Party on, Dude! Interview with Ross Dewey, Founder of 8-Bit ZOMBIE Clothing Brand
Ross Dewey has been on an excellent adventure these past few years. Carving his niche in the clothing brand scene that’s every bit as radical, bodacious and awesome as the 80s culture that inspired it, he’s grown a simple flip cap obsession into a full line of t-shirts, tanks, hats, gloves, hoodies and shades (not sunglasses, shades) under the moniker of 8-Bit ZOMBIE.
What really makes Ross and his company so incredibly rad is his impeccable ability to tap into classic pop culture for products that could have literally stepped out of a DeLorean alongside Marty McFly and Doc Brown in 1985. They’re multi-colored, rough around the edges and instantly recognizable to anyone who can equally appreciate the 80s references in this introduction.
Nice to meet you (again), Ross. Care for some Crystal Pepsi and Corn Nuts? The Pepsi might be a bit stale…
Hey Rondal! Very nice to meet you (again) too! That Crystal Pepsi is a little murky, you sure that’s not regular Pepsi? I love Corn Nuts though. Yum!
Nah, it’s just “finely aged” Crystal Pepsi. You know, I’ve always thought Corn Nuts were one of the weirdest junk foods ever. Are they corn or are they nuts?
Yeah, I don’t get it either. But they taste good so that’s all that really matters. Little know fact: Corn Nuts are my #1 non-candy gas station snack of choice.
Sorry, got off on a tangent. Hey! That kinda sounds like tangelos a bit, huh? Have you ever… nevermind.
You’re making me hungry with all this food talk!
So what led you to start up a clothing label?
Well, several years ago I decided to start my own screen printing biz. I wanted to do something that would allow me to be creative and be use my artistic talents, so screen printing sounded like a good plan. And, of course, being able to make rad shirts that I wanted to wear was a big deciding factor too *laughs*. So I kind of went into it knowing that I wanted to make my own shirts and sell them on side.
After about a year or so of learning the ropes, honing my printing skills and printing for other people, I decided to get serious about starting my own little line. Right from the start I knew that the 80’s would be what my brand was all about. I’ve been obsessed with all things 80’s… well… since the 80’s! *laughs* I definitely live in the past.
8 Bit ZOMBIE… that name is so AWESOME! What’s the backstory with the zombified Power Glove, where’d that come from?
Thanks! I had used the name 8-bit ZOMBIE for various things over the years so when it came time to choose a name for the brand, there really wasn’t any other choice in my mind. I’m a HUGE fan and collector of NES games and also a big fan of zombie films so that’s where the name comes from.
The zombified Powerglove came from a brainstorming session with one of my best artist buds Matt Skiff. We were working on developing a logo for the brand and all the ideas we had come up with just weren’t working that well. One of the initial ideas I had was an 80’s zombie wearing a Powerglove and Matt – being the genius that he is – condensed that idea down to the logo you see now. I couldn’t be more pleased with it. Sometimes I’ll look at it on a sticker or a shirt and just think to myself, “MAN, that is awesome!”
The internets is jam packed full of indie label clothing these days. How does 8BZ stand balls out from the crowd?
Yeah, the market really is saturated these days. From the very beginning, I’ve always strived to be unique with 8BZ. There’s a million sites out there selling endless cheesey 80’s reference shirts. But for the most part, the stuff I see feels pretty one dimensional and hollow. I absolutely love the 80’s (if that wasn’t obvious) so I do my best to pay homage and give the raddest tribute I can to my favorite decade with my merch. I love trying to coming up with new and inventive ways to do that.
I also try to match up artists with ideas they are personally into. As strange as that might sound, I think it’s an immense help towards making really great designs. So, I guess to answer your question in a non-rambling way… while the subject matter may be familiar, with 8-bit ZOMBIE you’re not gonna find the same stuff you’ve seen a millions times already.
For lack of a better word, 8BZ is really a word of mouth kind of brand. Do you do any marketing outside of customer referrals?
Not really! 8BZ has definitely grown mostly from word of mouth. I’ve been featured on a few sites but a lot of my traffic and new fans come from hearing about me from friends or on blogs, Tumblrs, etc. I guess people are liking what they see enough to spread the word, so that’s a great feeling!
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… you started out just doing flip caps. Then, you moved onto tees and most recently we saw a few more surprises for 8BZ fans. What’s your strategy been like for new merchandise? Are there plans to continue branching out in 2012?
