For those that know about Johnny Cupcakes, which by now is probably most of you, you’ll know what he, and his brand, stands for. We’ve been a fan of the brand for years now, so we’ve seen what’s been written and what’s been said. Getting an opportunity to talk to Johnny himself, we wanted to make sure that we didn’t re-hash all the stuff that had already been put in front of us.
Giving the exceptional nature of the brand’s rise, coupled with Johnny’s well known positive attitude towards, well, life in general, we wanted to use what time we had to press Johnny for answers regarding; his consistent positivity, where he sees Johnny Cupcakes within the ‘streetwear’ market and why he felt the need to lecture us on it all.
In attaching your positive energy and personality to a brand, do you feel pressure to maintain your positivity all the time, does it ever become a struggle?
I’m generally a positive person every day. It’s how I’ve been raised and it’s important. When you’re the captain of the pirate ship, everyone looks to you. If you’re negative than it will rub off on others. However, I have had my downtime here and there. I don’t let it get to me, though. I look at it as motivation to keep making things fun and exciting. Rather than pointing out the problems, I enjoy pointing out the solutions. It’s like a big jigsaw puzzle!
Fashion seems to be a grumpy place, a lot of blank expressions and camouflage patterns, do you feel like the goofy kid in the school yard of an industry?
Fashion is definitely a grumpy place. I don’t know why? You’re playing arts & crafts for fudge sake. And yes, I do feel like the goofy kid in the schoolyard of an industry. I feel like the Willy Wonka of t-shirts and I wouldn’t want it any other way. If I can make strangers smile through the experiences that my brand creates and curates, then my job is complete.
Is the joke on the others, as you’ve ‘made it’ and they haven’t?
I wouldn’t say that. In my opinion, whether you work for yourself or another company, real success is being happy doing what you love. No matter how successful you are financially, if going to work doesn’t feel like ‘work’, you’ve made it.
If so what makes you human, what pisses you off the most?
I’m not a fan of the cotton from inside vitamin bottles and people who aren’t happy unless they have something to complain about.
Why did you feel the need to put on a lecture series?
A single conversation could affect a human’s thought process and motivation for a lifetime. If I could share my story and experiences with the world, so that they could learn and be motivated from my mistakes—while taking notes on my success—to me that means the world. It’s something that I never had or attended in the beginning, and it could have saved me from making many mistakes.
How do you think your approach comes across? Do you think it’s relatable to the masses?
From what I’ve heard from the 100,000+ people who’ve attended my lectures, they usually say that my approach comes off humorous, educational, and honest. It is relatable to any person looking to follow their passion or grow an existing idea.
It seems to me , following the brand for ten years, that you don’t fit the mould for ‘streetwear’ despite the brand holding numerous streetwear attributes, where do you place yourself in the market?
Although I did start my Johnny Cupcakes brand on the street via selling t-shirts out of the trunk of my rusty car and out of my suitcase while on tour with my old band, I would not consider us streetwear. We do have customers who are into streetwear, however, we also have customers from all walks of life. I wouldn’t know where to place my brand in the market. If I had to put a label on what kind of brand we are, I’d say that we are an experience-based brand. It is my first priority to make sure every customer feels like it’s their birthday when they purchase a Johnny Cupcakes product. From our packaging, our events, our products, our website, all the way to how our shops are designed.
Who are your favourite people involved in streetwear (brand owners/store owners) and why?
Chris Gibbs of Union: He’s always been the person curating up and coming brands before anyone else.
Jeff Staple of Staple Design and Reed Space: Jeff is an idea farmer and a man of many talents. Him and his team have created many inspiring projects and have pushed the envelop when it comes to brand identity and product design.
Bobby Hundreds: Whether you’re into the brand or not, Bobby’s storytelling, culture-reporting, and writing ability is remarkable.
Benny Gold: A gentleman, family man, and a role model for many. His passion and energy is contagious.
Joshy Rebel 8: Joshy has filled a void and created something almost timeless with his brand.
Greg Mishka: Greg’s brand is the epitome of every kids childhood. From eyeballs, slime, skulls, to toys. No matter how tough some people pretend to be, we all have a kid inside of us and can find an appreciation of Mishka’s craft.
How do you feel other ‘streetwear’/ ‘youth culture driven’ brands’ ethos compares to JC?
I feel as if the main difference is that we’re more of a community driven, experience-based brand with a strong focus on our retail stores vs. wholesaling. However, we haven’t completely ruled out the idea of choosing some select shops to collaborate with. Our ethos doesn’t make us any better or worse than other ‘streetwear’ / ‘youth culture driven’ brands; it’s just what suits us best.
You seem to preach a ‘fun’ approach to business. Which is fair enough, however as you mentioned in your London lecture, London is notoriously more expensive compared to the states, do you think it’s much harder to break into retail here?
Yes, it is definitely more difficult to break into retail in the UK. Well, for someone from another country it is. If you do it the right way and open up in a good area, then you’re not too far from breaking into retail. London is one of the shopping hubs of the world.
The ease of opening a business in America is one that I am personally very jealous of, what do you think makes opening a business in the states compared to the UK, so different?
In the states it’s not so rainy all of the time, there are more opportunities to source printing and manufacturing, USA is a lot larger than the UK which makes it attainable to expand and grow your business model in other cities within the USA, and I feel is if there aren’t as many restrictions and very large and sometimes discouraging VAT taxes. Like I had mentioned before though, London is a beautiful city with much opportunity. Even though it can be difficult to open up shop, this weeds out many of the copycats and unoriginal concepts.
Your retail spaces are unique and exciting, though I feel the London store is much more tame than your Boston/LA store, why?
Johnny Cupcakes London is a little tamer than some of the other JC locations, however, it still packs a punch with elements that my other shops do not have. Since this was our first international store, we didn’t want the concept to go over people’s heads, especially with there being 70% tourists in the Carnaby area. It was important to not distract people from the products too much.
Do you design the spaces yourself?
I usually come up with the initial concepts and designs for my spaces, and from there I’ll bring in my JC family for ideas and conversation, functionality, and further design options. Like most things within the JC brand, it ends up being a collaborative effort.
What brands, if you stocked in any stores other than your flagships, would you like to be placed next too?
Although I have some favourite brands, I’d still want to think strategically so that my product would be continually exposed to people from all walks of life. In my opinion, opening up to new people is the only way to grow, or the best way to grow, rather. For example, I’d want to be placed in some comic book shops, bakeries, toy stores, and a few clothing shops. If I had to say what brands, perhaps it would be Threadless, Apple, Jordan and Star Wars. I feel as if you only try to appeal to certain types of people and through the same old stores, you’re going to do just that, ONLY be seen by the same type of people. In my opinion, it’s not the most effective way to grow.
What advice could you give in regards to opening a store in the current climate?
The main thing to remember is that almost everything in the world has been done before. We shouldn’t get discouraged from this, but rather inspired to do something different. When starting any business, it’s your responsibility to reinvent your ideas. If you cannot give a complete stranger 10+ reasons why you’re unique and different from the rest, 10+ reasons why a stranger would WANT to talk about you, then nobody is going to talk about you. It’s important to recognise this before launching, as it could make or break many business opportunities.
If I can do this with a learning disability, little resources, little-to-no start up money, and with something as weird as cupcakes, you can do something just as successful. It’s all about having an original idea, staying positive, and making time for your passion. The more time you put in, the more results you’ll get back.