be allowed to display the badge.
Maybe badges that indicate the type of items sold; handcrafted, cut and sew, blanks with prints.
Or you could focus on levels of independence and have different coloured badges or icons that mean different things. A badge for brands that do everything themselves, a badge for brands that do it themselves but also wholesale, a badge for brands that just wholesale and so on.
There is even the possibility of combining both my suggested ‘independence badges / highlighting originality through featured Friday’ to create a much easier to understand result. It would give the customer a wealth of information and putting that at the customers fingertips is key to them making an informed decision about their purchases. And customers would also be able to check the stores you’ve featured to know if the badges are legit or not.
I personally would love to go to a site that had a little tab with an icon on that I could hover over and have it expand to tell me everything I need to know about that brand or artist to make a decision about whether I want to support them or not. Such a simple and obvious idea, to me at least.
That may be the way to go or it may be entirely wrong. I guess it boils down to what has driven you to start the movement and how you’ve implemented it.
Your current system may have been chosen because it provides maximum exposure to Big Cartel. This badge has spread like wildfire which is nothing but good news for you. It would greatly disappoint me if that’s the case.
I would hope this is your first stage of implementation and other stages are to come? Prove me wrong.
Ben / VIHMIRU
Firstly I will note that this post ventures a little bit into the act of wholesaling but I have kept it to a minimum as I plan to expand on that in a separate post.
I was inspired to write this post after watching an extra on Kevin Smith’s new film; Red State – the first independent film he’s made since Clerks; the film that launched his career 17 years ago.
The extra I watched on Red State was his speech from the 2011 Sundance Film Festival where he caused a fair bit of ruckus in regards to distribution rights of his independent film and independent films in general.
One part of his speech that struck a chord with me was this…
“True independence isn’t making a film and selling it to some jackass, true independence is schlapping that shit to the people yourself.”
…and after hearing it I immediately made a comparison to independent clothing brands as this is relevant to VIHMIRU.
Smith is saying you’re not truly independent unless you yourself are putting the products you’ve created into the hands of your customers.
Obviously the independent film industry operates fairly differently to independent clothing brands but there are some similarities in what he said.
By definition, what is an independent business? The word ‘independent’ is most commonly used to distinguish between privately owned one-of-a-kind businesses from public owned corporate chains.
In this day and age, practically anyone can start a privately owned business which basically means anyone can be an independent! That is humongous demographic of independents.
For a moment though, lets think about the word independence on its own because it means several things;
Up to speed on what independence is? Great, let’s continue…
Kevin Smith also said in his speech…
“Selling my film is akin to having a baby and handing it over to somebody else to raise.”
This is similar to the first quote I mentioned but the analogy is genius because you just wouldn’t do it.
And like Smith, I do what I do for the love and not the money. Breaking even is enough for me. I love creating products that I can see to fruition and put directly in the hands of my customers; customers who appreciate the time, effort and passion that has gone into making those products. It’s about creating an experience, an experience I control. With wholesale, a brand’s control over customer experience is immediately relinquished; they’ve handed over their baby (products) for someone else to raise (sell) and have to trust the raising (selling) is done correctly.
Most brands I know that are wholesaling, only a few will be dependent on others to distribute products for them. The reason for this is some brands only do wholesale but other brands do both wholesale and sell their products through their own stores.
If a brand doesn’t fall under ALL of the above listed ‘independent definitions’ can they be classed as truly independent?
In terms of VIHMIRU, I solely operate it, I lead my own creative direction and do all my own creative work, I make all the decisions, I do not follow trends (despite the owl theme of VIHMIRU which was conceived in mid 2009 before owls started trending), I privately fund my brand, I’m not reliant on wholesale accounts (I don’t even wholesale because I’m against it), and I do not rely on anyone’s aid or support; in my opinion this would make VIHMIRU a true independent.
This brings me on to Big Cartel’s ‘Shop Indie’ movement. Big Cartel is a popular shopping cart system, the same system in fact that I use with VIHMIRU. Big Cartel are basically putting a push on supporting independents by encouraging you to shop with them in declaration of their independence from corporate chains, mass produced products and uninspired junk.
I wonder though, how many of the brands who have added the ‘Shop Indie’ badge to their website are true independents!? (Or even what would be considered a brand – another post for another time!)
My question is this; Is it right to label something as independent without communicating what level of independence is at play? Does one level of independence deserve more customer attention than another? Or should it be an equal and level playing field regardless of how independent a brand is?
If it’s the latter, it would seem as though ‘independence’ or ‘true independence’ isn’t as important as some would have you believe.
I run my brand the way I choose; the way that I feel is right for myself and my customers. Other brands will operate under the same premise.
So should VIHMIRU be treated differently to these brands that outsource all their creative, brands that wholesale or brands that follow trends? Yes, it definitely should.
Independent brands shouldn’t be lumped under the one same meaning. We all run our brands differently therefore yielding in different levels of independent merit.
My opinion on this matter is currently why the ‘Shop Indie’ badge is absent from my own store. I don’t feel it means and communicates what it should. If anyone can be an independent, with their level of independence being meaningless, then surely a movement of supporting independence is basically defunct.
