Artist Spotlight: Jeff Sheldon of Ugmonk

Our team recently acquired TeeHunter.com. While our time is being spent mastering what the site does well, we’ve began determining the direction of the future. As we process ways to grow and create a vision for what’s to come, we’ve been searching the internet tirelessly for all things t-shirt and design, digging for inspiration and masters of the trade.

There is a reoccurring name, a common thread so to say, that runs through the industry of design and specifically that of t-shirts: Jeff Sheldon of Ugmonk. From design websites, fashion blogs, entrepreneur interviews to seeing his photos used in promoting services like Shopify, Jeff has a bold and undeniable presence. He clearly has a long list of admirers and we too admire him for his design, entrepreneurship, art and authenticity.

I’ve been familiar with the Ugmonk brand and Jeff for some time now. As a distant fan, it’s been a great experience digging deeper into interviews and information about Jeff and his brand.

Ugmonk is a design and lifestyle brand created and managed by Jeff Sheldon. Ugmonk’s first products were t-shirts. Now, six years after launching with an expanded product offering, the company sells thousands of products a month. All the while, the focus has been quality, aesthetically pleasing design. Jeff is intentional about limiting growth as to maintain authenticity and to preserve the unquantifiable qualities of a small design brand.

Jeff is an artist at heart. In his 2012 interview with The Great Discontent, he describes that his love for art and design began in childhood. Doodling and sketching were common pastimes, much of his time spent in the fine arts. Although a sport-loving kid as much as the next guy, Jeff says “…I always had this passion to create.” I felt a bit of nostalgia when he mentioned growing up building with Lincoln Logs.

For most people there is a point where reality sets in and the need to make a living becomes apparent. Jeff knew he wanted to harness his passion for art into a career. Congruent with the stereotype of The Starving Artist Jeff explains, “I knew I wasn’t going to be a fine artist because everyone told me I couldn’t make a living doing that.” As a result he transitioned from fine art into a path of graphic design in college. He fell in love with typography. Even now, years after beginning graphic design, Jeff continues to bridge the gap of analog and digital design. In an interview with Minumum.com Jeff explains, “Getting my ideas down on paper is still a must for me. Even though many of my designs are finished in digital form, pencil and paper gives me the freedom to quickly sketch out concepts and explore different ideas. “ He continues, “There’s something about the tactile nature of drawing with pencil on paper that can’t be replaced digitally.” It is the love of typography and hand sketching that helped start and maintains much of the Ugmonk brand.

These photos show Jeff’s design process from sketch to product. He explains his process in an article on Ugmonk.com.

After college Jeff and his wife, formerly highschool sweet heart, moved to Burlington, Vt. It was there Jeff would launch his brand.

Every good business has a “why.” Why do they exist, why do they do what they do? Ugmonk was born as an answer to the question, “why was it so difficult to find fresh, high-quality, unique items in a modern aesthetic?” explained on Ugmonk.com. Jeff decided to solve the problem and began with T-shirts. With a commitment to quality and simple design, he started with just four t-shirts. It was a side project. He tells Dale Partridge in a recent interview on the StartUp Camp podcast, “ When I launched Ugmonk, it wasn’t just about launching a t-shirt brand. I wanted to launch a design brand. T-Shirts were just the first medium.”

It was the “And then I woke up” t-shirt that gave Ugmonk the momentum to secure longevity as a lifestyle brand.

This is the design that Jeff credits with the early success of his brand. You can buy it on Ugmonk.com

He created the design from the common saying that ends a story about a dream. Every good dream described to a friend ends with the phrase, “and then I woke up.” This design still stands as Ugmonk’s best seller.

It was almost two years that Ugmonk existed as a side project. Employed full-time as a graphic designer, Jeff committed his spare time on nights and weekends to developing Ugmonk. As he gained traction and admiration from what Dale refers to as a “cult-like” following, Jeff realized Ugmonks potential with the enthusiasm that accompanied each new design release.

Nearing the two year anniversary of the move to Vermont, Jeff quit his job to focus fully on the Ugmonk brand. He explains on Ugmonk.com, “As part of this change, my wife and I moved back to our hometown in PA, and my parents graciously agreed to allow their house to become the Ugmonk warehouse and shipping center.” Since the move back to Pennsylvania, Ugmonk has seen steady growth.

Jeff has partneerd with his brother in running the business. He remains the sole designer for the brand. Jeff said in an interview with 99u.com,  “I still design every single thing and that’s the part that I love the most, and that’s kind of why I started Ugmonk. I just love to design.”  As for the meaning of the word “Ugmonk” Jeff won’t tell. Apparently it is an inside joke that us outsiders may never know.

Jeff Sheldon’s background and the story of Ugmonk is inspiring. The design and t-shirt brand community look to Jeff as a leader. He has set a precedent for good design and a well developed brand.

When Dale asks Jeff what marketing strategies that have been good for Ugmonk, he responds “Keep things really personal and authentic.”

We could all learn a little something from Jeff.

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