Friday, December 11, 2009

GritFX Interview - A one on one with Amanda Vare

I'm way down under, putting a shrimp on the Bar-b, shouting at the flaming mongrels, drinking Fosters and thinking like an Australian for the GritFX T-Shirts interview with the awesome Amanda a.k.a Manz. Despite the mind boggling time difference (and weather difference) the power of the web has enabled me to delve deeper into the t-shirt and artistic world of GritFX, a truly great company based in Australia. Lets get it on...

Rob - So, Manz, good'ay mate (and that'll be the last of the Oz cliches I hope),many thanks for the interview. How is all in Oz today? - you're almost in the middle of summer now ye? Surfing, ice creams and t-shirts? what is your favorite ice cream?

Manz - Summer is upon us now (came a little early this year with some stinking hot days already). I can tell you that I don’t surf (believe it or not, not all Aussies do – I tried once but didn’t get past the breakers), but I do eat ice-cream. In summer, nothing beats a “Splice”. I’m not sure if they are only found here in Australia. It has lemon/lime flavoured ice
around a sweet, coconutty ice-cream centre. It’s been my fave since I was
a kid. At other times, it’s just vanilla with chocolate topping. [Ed. - Never heard of them but Google has, anyone else hear of them?]

Rob - Alrightly, lets get down to it. GritFX seems to be an extremely passionate ensemble of characters with a love for Lego who really want to give something to the "independent" community at large. What is your company mission or goal? Whilst you do sell lots of cool t-shirts (and we'll get to them later) you seem to have many facets to GritFX - care to discuss?

Manz - Well, honestly, like any business, the goal is to make money. We will hopefully get to the stage where we can print our own t-shirts, but for now, POD suppliers are brilliant. As far as the other facets to GritFX – we are basically a group of friends and extended friends (some of us have known each other since high school) who work in artistic fields (graphic design, copywriting etc) but didn’t have an outlet for certain things we wished to pursue. We thought it would be more beneficial and stronger to combine everything we do into one entity. GritFX, whilst being a business, is also an avenue to share the things we all are interested in, which obviously also influences our t-shirt designs.

There is a lot of competition in the t-shirt industry, and also in artistic fields. So many wonderful artists, musicians, writers, etcetera, never gain the recognition they deserve. All of us at GritFX have a deep respect for artists, and that’s one of the reasons I have decided to show support to other t-shirt designers & online shopkeepers. The Support Shopkeepers page is completely unbiased and boils down to supporting groups or individual designers/artists rather than the “man” and the “machine”. [Ed. - I strongly suggest contacting them, they are supporting my efforts with LadyUmbrella t-shirts, much appreciated guys] As far as the Lego goes, that’s Will’s domain. He created the little character pics we use on the website – when he sent them to us, we all thought they were far too cute to discard.

Rob - One of the GritFX team, a certain Will Thame, has some serious Lego and video long has he had a love affair with Lego to be able to able to create the movies that he does? How long does it take him to make one like below and have you ever seen him in action?

Manz - Will (also known as Wadrick Jones) has been watching movies incessantly since he was ten years old. That’s twenty-odd years of celluloid infusion. He reckons that if he didn’t know how to make a movie by now, after watching so many, that would be pretty sad. But I think he is just being modest when he says that. I can say that he’s his own worst critic. To call him pedantic would be an understatement.

He dropped out of film school years ago after about a month because of “all the damn pretentious twats!” He works on the animations in his spare time – the two parts of The Rookie took him about six months, but by his own admission, there were stretches of time where he didn’t work on the film at all. He loaded the first part of The Rookie and told us the second part would be ready within two weeks. It wasn’t until a few months later did we finally see it.

I have never seen him in action (Dave has), but I do know he uses an old Video8 tape video camera to film. And he edits on iMovie, which is rather impressive considering the programs’ limitations [Ed. - from my limited experience with iMovie I concur, extremely impressive]. Will is always bemoaning the fact that iMovie will only allow him 10 frames per second. He says that Lego is the easiest toy to animate, but his love affair with Lego goes back to childhood. Apparently, the new film he is working on now (“Kingdom of Scum”) features some of the Castle Lego he had when he was a kid. We never get any sneak previews of his work though. [Ed. - Check out part 1 of the Rookie below and find out more about Will Thame at The GritHouse]

Rob - So lets get onto t-shirts. I was perusing your impressive catalog and particularly liked the "I'll work for peanuts" tee (maybe its because I can relate to it) - that design happen to be done by you as I know there are a few designers at GritFX? who is the most prolific designer you have and which is your favorite design? Any clear top seller?

Manz - Thanks for the kind words. The “Peanuts” design is one of mine. Basically, Dave and myself are the main designers – most of the black and white graphic works (famous faces etc) are the work of Max. The ideas however, come from everyone. Will has a background in graphics too, and has worked on a few designs (but he, as he’d tell you himself, is rather lazy). So I guess Dave and I are the most prolific. That’s really our area I suppose (as well as, in my case, marketing).

