I had the pleasure of being able to interview Kyle Crawford (portfolio here), who is not only an absolutely awesome designer but is the proud owner of one of the raddest brands around: Electric Zombie. A brand inspired by the kind of cult art and pop-culture that makes the children of the 80’s tingle all over! Kyle has worked for some amazing clients over the years, including some of the biggest names in music, clothing and independent fashion. He uses a combination of his own skills and those of other talented designers to create amazing, highly visual lines for Electric Zombie. Kyle now works as both a freelance designer and head of Electric Zombie and is doing extremely well in both areas, producing some amazing work. He has learned a lot over the years and has been kind enough to share a bunch of his experiences in this interview.
TH: What prompted the formation and launch of Electric Zombie?
Kyle Crawford: I had just got a new job and I was making all kinds of money. Freelance was good. I had just got out of a situation with Rockett Clothing and decided to start my own line. I just figured well, if you aren’t going to listen to my ideas, I’m going to do things myself.
TH: You also do a lot of amazing freelance graphic design for all kinds of clients, does this balance well with running your clothing brand?
Kyle Crawford: To be honest, the only time it becomes a conflict is when I make a shirt and go, “Dammit! this would have been an awesome EZ shirt”
but as far as time and everything. EZ only really takes up a tiny bit of time. If I hire out, I ask for stuff a month before it goes to print. Then I usually take that month to make my own ideas. Then that parts over. Then it goes to print, which takes about 3 weeks to complete from start to finish. Then I arrange a photo shoot. It’s then pretty much getting the look books and everything ready. I think if you cram all of the time spent into it from my side of things. It takes about 3 weeks to get everything done. Ideas, line sheets, ordering, photo shoots, designing the myspace, the look books and making sure all the stuff comes together from my awesome designer friends, and spreading the word during launch week. It doesn’t really reflect or hurt my freelance time at all. Using my brain for EZ instead of freelance sometimes can be a conflict, ha!
TH: At what stage after launching did you become profitable, what this in line with your expectations?
Kyle Crawford: I’m honestly not too sure. Every dollar I make gets put back in. I have high expectations in a certain aspect. I’m pretty bi-polar when it comes to my stuff. One second I talk it up, the next, I’m worried it’s going to do awful. But I think with everyone’s stuff you like it at first glance but the more you look at it, you start to hate it. But with the whole profit thing. I don’t think I’ve reached that point yet. Custom Hoodies and socks cost a pretty penny to make.
TH: Did you set out with a style in mind or did it evolve and how?
Kyle Crawford: At first I set out to make something like the Rockett stuff I did. Then it became more fun and in your face. I tend to switch it up. I have so many ideas it’s ridiculous and most of those ideas are just that.
There’s a certain look I want it to have. But 90% of th time, everything just seems to flow together. It’s one of those lick your finger and stick it in the air and just go with the flow and it’s worked out pretty well.
TH: What is the most important lesson you have learned from running Electric Zombie?
Kyle Crawford: That no matter what you say, what you do. Someone is going to be unhappy. From things being too bright, or not enough bright shirts, to discontinuing this and that. Not printing on 2X. That and running a line is harder than you think, if you’re doing it right. There’s too many kids who think they can make a quick buck. But they might as well just save their money for something more worth while. It can get pretty grueling.
TH: What was your biggest low point since starting?
Kyle Crawford: Starting out is always the worst. But I have to say, the lowest of the low was this year’s Bamboozle Festival. It was beyondddddd terrible. I took my time with everything. Last year I did so well and I was a new kid on the block. So I thought this year I’d go in their huge. It flopped big time. The first day I didn’t even make 1/4 of what I did last year. It was a huge disappointment. I know that a lot of brandsjust bring in their extra stock. But I print shirt FOR the fest. I feel it’s better to have too much than too little and I came back with way too much. HA!
TH: What has been the biggest high point since starting?
Kyle Crawford: I’d have to say 3 things have been awesome.
One thing being the Christmas shirts. I had no idea they would sell out. Like I said, I’m so hot and cold with my stuff. I just couldn’t believe how well they did. The Second being the holiday season. That was pretty awesome, for obvious reasons. The new line that just came out has done well. As far as the hype, the compliments and the amount of kids going crazy. I hope I can do it again and consistantly keep that an ongoing cycle
TH: Do you work offline to promote and sell EZ and what are your top tips for getting a brand out there in the real world?
