Isabel Lee

Owner/Designer at Wishful Thinker Clothing

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Wishful Thinker Clothing

Hi. My name is Isabel. I've always had an itch to start my own something. In high school, I decided that would be my own t-shirt-centric clothing company. The summer after I graduated college, I finally made it happen, with a shirt not only did I not design but did not have any input on. I began the brand almost immediately with what felt insincere to me, even though everyone else loved it. It bothered me to my core and have since learned never to produce with haste. Every design thereafter, I designed myself. Fresh out of school, I struggled with putting out one new design roughly every nine months. About two years ago, a couple friends decided they wanted join me in progressing the company. We have made big strides from when I first began. But we are nowhere near where I'd like to end up. Here is my story.

My Commandment, My Mnemonic Device - "Do What You Love. Let it Consume You."

Johnny Cupcakes is absolutely one of my favorite t-shirt brands. One recurring line that he uses is "Do More of What Makes You Happy." I added the "let it consume you," because I think passion is key. I think that if you work extra hard at something that no one is paying you to do, you're doing it right. You've found your passion.

After poring over what my mnemonic device should be, I found what I find defines "Do what you love. Let it consume you." Have you ever seen Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine perform live? The first time I saw her in concert, I barely knew the band except for a couple singles. I left mezmerized. Besides the fact that she commanded an audience better than any other musician I had ever seen, there were moments where it seemed like she got lost in her own world. She twirled about the stage like a child, wild and free. And it was in those moments, where she was lost in her own element and not really paying attention to the audience, that she was being just a person lost in trance. But she was entertaining us in the process. She was selling us her personality, her passion, her happiness. She was consumed.

That is what I believe we, as artists, entrepreneurs, hustlers, and the like should do. In a sense, we should show our vulnerability, our instances of gut to skin, to exemplify our skin to world. Anyone can write music, sing in band, and perform. And anyone could start a brand, design a shirt, and try to sell it. But if we could get lost in it a little, aside from the numbers and into the passion, that's where I believe the gold lies. When you do what you love, you want it, all of it, all the time. If only we could apply that to every part of our lives, it would be like the cliche of "dancing like nobody's watching." But in a more mindful business sense, dance like nobody's watching, but work on your moves first.

When you do what you love, you continue to learn and grow. There is no end to that.

My Take on T-shirts

I mention this, because we are primarily a t-shirt company, as of right now. I had been struggling with finding where I fit in within this sector. I do not consider what we represent to be street wear or lifestyle wear. We're not music centric clothing, either. We're nothing more than t-shirts we like to wear. And I'm okay with being just that.

Growing up in Hawaii, I was surrounded by the culture of hardcore brand loyalty amongst surf and skate clothing companies. If you weren't wearing Volcom, Quiksilver, RVCA, and the like, you weren't cool. Contrary to what mainlanders assume, not everyone in Hawaii can surf. So it wasn't so much that we had to carry on the persona of the people the brands were directed towards. You don't have to skate or surf or even be mildly athletic to wear the brands. And you weren't looked down on for not. Because that's the culture. And it was in this environment that I learned that I could build a brand that incorporated aspects of all the things I love without being a definitive type of person. Because, realistically, how many of us are one definitive type of person (musician, skater, tech geek, scene kid, etc.)? I've never felt like I fit well enough into any category. I barely fit into a couple, even if I tried. So what does this mean on how I approach my audience, my target market? Ideally, no one is counted out. Realistically, those have been and will be lessons learned.

Wishful Thinker Clothing

I make shirts that I love. I make shirts I'd love to wear and love to see other people wear. Over the years, there are shirts that my taste has outgrown. And with that being said, there's no real cohesive style to what I've been able to design. My taste is ever changing. And my shirts change with me. It's like listening to a band and hearing their progression with every new album. (I tend to use music as a reference.) I also do not design with the intent of plastering the brand name all over the shirt. As we progress, the logo and wording will stand out a little more. But being an unknown brand, I think the design is the main focus. The name and everything that we believe comes with it will come after we catch the audience's attention. This may not be the best approach to building a brand. But we try to keep certain elements present in it all. We now have a little woven patch in the corner of every shirt. Prior to that, we had fabric screened patches in the same location.

