Chop Shop Interview

The Chop Shop is a brand that has really carved out a name and niche for themselves with their “Icon” shirts. For those of you that are unfamiliar basically Chop Shop takes several different related “icons” and form them together to make one recognizable super icon! For example their weVolve design that is made up of 37 different iconic apes forming one super ape, or their Rockstar design comprised of of 28 classic rockers forming a star.

These style tees have done wonders for setting Chop Shop apart from other tee companies and turned their company into a very recognizable and respected brand in the industry.

So whom do we have the pleasure speaking with and what is your position with The Chop Shop?

Thomas Romer. I am co-owner of the shop as well as it’s parent company The Chopping Block.

How long has The Chop Shop been around and could you tell us a bit about how you got started?

The idea of the shop is as old as the studio The Chopping Block which was founded in 1997. However, something we in the industry like to refer to as “client work” kind of got in the way of launching a shop and we didn’t manage to find enough time to do that until 2004. Of course our first release of designs were a mixed bag of beginner’s errors. Too many mediums, not enough XL and in terms of quantity we really over-shot what would be needed for an unknown shop. We still have some of those original designs kicking around the shop in the discount bag. Of that original batch really only the one featuring a guy dressed in a Tron uniform called “Master Control” did well and still sells today. We even did a follow-up to it which is now sold out.

You guys have really carved out a nice niche with your “Icon” shirts combining several famous icons into one recognizable figure. Where did you get the idea for this approach?

House industries had released this font set featuring silhouettes of people doing things. They were really lifestyle items with a man walking a dog, woman and umbrella, etc. The font was original enough at the time, but the poster they printed to promote it was gorgeous. It had all the icons arranged into a cloud with even spacing between all of them and that design left a real lasting impression on me.

The first design we did like this was one with a bunch of internet memes and we to did it three color. We were keeping that approach with the robots which came next, but decided later that dropping all the detail was much better. Too much detail felt like it was about all the individual personalities, whereas in silhouette it becomes more about genre; robots in science fiction, monsters in fantasy… etc. Of course, we later did maintain a two color approach which makes each icon feel similar to those original Apple iPod commercials. This was partly just to enrich the overall appearance, while some designs really did well to include a second color like the series of rock enabling us to also highlight the individual instruments.

As for the larger shapes — despite God being in the details, the designs do “grey” together from a few feet away. So the shapes came naturally later as we couldn’t just keep making everything into a circle or square. Each design would appear identical to the next from a distance. I ask you… what could be better than a bunch of famous apes in the shape of a barrel monkey!

Occasionally we have some hater ask why we keep doing the same iconic thing and the answer is “when people stop buying them or we stop liking making them”. The research is great and I have always enjoyed making lists and compilations of things. Finding the right reference images is also an enjoyable challenge then tweaking each one into a full-front on view of the personality/character/item (about 90% of our icons are in full-frontal view). Why wouldn’t we enjoy being the self-appointed deciders of what is the best and most beloved from all these various genres of entertainment and history?

What do you feel is the most important piece of advice is for starting and running a brand?

For us it would be to keep trying different things until something works. Especially if you enjoy it. I rather like that we are known as those guys that do the iconic tees versus those guys that make tshirts. It helps the brand to be associated with a “thing” that you do even if it is not 100% of your work. Of course, finding that thing that can be more than a one-off item is the hard part.

With t-shirt brands literally popping up everyday what do you do to make sure The Chop Shop stands above and apart from the competition?

We don’t really see it as competition. We are targeting a niché market and really just try to make a designs that people in the demographic just HAVE TO OWN. When we do events like Comic Con we often hear it said. People come by and when they realize what we are doing… they will say exactly that and then try to buy only one.

Do you guys do anything special as far as packaging or extras for customers that buy shirts online? Please elaborate why you thinking branded or extra packaging is a good or bad thing.

We don’t do anything grand as our customers are not 100% from the tshirt culture. Many of them want to be able to get our designs for $20 and adding too many bells and whistles will drive the price upward. This is one of the reasons why we offer both American Apparel as well as standard styles (usually Alstyle). So the good thing would be that you define yourself as a high-end seller if you upgrade your presentation and the bad thing would be that you shut yourself out from the masses that don’t have the cash.

We do drop a vinyl sticker in there which features selected silhouettes and sometimes a really ugly nerd face tattoo as well.

It has been awhile since you have released a new design! When can we expect something new and any clues as to what the new tee will involve?

Yeah… the holiday took us by surprise. We were slammed with sales starting in late October! Then right after that we determined that the back end of our site was too old and we had to take it down. So right now we are redirecting all our traffic to which is a GREAT place to buy handmade items by fantastic artists and we really endorse them as an online destination beyond our own items. But we don’t want to do any major releases until the traffic is coming back to our own so that there are no url legacy issues when people start linking to the items.

What is coming next is an offensive/defensive collection tee with a ton of icons, another space exploration collection with The Planetary Society and a very historic Presidential design involving code names.

Are there any sales or coupon codes that our readers should know about?

There is “over600icons” for 15% off but it will not be available until our new site goes up later this month.