For over ten years, Milwaukee based company Heavy Rotation has been a leader in art based t-shirt design. Leading up to the next class in the series called The Ins and Outs of Wholesale, Maker Market sat down and asked founder Brian Holoubek a few questions about building his business, doing wholesale, and keeping it real.
Maker Market- Could you give me a brief history of Heavy Rotation?
Brian Holoubek- We started in 2003. Originally I started selling vintage iron ons to vintage shops. I was living in Brooklyn at the time. There were a lot of vintage shops that were getting into that kind of look. Then we started seeing people knocking off these designs. The reason I had all these iron ons is because my did iron ons in Milwaukee from ‘68-’81. So we had this huge collection of vintage iron ons and he has copyright on these designs. The line started that way. We were taking some of these old designs and selling them. We started doing it just wholesale. We went to a trade show, met some people that were interested, got a few orders from customers that wanted that look. That went for season or two and eventually we ran out of our best old stuff. Then we started making new designs and that started taking over. We did a lot of outsider art on t-shirts and their weren’t a lot of people doing that at the time. I feel fortunate getting in early enough. We built our business through wholesale.
MM- In 2004 you moved from Brooklyn to Milwaukee. What caused this move?
BH- I grew up in Wisconsin and my wife is from the east coast. We were in New York for six years and we had this opportunity to start this tshirt thing. It started picking up and bigger things were starting to happen and I felt like we couldn’t do it in New York. So we decided to move back to Milwaukee and get a little warehouse.
MM- Who is responsible for creating the designs for your line?
BH- I do a lot of it. I also work with other artists. There are a handful of people that I’ve worked with for a long time. The good thing about wholesale is you take the designs to a trade show and if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work.
MM- Do you print all of your shirts in Milwaukee?
BH- I have a place in CA that sews all the shirts. We pick the cuts and the fabrics. They ship it to us. Then we print with Redwall in Milwaukee. Sew in LA. Design in our little art studio.
MM-How did you start the process of getting your shirts into stores?
BH- Really two methods. One is trade shows. If you do these shows enough buyers know where to find you. Some of the very first stores I got into I just walked into the store and asked them who does the buying and how to do get brands. Just asking questions. That’s how I got into a lot of stores in New York.
MM- Do you have any advice for some of these smaller companies who want to start in the process of wholesaling?
BH- It’s really easy. You come up with whatever you want to sell. Take nice photos of them and send them to stores. Find the shops that you think your items would fit in and send them samples. Trade shows are an option. They are fairly expensive. It’s just like a Maker Market just add a couple zeros.
MM- Last question. Is is weird to see your designs on celebrities?
BH- Yeah! When we were doing iron-ons the costume designer who did That 70’s Show contacted us and got a bunch of our shirts. When she moved on to other shows she maintained a relationship and we would send her shirts for The Big Bang Theory and Californication. Pretty cool!
Brian Holoubek, along with Brandy Boyd, will be talking wholesale at the next Maker Session Monday November 10th. Be sure to check out Heavy Rotation and Beyonce wearing it at www.heavytees.com