CREATING A BRAND PT. III :: A Look Back At 2019 / The Hiccups, Flops, and Wins

CREATING A BRAND PT. III :: A Look Back At 2019 / The Hiccups, Flops, and Wins

As I sit here flipping back through the products, photos, ads, and other images from this year I can't help but think about how insane The Midnight Society really has become. Insane enough that we actually had to start branching off into subsidiaries for it to all make sense in our head. We've grown from this tiny company making enamel pins based around pop culture to branding and releasing jars of actual honey. If that's not a complete mind fuck I don't know what is. It's funny how one passion transfers to the next, and how incredibly fortunate we are to be able to do what we love to do. I've been obsessed with figuring how to make things since I was little, and when I finally realized we didn't have to stay in this bubble of pop culture and pins to make The Midnight Society work we really did go a little off the rails.

Well in the spirit of things, as we enjoy sticking with tradition around here, we're going to take a look back at what we've done. However, this time I'm going to be a little more transparent than normal, this isn't Instagram after all. I want to discuss goals, accomplishments, flops, and failures. 2019 has been an insane year for us here, and I knew it would be. Back in December of 2018 we sat down and told ourselves we're going to try something completely different, and if it means the end of The Midnight Society than so be it. 

We knew the transition from pop culture nods to all original branding wasn't going to be an easy one. Which is why this year we still had to sprinkle things in here and there to help fund our goal. There was a lot to take into consideration before we started the transition, but the most important thing was how we were going to convince our already loyal customers to get on board with it. Also, how were we going to do these releases? In the pop culture enamel pin game it's like a race to see who can figure out what's going to be hot, design it, have it made, and be selling it before anyone else. (Did you guys see how fast people had Baby Yoda merch?) I was tired of playing, and decided we needed to follow our own path seasonally if we were really going to make a go of it. 

January came, and with it came our first official Winter Collection. Knowing I wanted to do more than one release a season, we decided to break things up into capsules, a term that was made popular back in the 80s that focused on limited edition essential pieces within a collection. The Midnight Rainbow kicked things off, and with it came a whirlwind of panic attacks. We had to test the waters to even see if people would be interested, so we set up a preorder for 72 hours, and rolled the dice. Luckily it worked out well enough that we broke even, but there was a small snag in manufacturing. From our standpoint, as a business, there a lot of different ways you can handle a hiccup in production, but we ultimately ended up replacing every sweatshirt sold and I immediately began to lose all hope of this ever working, we couldn’t cut it a month.  Now, looking back, replacing those sweatshirts was one of the best decisions we've made as a company. We took a bad experience, and built loyalty in those customers who saw us as a small business trying to figure out a problem. Not only did we replace the sweatshirts, but the customers who preordered kept the originals and were gifted the replacements as opposed to sending them back. Luckily this was an isolated incident that doesn’t have a chance in hell at being repeated. We now go above and beyond to ensure quality, and all garments are now pressure washed after production. 

January rolled on, and we teamed up with our good friend Bobby at Pizzaboyzzz. The year prior we collaborated on an 18K Gold Pizza Slice Charm Necklace of our classic Pizza Slice design (which was ripped off more times than I can count throughout the year), and we had planned on introducing a rose gold version for Valentine's Day. We needed some extra goodies to go along though. Valentine's Day cards seemed like a no brainer, but I was still on the tip of making apparel our future. Luckily Bobby agreed to do a small run of tees that would again break even for us, but at least we were getting customers somewhat accustomed to seeing articles of clothing from us on a regular basis.

