BreakThrough DESIGNER: Badcock Apparel


Meet BreakThrough DESIGNER Seth Harris of Badcock Apparel.  Listen, Learn, Connect.
Seth_Badcock Apparel


1. What is your brand’s mission? How has it evolved since you started your business?
Badcock’s mission is to be the vanguard t-shirt brand in the US and then the world. Badcock wants to be to t-shirts what The Clash is to rock & roll.

The mission has definitely evolved since we started; an emerging brand is like anything in the early stages of development, it’s going to grow and adapt to the environment it’s in.  We’ve headed in a few directions only to course correct when we see the results are not what we had hoped.  I think the process is to get from point “A” to point “B”, only the journey is a zig zag instead of a straight line.  As long as you’re still moving in the right direction, I think it only makes you stronger to have it not be too easy.

2. How would you describe your brand’s aesthetic?
Badcock’s aesthetic is American Badass.  We’re inspired by rock & roll, vintage car & motorcycle culture, the American West, and low brow art.  Graphic design inspiration comes in flood waves from all over – books, magazines, music, tv, pop culture, americana – the absurdity of life.  Our shirts are a very flattering fit and the materials are top notch; they feel like you’ve been wearing them for decades.  We try to pay attention to the little details that make the difference between an t-shirt and a T-SHIRT;  one you wear for a season and give away vs. one you keep in your collection for years.

3. What’s the most difficult aspect of running your business? What do you do to combat that?
I think the most difficult aspect of running any business are generating sales and managing cash flow.  The creative and production management come pretty easily to us.  Selling is hard, especially if your subject matter can be somewhat risque at times.

The only way to combat those perils is to work your ass off and sell to anyone and everyone that can help promote your brand in a positive way while making sure to remain authentic to the brand; and, control where the money goes.

4. Do you sell wholesale or primarily through your own website/retail location? What steps do you take to attain brand recognition, whether to wholesale buyers or retail consumers?
We have both wholesale and direct to consumer sales channels.  We operate our web store – – which is great because it’s open 24/7/365, so there are always opportunities to make contact with customers no matter where in the world they are.  It’s a great feeling to wake up in the morning and see the “you’ve got money” emails that tell us how many orders were placed while we were sleeping.

We’re also constantly looking to develop wholesale relationships with great retail partners that get our brand & appreciate the humor in it.  We’ve developed some really successful relationships with retailers throughout the US and Canada, and are finalizing negotiations for a relationship with a distributor in Japan.

Standing out as a brand in the sea of companies all vying for the same dollars is tough.  It’s really tough to distinguish yourself and to rise above all the noise.  Our main strengths in this battle are our designs and the quality of our merchandise.  We also have great customer service.  No overseas call centers, we do all our own heavy lifting.

5. What social media platforms do you find most integral to your brand’s marketing? How do you utilize them to connect with your customers?
Currently we’re working hard on our facebook, twitter, and youtube presence as those seem to be the main arteries to the consumers attention today.  But as I was saying, you’ve got to constantly evolve and keep up with where the customers are going;  if that means we need to do a badcock app, or embrace 4square, or whatever the next big IT thing is, we’ll have to stay nimble and be able to adapt as our customers adapt and grow.

Connecting with our customers via social media is tricky.  We want to let them know what’s going on, but we don’t want to heckle them like a bunch of appliance or used car salesmen.  Frankly, I’m still trying to get dialed in.  We offer periodic updates on new merchandise and sales on facebook, as well as a large collection of photos of products, ads, celebrities wearing badcock, and customers wearing badcock.  We try to interact with our customers and friends as much as they’d like us to.  I see being a good facebook friend akin to throwing a good cocktail party;  make sure there’s a diverse group of interesting people there, grease the conversation wheels [at a party that usually happens with food & drinks, on facebook we try to make that happen with great pictures and the occasional witty remark] and see what happens as the party progresses.  Of course, as the host you need to float around and make sure everyone is attended to and having a good time.

Twitter is a tough one for me.  It’s a challenge to say anything substantial or thought provoking in 140 characters. I think there’s also a responsibility on twitter not to have diarrhea of the mouth;  you can’t be tweeting every thought that comes into your head – who cares what you had for breakfast or that you’ve just brushed your teeth? I have some bedtime rules with my kids that maybe would be good guidelines for twitter users;  after we tuck them in I tell them there’s no getting out of bed unless 1 – the house is on fire, 2 – aliens are attacking, or 3 – a giant spider is trying to eat them.  But if you’ve got a great story that happened while you were wearing a badcock shirt?  Suspend the rules and tweet the mofo!

