The way he tells it, Jon Wye was lost and now he’s found… sorta. Feeling like life was passing him by in a post-collegiate funk, it wasn’t until he set his mind on channeling his creative urges into something tangible that fulfillment finally faded into view. Now he uses pop culture to help him design graphics that he applies to apparel and accessories galore. Apparently, it all started with a good date… and a funky-junky belt buckle.
Patch: What's your favorite thing (or favorite things) about pop culture?
Jon Wye: Well, there’s good pop culture and bad pop culture. Good pop culture seeks to resonate with the shared experiences of as many people as possible. Bad pop culture seeks to alienate and isolate. Trendy things are a good example of this. So my favorite thing about pop culture is the potential to connect with people and let them know they aren't alone. We all think crazy thoughts and like connecting with things that best express those thoughts. In my case people connect with Zombie and Sea Monster belts, and Pegasus t-shirts.
Patch: While you were 'floundering', did you at least have an inkling that you might find your passion in a handcraft?
Jon: Some inkling, but not a lot. I just knew I had to do something creative with my life—that was it. Handcraft was just a consequence. I think it could have been writing, comedy, theatre, etc. I just needed to be able to use my brain creatively and all the time, otherwise I might have been one of the people you read about in the paper who does something destructive, like takes down a corporation from you inside. Actually, now that I think about it, I think I may have been really good at corporate espionage.
Patch: You say you had an idea about belt-making prior to your big date... what was the image in your head?
Jon: Ah, yeah, the big first date. I didn't have an image for a belt in my head but rather a belt buckle. It was the first buckle I ever hand-carved—with the word JUNK in it and a subtle arrow point downward. It was a cool design, but also rather immature from a design standpoint. I still have the original buckle in my work shop. It's kind of like my version of Scrooge McDuck's dime.
Patch: Is there an important lesson you learned in the early days of launching your company - something in particular you feel that made a huge difference?
Jon: As Buzz Lightyear says, "Never give up, never surrender," and be willing to adapt. I was willing to change on a dime, really refine what I was doing. Even if that decision meant I had gobs of inventory I would put in storage and not sell I would move forward with the better idea. Oh, and the biggest one is clarity of thought… the skill of removing your self-will from the situation. So often, people have convinced themselves that they, and only they, know the true path. And yet, all around us, everyday, people are imparting their wisdom on us. You have to be willing to let go of your ideas and learn from others.
And the last thing, the thing that trumps all that crap I just spouted, is that everyone’s course is unique; mimicking someone else's path to success almost never works. Look for your own creative path.
Patch: How do outdoor markets like SoWa work for a business like yours?
Jon: It's absolutely essential. It's a small company, and I don't have backers or a marketing team. All of my marketing/PR needs to pay for itself. So doing a festival event pays for our operating expenses and brings our product directly to people, which in turns grows the online business and also our notoriety.
Most people come to events like SoWa and have stars in their eyes. They calculate how many people they see at the event, think of their price points and then say to themselves, “I only need to get X amount of people to buy something and I'll make Y amount of dollars.” That’s a mistake—one that I made as well.
The important thing is that I stuck it out, learned how to sell better, how to display better, learned what changes I needed to make to my products, and most importantly I was consistent. I would go out to shows every weekend, rain or shine, no matter what for about six years. Then I pulled in friends to help me with doing two shows in one weekend, and then three shows, and then four, etc. That consistency, along with all the other stuff I mentioned, kept me in peoples’ minds and kept them interested.
Patch: Do you pull all of your ideas from pop culture?
Jon: I think that's really where all ideas come from: the collective consciousness. Culture, pop culture, it's mostly the same thing. Just parts of it are more en vogue at times than others. I think what separates style-makers from other people is simply an understanding of what is coming next. We'll try our best to stay ahead of the game and produce cool stuff as long as our awesome fans keep supporting us.
Take a look at Jon's work here.