During the month of January I had been slowly piecing together a new capsule, a second take on a shirt we had done the year before. It was an homage to the bootleg community, and I had been researching Dapper Dan pretty heavily in preparation for a year of transition. Socks, Keychains, and Enamel Pins for the capsule were all in hand, with us continuously hyping up the preorder date online, and then a bomb dropped. One day before the release, the fashion house we were spoofing decided it would be a good idea to have a model wear a wildly inappropriate balaclava down the runway and the internet was on fire. I was mortified and disgusted. What the hell was I supposed to do? I had sunk countless hours and a grip of money into the release, and now I was dreading it. Had this happen before social media, I would have had no choice but to trash the whole thing. Instead, I used social media for the tool that it is in search of an answer. I explained to our customers the situation via an Instagram Story, and left a poll that would ultimately decide our fate as a company moving forward. 89% Yes, 11% No. (My apologies to the 11%). We moved forward, and donated a large portion of that month's profit to the NAACP. Also, whoever designed that balaclava: You’re an asshole on so many levels.

The end of February through March we tackled ways to recoup what we had lost so far as the Bootleg Capsule didn’t hit home like we’d hoped it would. Luckily we were offered some incredible projects locally that made up the difference. The first was a collaboration with The Gibbes Museum of Art, and is still one of my personal favorite's of 2019. I love what The Gibbes has been doing here in Charleston, showcasing more modern and contemporary artwork has been the breath of fresh air our extremely Southern city has needed for a long time. The second project was for HBO's ‘The Righteous Gemstones‘ that was in production just up the road from us. It was exciting to know something we were creating was going to be on HBO, but the worst part was we had to keep our mouths shut about it for nearly 7 months. If you haven’t watched it yet, we highly recommend it. Keep your eyes on those lapels!

Once we knew were back on our feet we decided to clear up some space, and repurpose all of our unused woven sweater tags onto beanies. I had been reluctant to attempt another capsule, it just didn't seem like it was going to be in the cards for us even though I had a slew of them planned out. I was hesitant, but after crunching the numbers I knew we could at least begin teasing the Midnight Intl. Capsule. It would be the one final attempt at making this idea work. It's funny now, but of all the designs we had planned the Intl. Capsule was a filler line. I couldn't have been more unprepared for the demand that release would have. I'm honestly still shocked by how badly I underestimated it.

After the Intl. Capsule we knew we had hit a unique position to regroup. It took some rearranging releases, but we looked back at 2018, the few apparel pieces we had done in the past and started to build capsules around them. Introducing the Blossom Capsule a second time was one of the best decisions we could have made. It's funny because weeks prior I had written a blog post entitled "What The Hell Am I Doing", and that wasn't a joke. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew I had to keep pushing. This time I was determined to be smarter about it. We launched the Blossom II Capsule as part of Spring Summer Collection, and it ended up becoming a turning point. I had some wild ideas that were scratched, some I'll talk about near the end of this post, but the Blossom II Capsule was like a light switch being cut on...

The realization of how preorders should be came shortly afterwards. It was something I wasn't harnessing well enough for the releases prior the Spring Summer Collection. I needed an incentive to get things moving, which is why we started offering new capsules at 20% OFF for the first 72 hours. Once everything is made, we have a second release for all the dead stock items. This idea and routine became a standard. It not only worked for us as a company to keep creating, but incredible for customers looking to pick up a new release. The Spring Summer Collection grew into a massive beast once we set our plan into motion. The Glitch Capsule and Midnight Yacht Club Capsule soon dominated April and May. Glitch in particular would become our largest preorder capsule to date.

The Midnight Yacht Club would end up being our largest capsule to date. I became obsessed with this insane culture that existed around yacht clubs, less about the people (sorry yacht club folks) and more about the gear and sport of it. I fell down rabbit hole after rabbit hole of unique items I wanted to conquer and offer in the shop. From this collection stemmed one of my favorite products we've ever created, the dry bag. Spoiler Alert: We already have plans to offer more dry bags in the future. It's funny because I received multiple comments from customers on how they were using it, and half the time it wasn't used in the way we marketed it. We intended it to keep your goods dry, but we found people were using it to carry spray paint (I love our customers), and also filling it with ice and shoving drinks into it to keep them chilled throughout the day. This capsule meant a lot to me, you can flip back through posts to learn why, but I loved hearing that people got out of their purchase more than what was intended.

