We had the chance to sit down with the owners of Strange Planet to talk about their company and what it was like starting out.
WHAT IS THE NAME OF YOUR COMPANY AND WHERE ARE YOU LOCATED?
Alexa: We are Strange Planet Printing and we are located in Brockton, MA.
SO WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DID YOU DO BEFORE STRANGE PLANET?
Justin: I’m Justin and before this I went to college for English and I worked in a bunch of really weird places and then I couldn't get into grad school. Tim and I have known each other since kindergarten! We always wanted to start a T-shirt business and…somehow this happened. We knew Alexa and she did designs, so it seemed like a perfect fit!
Alexa: So I do all the design work here, like Justin said. And before this I was a waitress in like a few different places. Um, really…that’s it!
Tim: I’m Tim and before this I just did a bunch of odd jobs and went to college. Thats about it!
HOW DID THE COMPANY GET STARTED?
Justin: We had this Google document. It went back and forth for about seven months and it probably had a hundred million-dollar ideas in it and we were all gonna quit our jobs and be wicked rich on these stupid pun shirts…we never made one. But it was tough when we first started because a lot of people—well—anybody that comes in with an apparel brand wants to do as many colors as you can and a lot of people have a lot of colors in their logos. Our first press couldn't even do multi-color printing and we didn't know that. So we had all these ideas where we wanted, you know, seven colors and there would be rainbows and stuff and you couldn't even register two colors to each other. So that was a hard lesson learned.
Alexa: And that was even before clients, that was like our own brand.
Justin: Yeah that was way before clients. But Valentines Day 2012 is actually when it happened. So it was Valentines Day 2012 and Ryonet had a press for sale and we bought it. It was a tabletop press and we spent like a thousand bucks on it between all of us. So we got that and printed in my parents basement a lot with my grandmother in the living room watching TV wicked loud.
Alexa: Haha, soap operas…
Justin: Haha, soap operas all day. Never learned so much about All My Children in my life that year. But, yeah. We read a lot and researched. You can do whatever you want to do.
WAS THERE A PARTICULAR REASON WHY YOU STARTED STRANGE PLANET?
Justin: Oh man…
Alexa: I think it was just cause we wanted to make shirts for ourselves, you know, and then people found out we were doing it and then we got orders from other people and it just rolled from there.
YEAH, OKAY! SO LET’S TALK ABOUT THAT. WAS THERE AN EXACT MOMENT WHEN BUSINESS JUST STARTED TO TAKE OFF?
Justin: Probably last summer—
Tim: “Take off” is a weird way of putting it. Everything has been really gradual. But the first moment where we realized we could make money doing it was from this guy Justin worked with. He wanted shirts for his men’s club or something.
Tim: And so he paid us to make some shirts and we were like, “Wait. you can make money making shirts for other people too? Alright.”
Justin: I don’t even remember how that conversation went. I probably told you guys he wanted shirts and we were like, “What!?”
Tim: I’m pretty sure our second client didn’t speak English, remember that lady that I worked with?
Alexa: Yeah, yeah…
Justin: Oh my God.
Tim: And we printed the wrong—
Justin: The wrong artwork!
Tim: Cause we couldn't read it! So we printed the wrong year. It was for a memorial and we printed the wrong year.
Justin: She gave us the art and we didn't update it and it was supposed to be this year’s event. And I don't know, it was so bad. So that was a really BIG mistake and the shirts probably looked terrible anyway. And we were learning! There was a lot of stuff we ruined…
Tim: That was fun…
Justin: It was fun. We almost set the basement on fire one night. I don't even know if I ever told my parents about it. But we were printing wicked late, then we went upstairs to grab sandwiches or Cheez-Its or both. And then we left this infrared heat panel that sits over the shirts on a manual press and uhh—that'll make it so you print out one color and you can kind of lock it in and print a color over it—but we went upstairs and left that on and we came back down like 20 minutes later and there was just a vortex of black smoke!
Alexa: So scary.
Justin: It was wicked scary. So we shut everything off and like aired out the basement…my grandmother was sleeping down in the basement.
Alexa: She had no clue.
Justin: Yeah, no clue. I don't know how we didn't wake her up or the rest of the house. And I don't think I ever told anybody cause the business probably would've been over. Ha, thats it! But that was like two months into it. We bought our press on a credit card and we had no money. We got our first business credit card—it had like a $5,000 limit on it or something—and we bought a $4,000 press and then just started working. Cause we had to. We had to pay those bills! And we paid that off in probably like 6 weeks or something. Then we owned a press. Like that was the second press—the one that could do multi-color. Cause when people found out we could do shirts every single person wanted to get multi-color shirts. People were sick of getting black ink on white shirts. And we had to learn how to print other stuff too.
AWESOME. SO WHAT’S GOING ON NOW?
Tim: I don’t even know where to start. Really it’s just a million times different than it used to be. We have processes in place that actually make sense on how to get a job from A to B.
Tim: Employees, yeah. We have a warehouse and we’ve been in two different shops. We’ve moved because we’ve outgrown the basement, the other shop, and we’re outgrowing this one already. We started brands and we’ve sponsored people.
Justin: Yeah, everyday it’s a new opportunity to do something weird. But before—we were talking about this the other day—the enterprise interviewed us last Summer and when they were here we had no calendar. We didn't even schedule jobs. Jobs came in and we would just be like Aw cool there’s a box of shirts, lets get to it right away, immediately, right now! [We were] super stressed out not counting shirts. Just doing jobs then counting shirts [and] realizing that [the] warehouse is short of the shirt. Buying extra shirts, setting the job up again, freaking out and then we decided—haha—a calendar might be cool. So that was last July. Now we’re booked out like two weeks. Pretty solid. There’s somebody everyday [who] either called or came in which is pretty cool.
Tim: We also have an embroidery machine, a final sticker machine… Automatic press…
Justin: Stuff that would never fit in the basement…
Tim: Aw yeah!
Justin: Like the weirdest thing was…the room we printed in was smaller than this room. Or it might have been the exact size but just kind of in a different dimension?
Justin: Yeah, and our press— the printing tables of our press—touched the wall and you had to walk around it like a carousel to get from one point of the room to the other. And you couldn't fit boxes of shirts in there! So the way we did this [one] job—it was a flooring company, for a really long time they were one of our biggest clients—and the first time we did their job was like a seven-hundred piece order or something. And we had to keep the boxes of blank shirts in my van because we couldn't fit them in the house. So we’d take a box in—
Alexa: We’d rotate it.
Justin: Yeah, we would rotate it out. We would sort it in my parents living room, bring it down to the basement, print it, bring it back up, resort it, pack it, and then stick it in the van. Haha, that was what we had to do! And it’s just so much different now. Now we have UPS dropping off, you know, fifteen, twenty boxes a day. Taking out fifteen, twenty boxes a day… It’s just so different.
WHAT ARE SOME FUTURE GOALS?
Alexa: Future goals… so our most recent project is Haggard Racing. So I’d say we want to sponsor racers! You know? Ummm…Seekonk is close to us—the Seekonk speedway. So we want to get into that.
Justin: Yeah, that’d be cool. Grow that brand. Eventually we want our own building too because paying rent is not fun… It’s expensive! And this place is too small now.
Justin: We’re at like 2400 square feet and we’re gonna be here for another year and three months. It’s gonna be tough. Then I can’t imagine finding like a 5,000 square foot place to rent and then signing another lease on that. I don’t know, It just doesn’t seem like that’s gonna make sense. But buildings are expensive…so it’s a challenge.