Actually this rings especially true because I’ve seen Big Cartel stores brandishing the ‘Shop Indie’ badge but also selling the same ‘uninspired junk’ Big Cartel want you to stay away from under this supportive movement. If you go to Twitter and search #shopindie it won’t take you long to find such a Big Cartel store.
I’m interested to hear other points of view on this topic.
My email address is available by clicking ‘VIHMIRU’ next to my name below so feel free to email me your thoughts and opinions and I’ll construct a post detailing your responses. Alternatively, reply to this post; I think I’ve set it up correctly to allow that! Let me know if not.
Also feel free to reblog this and share it on social networks.
One ‘inspirational’ thing before I go; Kevin Smith’s opening gambit was about Wayne Gretzky, a former professional ice hockey player, whom has become something of a personal hero to Smith. He basically told of a piece of advice Wayne’s father, Walter Gretzky, gave his son which was…
“Don’t go where the puck has been, go where the puck is going to be.”
So, another year has been and gone. Where does the time go! It seems like only yesterday that VIHMIRU was just an idea, a thought in my head.
All the planning and hard work has paid off though as VIHMIRU is now a fully fledged brand with one year of trading under its belt. And even though the brand is off to a good start there is still a lot of work to be done. Success doesn’t come easy nor overnight. I’m in for the long haul!
VIHMIRU is an independent brand and a one-man operation which I’m sure a lot of you aren’t aware of. I never really push these facts publicly but after what I’ve achieved with VIHMIRU last year I feel they are something to be proud of. I run this brand in my spare time in and around a full-time job.
It hasn’t been easy by any means and there were times where it looked rather bleak. It always comes as a blow when you’ve put in every effort but don’t see an equal amount in return especially from advertising. Actually the advertising I’ve done for the brand recently hasn’t worked as intended so I will be stopping it to plough that capital into more products instead.
The idea behind advertising was to make more people aware of the brand and increase the customer base. But there hasn’t been a massive difference in sales during that time nor a notable increase in social media followers.
In terms of raising awareness I sometimes don’t help myself because of my views on wholesaling; I basically don’t like it! It seems like an easy way out… if I put as much product as I could in as many stores as I could then VIHMIRU would become pretty well known fairly quickly. Yes, that would be lovely and so would the profits but at what cost? I don’t want VIHMIRU to become a ‘dime a dozen’ brand. I want it to be exclusive and limited. I want it to stay meaningful to the people already buying into the brand.
I’d like to thank all of those who are already supporting VIHMIRU by picking up goods from the store and to those who may not have purchased yet but are happy to promote the brand and share it with their friends. Keep up the ‘word of mouth’.
I’m currently working on plans for 2012 and 2013 which means product drops for 2012 will be mid to year end. My main concerns with product is the quality. I spend a lot of time tracking down the right suppliers that can meet my expectations and deliver the quality they promise. This in turn gives you the best possible product I can provide.
Your patience is greatly appreciated. But in the mean time, most of the items in the store are now on sale so go and buy something!
Once again, thanks for a great 2011. Here’s to a better 2012.
Ben / VIHMIRU
Interviewed on: Fat Kid On Fire
Advert & Feature in: FRONT
Back in September I put one of my first press adverts into FRONT Magazine. It was a double-spread and pretty much just introduced the brand with a huge photograph close up of the cap embroidery.
This month (October) FRONT were kind enough to feature the VIHMIRU bottle opener in their ‘Splash your cash’ spread. They’ve written an inventive few lines to accompany the image of the bottle opener.
Pick up a copy of the magazine to check it out and then pick up a bottle opener!
Ben / VIHMIRU
Featured on: AHOODIE
Advert in: R-Magazine
The September Issue of my hometowns’s local R-Magazine featured a double spread VIHMIRU advert. One side was a product feature and opposite a bit of information about the brand. I wanted to raise awareness to more people in my hometown of Northampton.
Thanks to Eddie over at R-mag for the hook up!
Featured on: Self Gained Treasures
LiamTheHuman, a 17 year old from Scotland, has recently started blogging for the brand Self Gained Treasures. He is probably best known for his blogging over at AHOODIE.com.
One of his posts over at SGT was a run down of the Top 5 UK brands from the Official Street forum. He was kind enough to feature VIHMIRU at the top of the list. Below is the excerpt of what he wrote.
This list is in no particular order but take a strong hint from the fact I put this brand first… Based in the bad streets of Northampton, Ben from VIHMIRU instantly struck me as a pretty genuine guy that definitely knew his stuff. After brewing for a good 3 years, the brand’s first drop consisted of just two accessories – a Zippo lighter and a bottle opener – to show that there’s more to the company than a handful printed tees, unlike many streetwear companies on the go at the moment.
This is the only company in this list I’ve ordered something from thus far so I can certainly vouch for the quality of the garments; both the print and t-shirt itself are pretty darn lovely.
Interviewed on: BREAKSof10
Featured on: Cardiff Style