Whether you are just a t-shirt lover or the owner of a t-shirt brand, Jeff Sheldon and his brand UGMONK are a company that you need to know. This indie clothing startup was launched just over 2.5 years ago and today, Jeff has been able to quit his job and take his brand UGMONK full time. UGMONK has honestly been one of my favorite brands of the years and with Jeff recently taking his brand full time, I figured it time to sit down and pick his brain. Enjoy!
Boring stuff first, Name, Age, Location, Favorite Number
Jeff Sheldon, 25, Downingtown PA, 7
I have to ask this first! I have loved your brand for a long time now but have never known what the meaning behind the name Ugmonk is, could you please explain where you came up with the name and what it means?
Actually came about pretty randomly. I came up with a bunch of different names, many had to do with design or apparel, but then kept coming back to “Ugmonk” (random, but had a nice ring to it). It was weird enough to stand out, while still being short and memorable. I like the idea that before I started Ugmonk, the word itself was ambiguous and had no preconceived meanings associated with it. This allowed me to define what “Ugmonk” is and represents.
You obviously have a love and passion for typography. Did Ugmonk start with the mission of being a typography based clothing line or is that something that you evolved into?
I grew up doing all types of traditional art (painting, sketching, sculpting) and it wasn’t until a few years ago when I was in college that I transitioned into graphic design. After studying design, I realized that typography was a key element for almost all design. I soon developed a passion for type and began experimenting with using type as a design element for shirts rather than using it just to write out a slogan or brand name. The more I played with the letter forms, the more I realized the potential to base a clothing line around type. Mixing typography and t-shirts has been done before, but my goal was to find new ways to merge the two and bring something fresh to the apparel world.
I have been following your brand since it’s original launch in 2008 and have watched this brand evolve from a small indie upstart to a full fledged clothing line a very short time span. What do you attribute the success of your brand to?
Yes, Ugmonk has grown faster than I ever imagined. When I started, it was literally a side project and an outlet for my passion for typography and tshirt design. I was just doing it because I enjoyed doing it. I had no plans for it to ever become my full-time job, in fact when people asked me in the beginning I usually just laughed and said “No, I would have to sell A LOT of tshirts.” Well here I am just a couple years later doing it full-time and selling a lot of tshirts.
As far as the rapid growth, I think my mission and aesthetic behind Ugmonk just connected with a lot of people right off the bat. When launching, I figured there had to be some other people out there that appreciate simple, clean design like I do, but I didn’t realize how many people it would strike a chord with. In everything I do, I try to give extreme attention to detail. Those details are part of what sets Ugmonk apart from the multitudes of other brands out there. Honestly, I’ve been overwhelmed with the response since day one and it’s humbling to know that people are wearing my shirts all over the world.
I have also read that you had very little business experience before starting your brand. What have been some of your biggest obstacles or learning experiences from launching your brand? If you could go back to when you started would you change anything?
Honestly, I think not having that business background has helped me in many ways. Of course looking back there are plenty of things I wish I knew before I launched, but I never worried about following the traditional model of launching a business. Instead I just went with my gut, and figured things out as I went. In my opinion, the best way of learning is by doing. Just get out there, talk to people and learn on the go. This is not to say that a business plan doesn’t have it’s place, but too many people get hung up on the technicalities and financials. I started Ugmonk because it is my passion, not to make a quick buck.
How was your experience working with Urban Outfitters when they carried the “And Then I Woke Up” Tee and how did that come about?
Networking, networking, networking. It’s all about who you know. Just doing good work will get you noticed and open lots of doors and opportunities to meet people.
How difficult was the decision to leave your full-time job to pursue Ugmonk full-time and did you ever imagine the brand would get to that point?
It was not a easy decision and I debated for months whether or not to make the jump. Leaving a consistent pay check and decent design job in this economy to take Ugmonk full-time was a little nerve racking, but Ugmonk was growing to a point where I was working an unhealthy amount of hours and something needed to give. I decided that now was the time to make the jump and take the risk. Thankfully it’s been all up hill since I went full-time and the brand continues to grow at a great rate.
What is your personal favorite design?
That’s a tough question. I like different designs for different reasons, but a couple of my current favorites are “Seven Days A Week” and “It’s About Time.”
What advice would you offer people that are thinking about starting their own clothing line?
1. Focus on creating a great product. People will talk about it if it is unique and high quality.
2. Create a consistent brand identity. Everything from your logo, website, etc should all be unified and well thought-out. Don’t rush this part.
3. Find a niche market. Many people try to market to everyone instead of a specific target audience.
4. Start small and learn as you grow. Mistakes are easier to fix if you start on a small scale. Don’t try to carry too much inventory at the beginning, because it only makes things harder to change.
It’s been very exciting to see Ugmonk branch from just tees into custom totes, prints, notebooks, and coffee mugs. What is next for the brand?
Planning lots of new stuff for this year. More new tshirts as well as some other accessories. I’d tell you more, but that would ruin the surprise