TL;DR - We're making shit again, and more of it. Sorry for the radio silence.
Let's Start at The Beginning
I thought it best, after a fairly long time of silence at the 55 Hi's camp, (and even longer since we've released anything but alphabet posters) to give a little peek behind the 55 Hi's curtain as to what I've been doing the last year or so.
Now, to start this blog post of truth off I feel it necessary (after 5 years of being fairly vague) to give a little context for the start of 55 Hi’s and the state of how I got to where I am now.
My name is Ross (you probably knew that). I’m the sole owner, original screen printer, designer, and general maker since starting 55 Hi’s in 2009. I think in the past, when people first encountered 55 Hi’s, they assumed it was a team of full time people cranking out prints and assembling stuff in a studio.
I intentionally gave off this vibe for a long time, cause I liked the idea of starting something larger than myself and also because I wanted to project a professional brand appearance and not what it really was (one dude hand printing posters out of a 3rd story walkup in Wilton, CT. and then walking to Fed Ex to cut them).
Working Full Time
Since the beginning, I have had (and still do) a full time job on top of 55 Hi’s. I do this for multiple reasons but the biggest one is that I like the ability to take chances and not rely on 55 Hi’s as my single source of income. It lets me take make things that I like (but may very well flop) without so much pressure and also allows the whole process of running 55 Hi’s to be much more enjoyable.
I have had a long standing fear that if 55 Hi’s were to become my main area of income, it would ruin the fun of it and it would become a job (which I already have). I can’t say it will always be this way, I’m just saying for my position right now, I enjoy the freedom that comes from not depending on this brand to eat and go to the doctor.
Now since starting 55 Hi’s, over the past few years, I have let the standing success of the brand I had in the beginning (stylized typographic posters) dictate where it heads. I started 55 Hi’s making quote posters because I have always enjoyed witty sayings growing up. It was a natural progression to just try to make them look good.
After a few years of this, and the whole quote trend becoming generally saturated in the design community, I started to feel like a Marshall’s sign department. Even though I was feeling this way, I also felt like I couldn’t stop because it was what people had come to know 55 Hi’s for.
Now, I have nothing against Marshall’s, or their sign department. In fact I just got some really great shoes from there at one hell of a bargain. It’s just not what I had envisioned when starting 55 Hi’s. To be honest, I didn’t even have a vision. I just wanted to make what I wanted. I figured, if I was going to have a job, I wanted to spend my own time making things that made me smile.
After feeling a little down, and a lot like a broken record of quote posters, I started to ideate around different products. I certainly have never had a shortage of ideas for new products, and since 55 Hi’s was feeling a little formulaic, I started to explore different avenues. The only problem was, all these ideas didn’t feel like they fit in with the strict limited edition, vintage-typographic, screen printed paper motif 55 Hi’s had become. I was really worried it would feel like it was coming out of left field, and the last thing I wanted to do was disrupt the brand and success it had seen up to this point.
To combat this, I thought I would just start under new brand names. One of those avenues became Madison Glass Co. Another of those avenues became a handmade soy candle company called Wood & Penny. Another became a Button company called Really Bad Pins. Another idea became a hand made leather mousepad company called Rafter Supply Co. Then another idea I had became a tips and tricks blog for Shopify store owners. Lastly I had an idea for a dog bandana company that was sadly, never named.
What ended up happening as you can probably tell, is, I started to confuse everyone (and myself). For instance, do I start a new twitter, facebook, and instagram account for all 5 new brands? Do I start from scratch for all of them even though the audience is all generally the same? If I start posting updates and pointing people to 5 different places from my personal social media accounts, will that be confusing? Especially since It’s all coming from me anyway!? Which one is the main one?
I kept spreading myself thinner and thinner as the months went on, completely flushing out these product ideas and brands, but then not having the capacity to properly maintain them. After more than a year of this, I became tired. I had worked for a long time, and generated a ton of things that I was tremendously proud of, and yet I felt like I couldn’t talk about for fear of confusing everyone. Something had to change and I had no idea what.
After letting the dust settle for a little while, I had a series of conversations with myself asking things like: what do I want? What do I enjoy? What do I want to do with my time? Why did I even start all these projects if they aren’t enjoyable? Do I want to be a manufacturer or designer? Printer or glass painter? Do I want to freelance full time or make products full time?
In asking myself all these questions, I discovered that I just like to make new things. It’s plain and simple. I just want to be able to make new things whether it be for kids or adults or dogs or ferrets without the fear of fitting into a strictly limited-edition hand screen printed poster brand every time. It’s an easy fix really, but one that I had a hard time making because I had traveled down so many separate avenues that I didn’t want to abandon.
But once I made the decision to bring everything under one roof, it felt like the whole world had been lifted of my shoulders. I felt like I could talk about what I was working on again and write about my experiences in a candid manner (which I have always strived to do with anything I’m a part of). This blog post is a perfect example of this and is the first positive completely transparent thing I’ve written in quite some time. It was the first time in 6 months I felt like I could post to my Instagram account without confusing the people who started by following 55 Hi's.
Therefore, moving forward, a few things are going to change, but in the grand scheme of things, nothing that you haven’t already seen. Everything I’m working on (besides the candles) will now be under one roof instead of 5 different roofs all pointing at each other.
All my side projects are going to be gradually brought under 55 Hi’s and we will start releasing fun new things, more consistently. Some stuff will be extremely limited edition, some stuff won’t. It may be the most random product design you’ve ever seen or it may be cat bibs, but it’s going to be new and fun and interesting and that’s the point.
Well the not knowing what's coming next thing is a bit of a white lie. I do know that. We teamed up with Scotty Reifsnyder for one of the coolest looking posters and projects I've ever had the opportunity to work on. We're releasing it on Halloween (and rightfully so) cause if you can't tell from the teaser, it's a Mythical Creatures Alphabet Poster.
55 Hi's Team
You can probably also tell I’m starting to refer to 55 Hi’s as “we” again. This time it's intentiontal and that’s because over the course of the last year or longer, I have teamed up with a long time friend Rick DiStefano for a lot of these new projects I have been working on and telling nobody about.
It’s been much more rewarding working with someone, as opposed to on my own all the time and it’s something that I want to continue with in this new direction. He’s coming on to handle a lot of the manufacturing and product fulfillment and we will be working together to try to make twice as many awesome things as before the short hiatus.