As we entered Summer 2019 I realized we were leaving out one important detail with our apparel releases. The thing about buying clothes online is you never REALLY know what you're going to get. I see a design I like, I order it from the website, I wait, it arrives, I throw it on, and 9 times out of 10 I'm overwhelmed with disappointment. It all boiled down to quality. I knew we were using higher end fabrics than most, but it never truly set in until I started ordering from artists and companies I admired. If there was one thing I wanted to convey it was just how solid our quality was, and I could think of no better way than to not focus on a design at all, just the fabric itself. I feel out of all the decisions we've made as a company, The Midnight Blanks Capsule might be the ballsiest. It's one thing to sell a design, it's another thing to offer a blank t-shirt purely based on something a customer can't feel before ordering. It was one of the best moves we made in 2019. I feel this capsule put us out there as not only a company that is capable of offering a wide range of graphics, but one that believes in it's canvas above all else. I can guarantee we'll have more Midnight Blanks in the future based on that principle alone. Also, they're really fucking comfortable.

Now, the flop. Summer was looking strong for us. We released our blanks, which was a gamble at best at the time, and we knew our hot sauce collaboration was in the works to finish off strong. I wanted to be able to offer more, and perhaps I was getting cocky with how well things had been moving for us. Well, The Midnight Freeze Capsule slapped my ass back into place very quickly. Hands down our biggest loss of 2019, coming in at an embarrassingly low handful of preorders, and not a single bite for more until the price dropped. If you're interested they're still available in the shop at a $13 price point, hell if you're reading this I'll probably throw in multiples for you. That's the game though, not everything you think is going to work will work. It boils down to execution, and most of all timing. We were months too late to be releasing anything heavily Summer themed, and that's a lesson we definitely learned the hard way.

As luck would have it though, our collaboration with Eric D. from Methsyndicate went absolutely bonkers. SO bonkers in fact that during its July Fourth weekend launch I was on the horn ordering more hot sauce that we didn't even have just to be able to restock the shop mid sale as we had nearly sold out in 15 minutes flat. It definitely put things in perspective for me as far as collaborations go. This idea was a wild one and extremely out of character for us. I'd like to think we play the wholesome family card a little close to the chest, but when you knowingly create a hot sauce called "Ass Hammer" for a made up character named "Andy Bone" you're basically throwing wholesome out the fucking window. Keep your eyes out for more Andy Bone in 2020.

Since planning out hot sauce had gone back a month prior to it's July 4th release (you can catch the Hot Sauce Taste Test video on our IGTV via Instagram), by the time July had rolled around I had caught the "let's make more food products" bug BIG TIME! We had planned out the Honey Bee Capsule for Summer months and months earlier, but didn't plan on doing jars of honey until after the hot sauce project had all come together. The Midnight Honey was definitely a challenge. It's not only expensive, but you have to be careful about where you get it and believe it or not VERY careful about what's in it. I didn't want to botch this project or scrap it, but after weeks of research and phone calls to bee keepers I was beginning to lose hope. Luckily about a week before the Honey Bee Capsule launched we got in touch with a local bee keeper right here in South Carolina who met our standards and was only a few hours away from us. We had to fast track literally everything from the jars of honey themselves to the labels that went on them. The worst part was we hadn't even tasted it. We ordered the honey, and for 48 hours I stressed over it not being up to our standards to actually sell. I was fully prepared to be sitting on jars of honey for the rest of my life. When it came, we cracked open a jar, and were absolutely blown away by the flavor. I immediately reached out to the bee keeper who informed us the honey is raw, it came straight off the comb, and the bees were gathering nectar from blueberry bushes all season. I can honestly say I don't know if we'll ever be able to get that exact flavor in our honey again, but I can almost guarantee we'll be offering more honey in 2020.