My favourite design from all our stores constantly changes! Right now, it would definitely be World Water Fight Champion [Ed. - That is a pretty cool tee, no doubt about that]. That’s one of Dave’s. With summer upon us in Australia, that design makes me nostalgic for my teenage days. As far as best sellers go, the clear winner at the moment is “We’re Going To The Winchester” from our Popcorn Classics range.

Rob - One thing I really like about your store is that most of the t-shirts have cool, amusing, anecdotal type stories about them so, what comes first - the design or the story or do they both evolve together? And what do you think is the benefit of writing stories about tees?

Manz - The designs always come first. The stories are secondary and are just a fun thing for our writers to do. Honestly, there is probably no benefit that we can see, other than the fact that visitors to our store may be amused by the story that goes with the design. And if a smile is put on a face, that can’t be a bad thing. Sometimes it is just a case of “this design needs some kind of explanation”. And I suppose that because GritFX includes other areas of interest aside from our commercial enterprise, it is just an extension of those other elements (or, in other words, just another biased way of displaying the work of our writers). [Ed. - for the benefit of my beloved readers out there, here is the tale from the tee for "I'll Work for Peanuts" - That’s correct. I will work for peanuts. I’ll also take other food as payment for any services rendered. But I do prefer the peanuts. You don’t even have to remove the shell for me. I like the shell. I’ll eat the shell too. Scoop up any crumbs. I won’t leave a mess. Please. I need peanuts. Give me something to do and all I’ll ask in return is for some peanuts….and somebody to love me.]

Rob - You also do custom work and orders at GritFX. How is that side of the business working out? One might imagine the customer service side of things might be a bit tougher as customers have more scope to be "unhappy" - any hair raising customer situations to tell us about? or, any top tips in how to deal with customers complaints with aplomb?

Manz - Dave and I have run a small graphic design business for a number of years and have plenty experience in dealing with “unhappy” clients and those who seem to be difficult for the hell of it. But it is always important, when dealing with clients who have asked you to create a design, to not be too precious with your artwork. Sometimes a client will request something that doesn’t fit into your own artistic aesthetic. But if it is what the client wants, that’s what they have to get, and you have to live with it. Alternatively, there is always the old-fashioned method of just telling clients to go f#@k themselves. [Ed. - ole, throw some fingers in there for good measure too I say..]

Rob - Since you've been in the "tee game" for a while any top tips for new companies? What are your views on the social media, facebook, twitter revolution - a fan? Noticed any impact on your business since using social media?

Manz - Persistence is key and a tip would be to allow for change and growth and to not be frightened of re-evaluating designs. As your brand evolves, your work may also. Keeping quality standards high is important. There are graphic design projects that I was once proud of, yet would never consider for inclusion in a portfolio today. Apply that reasoning to your online store. Even if you have a distinct brand look, some concepts may become stale and introducing new work keeps your online store fresh.

As for social media, as a group of gen-Xers who grew up on stable diets of cinema visits, playing cricket in the streets, and wasting days away at the beach while we waited for our photos to be developed – taking the plunge into social media wasn’t all that natural. Around 6 months after launching our t-shirt brand, we instinctively set up a Facebook page. It’s there for fans to join, ask questions and comment should they feel like it. It’s important to us to have this option for fans to interact with us - which social media such as Facebook provides - but we don’t actively promote it and ask people to join. Twitter on the other hand has become a big contributor to the referred traffic to our website. It took a lot of convincing for me to create an account, and it was only recently that I changed the username to GritFX. I think women can be too self-conscious at times, and dwell on what others may think - which may hamper the optimum use of social media. Being perceived as a “spammer” was and continues to be an issue for me. Therefore, I’ve been working on getting in touch with my “inner male” and I’m now working at convincing Max to help tweet. If you can use 150 characters to entice someone to click on a link, then Twitter is an amazing FREE marketing tool.[Ed. - I agree, Twitter is incredibly powerful and every member of every t-shirt company should be on it and active.]

Rob - From a previous competition you guys ran I think it could be fair to say that you like Bill Hicks - or, maybe just a little..Who would your favorite comedian be? And, what about your competitions - how are they working out for you? Any tips on running successful ones?

Manz - Bill was a legend – ahead of his time. [Ed. - I agree, Bill is a legend, any other Hicks fans out there?] Decoy summed it up beautifully in his article for our Magazine. Personally, I’m not really a huge fan of comedians. There are a few that I do like – Richard Pryor comes to mind, recently Jon Lajois and I do enjoy Saturday Night Live from time to time. The guys (Decoy, Max, Will etc) tend to be more interested in comics with something of import to say – Lenny Bruce, George Carlin and the like. Here in Australia, in my opinion, our comic talent is pretty thin (regardless of what some may say) and perhaps that’s the reason I don’t get into more comedians.

