WMC 6: Meet Jay and Nathan from Cotton Bureau

Jay & Nathan from Cotton Bureau

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We are thrilled to introduce our friends Jay Fanelli and Nathan Peretic, co-founders of Cotton Bureau.

They are sponsors of our WMC Fest Vendor Village, as well as speakers at the Fest.

Sunday Tickets to See Jay and Nate

We sat down with Jay and Nate to take a peek into their world and discuss what we should expect to see out of them at this year’s WMC.

Jay: I’m Jay Fanelli, and the other guy here is Nathan Peretic. We are the co-founders of Cotton Bureau which is a community for designers and illustrators to sell t-shirts and other kinds of apparel to everybody around the world.

Bryan (of WMC Fest): So obviously you guys are involved in the overall design community, what brought you to it? How did you start your general design careers?

Jay: I’d say both of our careers are a result of many accidents that have accumulated over a lot of years. Personally for me, I started as an account manager at a web design shop back in 2002, late 2001. And over the course of the next 7-8 years, I became a sort of designer, I guess. I’ve kind of always been a designer in my spare time but never professionally.

Nate and I worked together at another Web Design shop here in Pittsburgh, and became pretty fast friends and learned that we thought we could make a better web design agency than currently existed in Pittsburgh. So we bailed on that place and started our own web design shop in 2009.

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United Pixel Workers, Jay and Nathan’s previous t-shirt store/web design community

Nathan: I think my story goes back to high school. Like a lot of people, building websites for myself, for friends and family. Even through college, trying a lot of other things and ultimately coming back to the web design industry as a profession after college, despite not having any professional training. When I got my first job I told them that I loved design, and I thought design meant industrial design, Jony Ive style, you know, functional, how can we make this object more useful. I had no experience as a visual designer, so the rest of my career people wisely pushed me away from visual design and into the more practical aspects of building out the designs. So, my background and my current position is not really on the visual design side at all.

Bryan: As far as what you guys are doing, it’s obviously a little bit different. The t-shirt market overall is really saturated. There’s a lot of different t-shirt press companies, you guys are taking a little bit of a different approach to it. Why did you go the route you did?

Jay: Making t-shirts is a big pain in the ass. We learned that, kind of the hard way when we started United Pixel Workers back in 2010. It was just kind of an idea that we had on the side of our web design business for something we wanted to try for a variety of reasons. Over the course of the ensuing 4-4.5 years, we learned the best way to sell t-shirts online, the best way to print t-shirts, the best way to ship t-shirts, the best way to deal with customer service.

And we were constantly being asked while we were doing United Pixel Worker t-shirts, ‘Hey, can you guys do my t-shirts?” And the answers were almost always no. Enough of those things accumulated and we decided that Cotton Bureau might be a worthwhile business to try to chase down. That’s sort of the functional side of things. We knew how to make t-shirts, and other people didn’t, or they did, and they knew how tough it was. And we thought that by both creating a community that curated great t shirt design but also provided the functional part of things, you know, the shipping, the printing, the fulfillment, the customer service, all that stuff. You know, we thought it would be a sustainable business. And now 2 years later, I think that we now know that it is.

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The official Cotton Bureau website

Nathan: Our background is of a web design services company. When we left our previous company, it was to build websites for people. And I think naively at the time, I expected by leaving a company where I had a lot of responsibilities that were not making websites and starting our company together, I thought I’d have a lot more time to work on websites. And as everyone else may have already guessed, that’s not what happens when you start a business. There’s a lot of administrative stuff, there’s a lot of just tedious paperwork and things like that, and chasing down potential clients.

So that experience gave us some perspective as we went through our t-shirt sales phase, and we saw how half of the job at least is repetitive, not particularly glamorous work. And some people may really enjoy that hands in the ink, romantic, do it yourself model, but a lot of people who have the ability to design great things don’t necessarily have the time to put those things into bags and deal with what happens if they get lost in the mail. So we thought it made a lot of sense for us to try and take that part of the problem out of the equation.

Bryan: So your overall participation at WMC fest obviously shows that you value being able to contribute to the design community the way that you are. Why is it important for you to be involved in WMC fest or another event like this, and contribute in this way?

Jay: T-shirts are obviously a big part of what we do. And when we look out on the sort of general marketplace of t-shirts, there’s a lot of beautiful stuff out there, and there’s a lot of crap. And we’ve sort of made it Cotton Bureau’s mission to only contribute to whatever degree we are able to putting beautiful work out in the world. To create an experience we can be proud of, to create a product we can be proud of. And we need the design communities help with that. That’s sort of the selfish part of it.