We've made it to the half way point! Let’s take a quick minute and rewind a bit. As a teenager I grew up being obsessed with skateboarding and the culture surrounding it. I always dreamed of having my own skate company, but most companies in that realm are owned by pro skaters, and there was a fat chance in hell that was happening (thanks video games and cheeseburgers). It was a dream I gave up on a long time ago. However, in June of 2017 I began looking into a larger, more functional medium for Natalie’s artwork, and loosely played around with the idea of doing skateboards. Unfortunately we weren’t in the position back then to make the investment (it ain't cheap), but it became something that dwelled in the back of my mind for years to comeJanuary 2019 came, and Continuum Skateshop here in town reached out to us about doing a collaboration, which I assumed would lead to an enamel pin of some kind or perhaps even offering our goods in their shop (which eventually came to fruition). That meet up with Continuum brought the idea creating skateboards forward, but I was so fixated on apparel at the time I tossed the idea aside yet again. Fast forward to June and we finally had the extra scratch to fund a bigger project, so I finally began to research the idea of making skateboards. This eventually turned into a monster of a challenge. We ordered samples among samples before finally moving forward with the wood shop we use now. If the wood wasn't up to par, or the heat transfer for the art wasn't clear enough, we scrapped them and moved onto the next. Hands down this has been one of the most expensive start up projects we've ever tackled. Here's a few of the early mock ups we did before deciding to branch off and create Midnight Skateboarding as a separate entity. It's crazy to look back on these extremely colorful designs, especially when you look at the direction we would eventually take only a few months later (Thanks Halloween!). Midnight SB has become an outlet for our love of the occult, oddities, supernatural, and incredibly dark vibes we as people have always been interested in.

As Summer rounded itself out, stock was running drastically low on previous capsules, which made us realize it was finally time to have something steady in the shop that wouldn't go anywhere. From day one we loved the idea of limited edition goods, but when all you offer is something limited edition, often times there isn't much left for someone to pick up. Queue The Bookman and Super Stripe Capsules! The Bookman became a bit of a challenge leading up to its release. Once I started researching the font itself I found that the original designer was actually unknown, and the version I was after wasn't fair use, but owned by it's digital creator Jason Walcott. Jason was the one who brought the font to the digital market back in the 80s when it was in it's biggest demand. I felt I had hit this brick wall of sorts, so I tracked Jason down and reached out to him. I needed to make sure I was even allowed to use the font on articles of clothing via the license agreement, but not only that I wanted to share his story. Luckily he approved of everything, and The Bookman Capsule has now become our first "forever in the shop" capsule. To touch quickly on the Super Stripe Tees: I personally love stripes, they go with everything. We kept the numbers for this capsule very low due to the higher price point we would have to put them at. The quality is completely insane being knitted, and they were a test to see if stripes would gain any interest. The response ended up being incredible, and Super Stripe Tees will definitely become a larger part of 2020.

September came and boy did we get Steezy! The collaboration with Steez McGee couldn't have come out more perfect, but even collaborations can have hiccups. The lemon/logo pattern design for The Midnight Steez actually dates back to the beginning of January, before we had even landed on the product itself. It's funny how collaborations can work sometimes: Two brands who admire each others work and want to team up, but with no real direction until you start playing around with ideas. We had a slew of them, from apparel to lemonade glassware, but ultimately we both landed on doing an enamel pin and hip packs, something we were both stoked on. The enamel pin was perfect for both our customers, and the hip packs would be something completely new and fresh from both of us. Well, remember that hiccup? If you run a small business you know communication with manufacturer's is always a fun time. Typically suppliers are overseas, meaning you'll need to stay up late to communicate back and forth successfully. Oh! There's also a language barrier, and often enough this is where the trouble ensues. In our case the first run of hip packs came in, and we noticed something was off. All the patterns were printed upside down. Now of course being the perfectionists that we are, we had to have them remade, which put this Summer release and little more on the Fall side of things. Either way, we couldn't have been happier with them when they finally arrived! It was a blast of a collaboration (Thanks Steez!), and after the photoshoot I was left with enough lemons to have fresh lemonade for a month. Definitely keep your eyes peeled for future collabs with our good friend, Steez McGee!