6. Can you describe in a few sentences your day to day?mama
Every day is different and I try to take them one at a time. Most of the day I feel like a fireman – there’s always a fire to put out somewhere.  In the end, they’re all the same – keep your product great, keep your customers happy, try to make a little money, try to come up with the next design.

7. What are three of YOUR favorite brands? What do you admire most about them?
, Virgin, and Hard Rock.  I like that everything they touch filters thru the brand and comes out fully formed.  You know when you see it that it’s distinctively from the mother ship.  Even if the product, event, whatever isn’t commercially successful, the execution is successful and there’s no doubting where it came from.  These are all global brands and they’re all fighters, they’ve all survived hard times, and they’re all offering 360 degree experiences to their customers.  One day I’d like someone to be able to say that about badcock apparel;  it’d be great for someone to see something we’ve done and know without seeing the label that it’s from badcock.

As for fashion brands, my favorites are John Varvatos, James Perse, and Ralph Lauren RRL.  Varvatos for celebrating and elevating rock & roll high style.  Perse for taking everyday staple pieces and simplifying them so much they become sublime art objects you can wear.  Ralph Lauren because there’s probably no one on the planet who gets every aspect of true American style – from blue collar influenced casual to black tie high fashion; and then he takes all of the fashion creativity and creates living environments!  The rugged americana RRL aesthetic is one that just about anyone could feel comfortable in, it’s super high design yet a cowboy or a biker wouldn’t be uncomfortable putting their feet up on the coffee table.

8. One piece of advice you can offer the fresh faces of fashion?
Wow, that’s a bit like asking the lunatic how the asylum should be run, isn’t it?  I feel like I’m one of the fresh faces of fashion myself.  Although I’ve worked in fashion retail for 20 years, badcock apparel is less than 2 years old and we’re still getting our sea legs.

That being said.  I think in fashion or any other endeavor, to be successful, you need to love what you do, believe in yourself, you need to have a thick skin – fortitude in the face of adversity.  You have to be willing to die for your project [figuratively not literally]. You have to work harder than all the other guys out there with the same dream.  You have to be true to yourself.  It’s nice if you’ve got rich investors!  If not, you need to really manage your cash flow.  I think the most important thing to remember though is to have fun – if you’re not happy getting up in the morning and fighting for the next inch of success, find something else to do.

9. What exciting things are in store for you in 2011?!
Well, the badcock jet should be finished in time for a christmas world tour!  Wouldn’t that be nice??  We’re working really hard to get the brand out there and to continue to build a name for ourselves.  You’ll be seeing us on more than a few tv shows – cable & network!  I get excited when we open a new account.  I get excited when I see pictures people send in of them wearing they’re badcock shirts, or someone they’ve seen wearing a badcock shirt.  One of the biggest surprises of 2010 was a photo a friend took of a random guy in Chicago’s O’hare airport.  He was wearing a badcock shirt and my friend asked him were he bought it.  He got all excited and began to tell my friend all about this great company he “found”.  My friend took his picture and it’s up on the web store with a bunch of others.

10. Please describe your experience at WWD MAGIC. Was it worth it? Would you do it again?
In the end, Magic was worth it and we’ll definitely be doing it again.  It’s a great way to meet people and develop new relationships.  But, it’s also a very tough week;  I had to go into it telling myself that no matter what happened sales wise, it was not a reflection on me as a person and was no indication of my worth as a designer or businessman.  We sold enough that I was happy and that I’ll go back for the next show.  Unfortunately, we had to cancel the order for the Badcock jet; gotta go, time to get back to work.

Connect with Badcock Apparel

Thanks Seth for a great interview!

Nicole Giordano

Nicole is the founder of StartUp FASHION, an online resource and community supporting for independent designers around the world with building their businesses. A deep love for the craft of fashion paired with an adamant belief that success is defined by the individual, led her to found StartUp FASHION, where she helps independent designers and makers screw the traditional fashion business rules, create their own paths, and build businesses they truly love. More than anything else, she’s in the business of encouragement and works every day to remind makers and designers that they have something special to offer the world and that they can, in fact, do this thing!