The other side of it is that without this design community, I don’t know that our company would exist, Cotton Bureau certainly wouldn’t exist, Pixels Pusher, the parent of Cotton Bureau wouldn’t have existed. We might still be working for some crappy agency here in Pittsburgh. I know I can speak for Nate when I say that we’ve met countless friends that have helped us personally, have helped us professionally, and the ability to kind of give back and support a conference like WMC, especially one an hour and half to two hours away from us up the road in Cleveland, it’s the least we can do.

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Cotton Bureau’s Wall of Fame t-shirt portfolio

Bryan: So you guys are speaking Sunday at 11:15 AM, what can we expect from you guys?

Jay: This is subject to change, as all of our conference talks usually are, but we are probably going to be talking about what it’s like to sort of be in an accidental business. You know, 6 years ago Nate and I started a web design shop, and here we sit six years later exclusively making t-shirts for a living. And that wasn’t the plan, we can assure you. And who knows what’s going to happen in the future, but I think Nate and I learned a valuable lesson a couple years in with Full Stop, our web design shop, that we started a web design agency because we knew web design and we had a unified idea for what a better web design agency could look like. And a couple years in, we learned that we liked being in business more than we liked being in a web design business. And I think our companies since then, and probably continuing in the future, will continue evolving into the right kind of business for our company. Whether it’s me and Nate and our other partner Matt, or whoever gets added to the organization’s future. We are kind of in a constant state of trying to find the right business for us, and we like where we are at but like I said, it certainly wasn’t part of the plan. So I think that’s primarily what we are going to be talking about at WMC.

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Thanks a million to Cotton Bureau for sponsoring this year’s WMC Fest! Check out our full list of sponsors at wmcfest.com and buy tickets for Cleveland Design Conference Weapons of Mass Creation Festival now!

Sunday Tickets to See Jay and Nate

Adventures in Design Podcast 2015 - Ep 203: Weapons of Mass Creation Fest Speakers - Mark Brickey and Jay Fanelli

Adventures in Design Podcast – Ep 203: Weapons of Mass Creation Fest Speakers – Mark Brickey and Jay Fanelli

Design Podcast 2015

It’s a two-for-one special over at Adventures in Design Podcast, WMC Fest Fans! AID Episode 203 includes two of this year’s Weapons of Mass Creation Fest 2015 speakers in one delicious podcast. Not only do you get valuable Mark Brickey time, but you’ll also hear from Jay Fanelli, co-founder of Cotton Bureau.

As AID describes on their Instagram, “Jay shares with us his company’s unique business model as well as what designs he does and doesn’t allow to make its way onto their popular website.”

Episode 203 Talking points, courtesy of the Adventures in Design Podcast site:

– The curation process of keeping their collection narrowly focused on today’s best graphic design trends.
– Allowing your business to find it’s own path in life and allowing to keep it evolving.
– A debate on the Threadless business model. – Respecting your users, customers and partners while allowing your business to grow and make money.
– Respecting the laws of supply and demand to keep growing but not burning out.
– United Pixel Workers and other projects that naturally evolved into the Cotton Bureau.
– Making strong relationships with other businesses that support your business.
– Focusing on doing one thing really well and not trying to catch every dime that comes your way.
– The backstory on “Blowing Up Overnight”.
– Using the Cotton Bureau as way to test your talents and get a taste of passive income.
– Focusing not on what your heroes are doing but what’s best for you.
– Mark presses Jay on making sure every designer walks away with some sort of reward for having a produced design.

The Circle of Trust (paid content)
– Jay shares with us some entries and cliches in their user submitted Hall of Shame.
– Designers who foolishly fight back and argue when their designs aren’t picked.
– The cold stone truth of commerce.
– How Jay takes time to give rejected designers advice on how they can improve their work.
– How marketing is just as important as the product.
– Dealing with copyright infringement and toeing that line.
– All the little steps along the way that make you better for the long haul and help you create what you’re meant to create.

Listen in: Episode 203 – Jay Fanelli of The Cotton Bureau “Promotion Is Just As Important As The Product”

Have you heard the Weapons of Mass Creation crew on Adventures in Design elsewhere?

See Jay and Mark live and in the flesh at the best design conference in the entire world, Cleveland graphic design company Go Media‘s Weapons of Mass Creation Fest, August 7 – 9 at the Allen Theatre. Tickets at wmcfest.com