To be even more transparent than we already have been we're actually two seasons behind if we were following the true fashion calendar. September came, and with it a shift in mood. We kicked off our Halloween gear with a similar take we took on with The Blossom and Bootleg Capsules, extending a design we had done in 2018 with a full on capsule. The Midnight Ghoul was a HUGE hit, and ultimately our little ghoulish buddy helped fund our biggest endeavor of the year: Midnight Skateboarding. As I said before, we had made the decision to make Midnight SB much darker than anything we had released in the past. It wasn't easy creating a subsidiary, but if were going to make this work we knew we'd have to keep the two brands somewhat separate. Having finally landed on a wood shop, we'd begin to test the waters, and luckily it went off like gang busters!

As we approached the spooky season, we kept with tradition and teamed up with our good friends Aaron and Ricki over at Cavity Colors. There’s a lot of people that keep The Midnight Society moving forward, and Aaron has been a huge part of that. Phone calls about business, projects, and designs that go on 4 and 5 hours long while we wrap our heads around what we’re both working on. It’s always a good time, and we’re extremely fortunate to be (I think) the only other company they collaborate directly with. As we entered Fall, I had remembered reading last year about the Cherry Blossoms throughout Japan blooming in October for the first time, and had wanted to commemorate the blooming season with a darker version of the Blossom Capsule we had done previously in the year.

By far one of the wildest collaborations we were able to do this year was with Fat Pig Brewing Company. The fact that we were able to participate in creating an actual beer for Fall was absolutely insane! I so wish we were in a position to be able to offer The Midnight Pumpkin Stout online, but unfortunately the amount of legal paperwork required to distribute is outrageous. We were however able to design and release a limited edition tee that would match the vibe of the project perfectly!

The Fall to Winter transition definitely had us falling on our roots as far as accessories go. We introduced a ton of new items for Midnight Skateboarding including pins, bandanas, beanies, keychains, socks, and stickers along with our second skate deck. Luckily it all arrived and dropped just before the wildest weekend of the year. Now, the one thing most small business owners will tell you is that every year ultimately builds up and boils down to Black Friday weekend. As a consumer and business owner it’s hands down the craziest weekend of the year. The deals are always killer, and anticipating what each shop is going to do is only half the fun. If we learned anything from Black Friday’s in the past it was that we had to do our best to top the year before, and be prepared for the chaos that was about to occur. This year we wanted to offer everything we had on hand, even timed edition items no longer available that we had secretly held onto. It’s a great way for us as a business to offer the lowest price on an item, and clear out some much needed space. It’s also an amazing opportunity to pick up gear that’s exclusive, previously sold out, or even something you’ve had your eye on. Either way, it was a win win for everyone.

Now that Black Friday was behind us it was time to party! We hosted our annual Pizza Party Pop Up with Patch Whisky, kicked off our Winter 2020 Collection with the Anatomical Heart Capsule, and shortly after began our annual Twelve Days of Midnight. Once all the insanity of December had finally slowed down, it was finally time to relax and enjoy the holidays...

It's been a hell of a year! I honestly barely scratched the surface of everything we released in 2019. The Joshua Budich Temple of Doom tee, multiple Fictional Glassware pieces, a slew of Golden Midnight Snacks, the list goes on and on. I decided to highlight the above capsules and releases because at the end of the day these are the releases we're most proud of. As much as we owe the success of our business to all those nods at pop culture, it's our branded work we're most passionate about. We're finally at a point where looking towards the future isn't scary, it's a whirlwind of excitement! As for 2020? We’ve spent nearly half of 2019 planning 2020 out in advance. It's crazy but at this point we have to, which is not only stressful, but becomes a huge weight off our shoulders. We’re no longer playing the game of being first, and we can finally focus on being the best at what we do and what we love. 2019 was the year of transition, and with that I’ll leave you with a glimpse of what’s to come...

Thank You

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published


Your cart