Just one month fresh out of college, graphic designer Jeff Sheldon of Downington, PA found himself moving through quite a few life milestones: he married his high school sweetheart, relocated to a different state (Vermont), and started a full-time job. Soon after, the young designer found himself continually daydreaming about launching his own brand centered around typography and minimal design. Those daydreaming sessions have led him to a brand that continually sells out of thousands of tshirts, has expanded to other products, has thousands of Facebook followers, and a loyal following. Perhaps you’re sitting at a desk right now eyeballing that side project you’ve always wanted to launch but didn’t know where to begin? In this recently released video, Jeff tells us the story of how his initial sketch turned into a booming business.
”…I Didn’t Start with a Formal Business Plan…”
As Jeff stated in the video above, watching a blank piece of paper become a vehicle for an idea that rides through the computer and becomes an actual product is an exciting process to be a part of—especially if it’s something that’s wholeheartedly yours and yours alone. While Jeff started Ugmonk as an outlet to sell t-shirts, his process can apply to any product that is starting from scratch. From creating that initial sketch, to getting the product on a few design blogs, to finally having to move out of your one-bedroom apartment because your stock has taken over, launching a successful brand that supports your design outlet and your living expenses is definitely the top—if not one of the top goals of any designer or maker.
What’s inspiring about Jeff’s story is that he was able to jump a few hoops without having any formal business knowledge…let alone a business plan. While having a few business smarts is a good idea (particularly in the legal department), Jeff is an example of a current-day maker that just focused on creating a product that he knew his market wanted, while practicing common sense to figure things out as they came up.
“I found that the best way of learning is by doing”
After launching Ugmonk in August of 2008 with four designs spanning over 200 shirts total (which today is about $1500-$2000 at cost), business quickly accelerated after being featured on a few blogs—and this is before the Kickstarter marketing engine. After gaining some additional confidence in his brand, Jeff launched what would become the brand’s signature design tee, ‘And Then I Woke Up’:
Since the launch of that tee, Jeff and a few family members continued to build the brand organically to the point where Jeff was able to leave his full-time job just before the second anniversary of Ugmonk’s launch. His new warehouse and shipping center? Mom and Dad’s basement back at his childhood home:
Soon after the move, Ugmonk was noticed by the editor of Computer Arts magazine and was featured in a seven-page spread covering online branding and storefronts. With the continued interest in his brand and coverage in various blogs, Jeff expanded into offering other products beyond his now-famous t shirt designs. These included leather wallets, sketchbooks, and prints that would also sell very well and fill a niche in the retail market that appreciated good design and simplicity with an artisanal touch.
Less than five years after the initial launch of the brand (for those counting, that would be August of 2013), Ugmonk has positioned itself as a global brand with shipments going to over 55 countries, placements in various boutiques and retail stores, and a few very large orders from Urban Outfitters. Yet despite the surge of popularity in his brand, Jeff still strives to keep the same philosophy that he had back in 2008 when Ugmonk was still just an idea on a page:
“While it’s fascinating and exciting to see Ugmonk show up in mass media, it really is just as fun to hear about people who randomly spot someone wearing Ugmonk on the street and discover the brand that way. No matter how big the brand gets, I want to keep the personal touch and service that people have come to know with Ugmonk.”
(images via Vimeo/Ugmonk)