Our competition questions will always relate to something that we are either interested in (music, movies, pop culture etc) or something that has been included on our site. In the case of our last comp and the question about Bill Hicks, it was on the back of Decoy’s review of Hicks’ Rant In E Minor, which was very well received by readers. That competition was pretty successful. We plan to make them a regular thing (we have another comp running at the moment) and the idea is always to make it as easy as possible for people to enter. We found in previous comps that people were less likely to enter if the entry process itself was complicated. That’s why we have set up an online form that makes it all the more easy. It’s obviously a great promotional tool, and I do recommend running competitions simply because of that.

Rob - Music is also a part of the GritFX DNA - any awesome bands from Oz that you've worked with that we should know about? And what about the music that motivates Manz? what melodies make you muse these days?

Manz - I once worked with the SBS Television Youth Orchestra who were great and up for a fresh, young design. But we haven’t worked with any bands of note. Music, however, is essential to any productive day in the ‘office’. There are a number of great bands in this country (along with a fair serving of shite bands) – Dirty Three, Magic Dirt, The Necks, Spiderbait (now defunct, I think), 78 Saab, Crow (also defunct), to name a small few. [Ed. - My music knowledge does not stretch that far, best get a google on] At the moment, high on my album rotation is Two Suns by Bat For Lashes, Cold Fact by Rodriguez, My Maudlin Career by Camera Obscura, It’s Blitz by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Kick Inside by Kate Bush, Fun House by The Stooges and Who’s Next by The Who.

Rob - Finally, what does the future hold for GritFX? A little birdy told me that 27th of July 2010 should be a day for the calendar? We mentioned it earlier, but 27th of July will be a day of social media incarnation for you - care to tell us?

Manz - Well, continue to do what we do and hopefully take over the t-shirt industry (wink, wink). The 27th of July 2010 is definitely a day to watch, as that is when GritFX will be featured on Jason has enlisted another guy (Evan) for the 2010 calendar year, meaning double promotion of the GritFX brand for the full day! We’re cooking up some ideas on what we can have the guys do on our calendar day, and therefore make the most of their social media skills (whilst also delivering some entertainment to fans!). With any luck it’ll coincide with Jason’s appearance on Oprah or Ellen and give us some serious exposure (fingers crossed). [Ed. - now that would be pretty incredible, Jason is doing some good things].

And, so thats a wrap...immense thanks to Manz and the GritFX crew for taking the time to get back to me with some really great answers..For those of you who made it this far I commend you and hope you enjoyed the read..let me know what you think - comments make me smile...and, stay tuned for another interview coming soon..guess who it will feature?

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  1. Great interview rob and excellent answers Manz. I have one question is it just four members of the Gritfx team or even more? Also I love Bill Hicks and George Carlin. Right now other comedians I dig mostly come from the show Chelsea lately. Jo Koy, John Capirillo, Whitney Cummings, and Greg Giraldo are pretty hilarious.

    My Favorite gritfx design is defintely the world waterfighting championship one. Its brilliant. I'm jealous that its summer up there. Its winter and allergy season down here and its killing me.

  2. G'Day Soge Shirts ;)
    There are 5 core team members that make up GritFX - me, Dave, Decoy, Max and Will (otherwise known as Wadrick); with Adam Fay appearing as a guest writer and a few others as contributing artists to the postcard shelf. It's a nice little team, and one that may even grow over time :)

    If I'm not mistaken, Chelsea Lately was filming in Australia recently. Can't say for sure as I don't watch much of it.

    Thanks for the question, and here's to ringing, I mean "sneezing" in the new year! Allergies suck!

  3. Ah cool a fivesome. You guys are going to be the beatles of tshirts. Yeah chelsea lately did just shoot in australia. Lol allergies do suck. Probably would sell a lot of shirts with that simple of a slogan.

  4. Great interview. Very thorough and enlightening. I've a better understanding of Amanda and GritFX. Amanda does a tireless job promoting other artists and designers (along with GritFX) and being one of them, it is much appreciated. Like Amanda, I was hesitant to try Twitter (had a Facebook page, din't like it) as I also did not want to appear as a spammer. I decided to give it a trial run and the results are encouraging so far. It is also how I heard about GritFX. I am still learning how to promote with Twitter so I just observe how Amanda uses it and try to follow her example. Thanks

  5. Oh, by the way, we do have something here in Canada that is similar to Splice. It too has a creamy center (minus the coconut) but instead of lemon, it is orange flavoured. They are called Creamsicles and they're delicious!

  6. @ Soge shirts - would LOVE to be seen as the Beatles of T-Shirts... a world wide sensation!If so, what does that make me - Yoko? But instead of tearing the guys apart, I've strengthened their collaboration:)

    @ azac - very nice comment - thank you!! All the best for 2010, and let's cross our fingers in hope of becoming masters of twitter... preferably before it's replaced with something else ;)
    P.S. Creamsicles sound devine!

  7. You forgot the 'Prosperous' part Shea ;)

    Same to you and all those who pass through this post!!

  8. Happy New Year all, 2010 - the year of the Tee...

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