Earlier this month, I was contacted by Nate Smith (“Nate”) through Instagram. We stumbled upon each other due to a mutual account we followed. Nate is a 26-year old “serial entrepreneur” from Harrisonburg, VA. He is the head illustrator and founder of the online-only retailer of t-shirts and prints, The Inkwell.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to Interview Nate and get to know a bit more about his main focus with his brand.
Check out the Interview below:
Tell us about your clothing line, What was your motivation to get this off the ground?
I’m a sell taught illustrator and I’ve always been attracted to pen and ink work. I think it started with wanting to make comic books. I’ve been drawing all my life and the idea of telling a story with the images that come to my imagination means a lot to me. In my hometown, they have what are called “First Friday”, where an artist will hang their art on the first Friday of a given month and its up all month as an exhibit. I remember having a really hard time selling my large pen and ink pieces because no one wanted to spend the money. I’d always assume that it was either too expensive or too out-there in terms of subject material. So about a year and a half ago, I put out a poll on fb and asked if friends would buy a tee shirt I made if I printed them and the response was and continues to be overwhelming. As for the motivation, it started as a way to market my illustration, but very soon morphed into its own thing. And as more and more people caught on to what I was doing it was too late.
How has the line developed since it first launched?
I never thought it’d be a full blown clothing line. Or rather, I didn’t set out for it to be a full blown clothing line. It was always a way to share my art more easily. So I guess since then its become something bigger. Something that has the potential to become recognized as fashion.
Do you take on all the work yourself?
With the exception of a guest spot by a fellow artist, they’ve all been mine. I’d like to feature more artists eventually.
How did your education and experiences in school and beyond lead you to the role in which you are working today?
I had a very irregular school experience. All through grade school and high school I was homeschooled. I had a very large family and so my mother’s attention was never in one place for very long. So growing up if I wanted to learn something, if I wanted to achieve something I had to teach myself. I drew a lot, I was always getting in trouble with my mom for not focusing on ‘real school’ because I was always drawing.
If an artist was looking to get involved into the t-shirt business, do you think it’d be worth looking into their own brand.
I’m not gonna lie, it’s a lot of work. I had no idea of all the things that need to be considered when I started out. I’m the type of person to just go for it. If that’s you, if you’re the type of person to want to try everything themselves, you’re more likely to regret not doing anything then you are to try it and fail. But it also depends on if they have the creative chops. I’ve been drawing all my life. but sometimes you’ll see a brand where someone just takes a font and makes a logo to slap on clothing and call it a brand. What it comes down to is demand. If there’s a demand for It in your sphere of influence, then I say go for it. But know its a hard uphill battle to make it successful.
What have been your most successful designs? Why do you think that is?
I know that a few have stood out above the rest in terms of popularity. There’s one design in particular, like the one I gave you, that pops up in the most random places. I’ve had friends tell me they’ve seen it at places like Warped Tour in Virginia Beach and had another friend tell me she saw it in Ocala, Florida. I only have one of them left out of a batch of 50, but ones that I printed at the same time, I still have half left. I think what it boils down to is if its something unique that still fits into what’s going through the fashion pipeline right now.
Do you have any forms of social media?
I do. My instagram handle @theinkwellapparel has been my primary form of communication and connecting with fans.
How has social media and networking impacted upon the way in which you work, brand and promote yourself today?
Its been nuts really. Though I use twitter, my instagram like everything else I’ve done, my instagram started as a way to display my art, but once I started posting modeled tee shirt pics it started to get noticed. I’ve had the incredible opportunity to give gear to some pretty sick bands. Anywhere from Wage War and Memphis May Fire, to Every Time I Die. Instagram in particular has been groundbreaking in the way that I advertise and push my brand. Its also been a great way to give value to people that follow me. I’ll post motivational material from other artists, or quotes from people I follow and really dig. Sometimes those get the biggest response.
What brands, artists and general fellow creative minds would you recommend from your social media circle of friends?
There are a few artists off the bat that have had a huge impact on me. The band, LIMBS, and their debut album “fathers son” has been on repeat for me for almost 6 months. And some personal friends of mine in the band greyhaven release their second record and it blew me away. As far as visual artists, Sanjay Parikh is the dude that’s on tour with Shinedown right now and he’s absolutely killing it. And this dude Danny Todd is also phenomenal. I’ve talked to them both about their photography and their work ethic is otherworldly. I don’t know how they have the stamina for it all.
Do you have any big plans for your brand in the future?
This is actually something that I struggle with to this day. Normally I’m all about goals and keeping up with them. But in the fashion and retail industry, I have no idea what to expect. I’d have to say that my most immediate plan is to vend at a lot of shows in the spring, and try and get into a retailer.
Any future ideas and exclusives you can share with the The Girls At The Rock Show readers?
I know its nothing super spectacular, but I’m going to start maintaining stock of some more popular designs so that they’re more readily available. And if you follow me on instagram it’s where I post most of my up and coming pieces there and run specials from time to time. There is an anniversary rerelease for New Year! If you go to Instagram and tag three (3) of your friends in the comments. You’ll receive a code for 25% off from the 17th of December until the 31st!
Keep up with new release from The Inkwell Apparel on Social Media!