Building the Brand

I started the company in the summer of 2009. It felt like a "now or never" leap. Within these past two years, with the addition of my business partners, we have been growing. We try our best to give our customers the best purchasing experience, because that's what we like. We handwrite thank you notes in orders. We've been able to add extra things, like buttons and stickers, too. Once, I even made someone cootie catcher with the intention to make them smile. The first time I saw a stranger wear a WT shirt, I nearly freaked out on him. Remembering his name, the next time he ordered, I threw in an extra shirt. He's now one of our biggest supporters.

Mailers Stickers

Silly sizes

We started sponsoring a couple bands. I had always assumed it would be a great avenue to market. Until we can get bigger names, it doesn't seem like this route is going to work for us. We're also learning that just by setting up a booth at an event isn't going to cut it for us either. So we're experimenting with different ways to engage the audience. This past summer, we numbered all our shirts and made passers-by vote for their favorite of our designs. We made little "wishing wells" for people to make a wish and vote. This made them stop, even if they hadn't planned on it. The interaction, without guilting them to buy anything, made them look at our booth longer than they would have otherwise. The event was called Battle of the Tees, first of its kind in the city. And by attendee votes only, we won over the crowd and took first place. This is enough proof for us to move forward with interactive displays from here on out.

The end goal is to make clothes people feel comfortable being themselves in. You can wear your shirt any which way you want. You shouldn't be confined by what your graphics say or what you think a brand should identify you as.

Also, I'd like to note that I had struggled for a long time with how I was presenting the brand. I am proud to be a female in this industry, because I feel like there are far too few. But I was also afraid that with revealing that to people who didn't know, it would change the way people viewed the brand. Sometimes I get so giddy talking about streetwear and things of that nature, and I feel like I'm being judged simply by the way I look. I'm a little Asian girl with no real edginess either. I felt like the assumption of who was behind our brand would make it more appealing somehow. I've learned to let that go and put my face behind WT. I feel more connected to brands when I get to see a distinctive personality and know who I'm supporting. So, I'm doing the same.

The Future & Growth

As a long-term goal, t-shirts is the beginning, but it is not the end. In the long run, cut-and-sew is where my desires lie. I'm very interested in ties, buttondowns, and menswear as a whole. And I'd love to make those things for women, like me. It's rare. And it shouldn't be.

As far as t-shirts and design goes, I would like to push forward with our logo to build brand awareness. It has progressed from just a heart, to a design element so many people use (cross section), to one that incorporates a hexagon. I have begun using the hexagon more repetitively and would like to build some brand association with the shape alone.

And as growing the brand, we need to be more aggressive. A personal problem of mine is that I am not the best at approaching people. It's just in my nature to be rather timid unless I feel like I have an upper hand in the situation. It's absolutely something I need to work on. We also need to get into more brick-and-mortar stores. Our Chicago-centric shirts sell really well in the city. We will be pushing those in the local stores. Also, after this summer's assurance that we can be well received as a booth setup, we will be participating many more festivals, including Riot Fest. We've been at a slow growth. I don't deny it. But the past year has been pretty good to us, and we're looking forward to pushing harder than ever.

Meet us on the interwebs:

www.wishful-thinker.com

www.facebook.com/wishfulthinkerclothing

www.twitter.com/wt_clothing

www.instagram.com/wishfulthinkerclothing

www.tumblr.com/wishfulthinkerclothing

Video Lookbooks:

'13 http://youtu.be/rI83sZuNzjM

Fall '12 http://youtu.be/gW4iczvTtj0

Summer '12 http://youtu.be/XxvJpFNdMOo

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