Kyle Crawford: This is going to be the most boring answer ever.
I spend about 1 week promoting EZ. I think it’s pretty contradicting on my end because I talk about how hard I work, but promoting is definitely not one of them. I’m one of those “word of mouth” companies.
TH: What has been the most popular design so far and what do you think it is about it that gets people excited?
Kyle Crawford: That’s a tough one. I think the all time best sellers are. Dome Splitter, Sarcophagross and Live Wire. But the Philopsophy shirt is the ALL time best seller. It’s been around the longest and consistantly sells
TH: How do you tell a truly great, bound to sell design from one that should be sent back to the drawing board?
Kyle Crawford: I don’t think I’ve ever had that problem. Although there are times when I’m setting up the line sheets where I look at it and go, this and this are going to do really bad. Every time I’m right. I should really go with those instincts, cuz those shirts are still sitting on the shelf
TH: Designing: Is it better to outsource, design in house of combine the two and why?
Kyle Crawford: I generally only hire out for stuff I know I can’t handle. Or I come up with specific ideas for certain people. I think it’s definitely a good idea to do a bit of both. Get some new blood in there. Mix it up. Plus it only makes it easier for myself. Less work for me! But I don’t know too many companies that actually design the stuff themselves. Glamour Kills is actually the only one I’m aware of.
TH: You work with a lot of talented designers, how do you go about choosing who to work with?
Kyle Crawford: I have a lot of “Online Acquientences” and friends. I generally don’t go out searching for anyone anymore. I like who I worked/work with. I usually write about 4 ideas a day in my book of ideas and I generally know who I’m going to go to. I just have an eye for what aesthetically works. I don’t really go for who’s “Hot at the Moment”. I go to the person I know is going to do the best job. When you know a persons strengths it definitely helps. People go to a Steakhouse to get a Steak they know they’re going to get cooked the way they like it. Not for the salad. God I hope that anaolgy makes sense! probably not!
TH: How do you attract and retain happy customers?
Kyle Crawford: As dumb as it sounds. I kind of just do what I want. I think to myself “If I were an Electric Zombie Customer, what would I want and appreciate?” or any business for that matter? When I open up that package, what sorts of surprises would make me smile, or say “That’s awesome” to myself? How much do I want to pay for a shirt? What hasn’t been done? There’s also a ton of people who like particular movies and characters and won’t wear or buy them because they are too corporate or too brandish. If you want an Undertaker on Ultimate Warrior shirt, you cant get one without a MASSIVE “WWE OR WWF” logo. Or if you wanted a TMNT shirt, you must certainly aren’t going to get one where their skateboarding and killing their nemesis without it saying some horribly written quote by some 30-40 something year old who’s still trying to be hip. Think of yourself as the customer. What do you want from a T-shirt Brand? Act on your answer.
TH: What is the one piece of advice you wish someone had given you before you started?
Kyle Crawford: I don’t think I regret how I’ve done things or the way things have turned out. I’m an over thinker and haven’t stewed on any bad mistakes. I knew what I was getting into before I started. But, I will give out a piece of advice out to everyone else who might be reading this interview. If you’re thinking of starting a line. Don’t just do it to do it. Or because you want some girl to like you. Or to get closer to bands (That actually was asked of me last week in an email). I did this because I was tired of being pushed around and not getting credit and not taking my ideas into consideration. Because I wanted to be known for the dude who took risks and made outrageous shirts.
If you’re doing this because you hate your job and because you think that because so and so is doing it and you see how people react and you want that attention. You will ultimately fail. If it’s something you aren’t truly passionate about or have a desire to do. You’re in the wrong business. Go start a band or something. Because the cruel reality is this business is a hard, dirty and competitive one. If this is something you’re not 110% invested in, don’t bother trying. Critics, potential customers, and other companies will eat you alive.
TH: What are your plans for the future of EZ?
Kyle Crawford: The fall/winter line is going to be very different. It’s going to be more simple, mature, fashiony and still solid and memorable. My intentions are to slim down my lines into 2 lines a year instead of 4. I feel that what will be best for my company and for my brain. I’m hoping to do another Christmas tee run. Lots of surprises and most likely some disappointments. You’ll just have to wait and fine out!
Great big thank you to Kyle for his insightful, well thought out responses. I wish him every success and cannot wait to see what Electric Zombie puts out next!