You can indeed expect a few new things this Spring/Summer. Of course, there’ll be lots more hats and shirts but I do have a few new tricks up my sleeve as well. Super excited for the stuff I’ll be coming out with this year.
Starting out with the hats kinda put me on a path of trying to print on things that people wouldn’t necessarily think to print on. (Again, another perk of printing my own merch. Most print shops just don’t want to deal with stuff like this.) I love trying to think outside the box and come up with new ideas. Well, that and I get bored with doing the same stuff pretty fast *laughs*. I love t-shirts as an art form but sometimes I just want to try something new. The idea for the Powerglove just kinda popped into my head one day. I knew it would be awesome but I had no idea if I could pull if off or if people would like them. Turns out that I could and they did!
Launching a new business is always tough. What were some of the toughest decisions you were faced with during your first year?
I think the toughest thing at the start was BEING at the start and not being able to do everything I wanted to do. The first year or so of a new business is generally spent pouring money into said business and not getting much (if anything) back. 8BZ has always been a labor of love though. If I was in it for the money, I would have given up LONG ago.
Printing all of my merch myself gave me a pretty good leg-up and allowed me to do more with the brand than most new brands can but it was still a pretty big learning process. Growth in the begging was also verrrrry slow. It’s hard to spend months of your life making stuff you think is awesome and then have it sit on a shelf with no one to buy it. But good things do come to those who wait. Makes me feel even more thankful for the fan base I have now.
I’m sorry to get off track again, there’s just something that’s really been bothering me lately… what do you think ever happened to Mayor McCheese?
You didn’t hear this from me but I’d check out the Hamburglar’s freezer. I don’t know how many times I’ve told Officer Big Mac to go drop in on the Hamburglar and do some looking around. But he always harps on about how he “NEEDS PROOF!” and that it’s “all conjecture and here-say!” The dude’s an idiot.
So, do you think there’s some sort of retirement home for forgotten 80s ad mascots? I mean, the ones NOT murdered by Hamburglar?
I hope so, and if there is I want to visit. I wanna go hang out with the Noid, the California Raisins and the 7UP Cool Spot.
I’ve noticed 8BZ doesn’t do too many reprints. Is this something you’ve done to generate excitement for each release or is it just more economical that way?
Honestly it’s mostly because printing everything by myself is a ton of work and I never seem to end up having the time *laughs*. It was much easier to stay on top of that a year ago but as 8BZ grows and I add more and more products to the store, it’s becoming harder and harder to keep older items in stock. After last summer’s release, I have been dipping my toes into sending some of my designs out to other printers. The results have been good so I’ll be doing that a lot more this year and that will help a ton. I’m planning on bringing back a few of the older hats and shirts soon though so keep an eye out for that!
What’s made you decide to stay independent versus selling your products wholesale to different vendors?
Great question. I’m actually really against wholesaling. When people buy 8BZ merch from me, they aren’t just getting a shirt or a hat but rather an experience. That sounds weird, I know, but bear with me… I enjoy packing orders and I throw tons of rad freebies in with every package that goes out. Hopefully creating an overall rad and nostalgic experience when the customer gets their order. If I was to let other people carry my stuff, customers wouldn’t get that same experience. The more places you wholesale to, the more spread out you are, the less special you become. Right now I do feel like 8BZ is unique and cool.
If everyone carried 8BZ stuff and everyone knew about 8BZ, then it’s not special or cool anymore. It’s common place. There is only one place to get 8BZ merch, you won’t find it anywhere else. From the website, to the products, to the customer opening their package, 8-bit ZOMBIE is a nostalgic and rad trip back in time and I want to keep it that way. Nothing makes me happier than hearing from a customer that I brought back memories of their childhood for them or that my brand inspired them to dig their NES out of their attic and play it again.
Best feeling in the world?
Best feeling in the world.
I heard that you were a pretty big ‘Wizards and Warriors’ fan back in the day. What’s one of your best memories playing it?
You heard right. (Who have you been talking to?!) It was one of the few games I owned as a kid. I got it for my birthday… I remember that for my b-day we went down to the video game store and my parents let me pick out any game I wanted. I was so stoked! I saw the box art, flipped it over and saw the the little screen shots of a knight dude running around and knew that was the game for me. Loved that game as a kid.
I’d have to say the best memory of playing it would be actually making it through the whole game. Most NES games were unforgiving and just plain HARD. Wizards & Warriors was pretty tough too but I was able to finally beat it and that felt awesome. To this day I still remember all the tricks and item locations by heart and can still beat the game fairly quickly.
Time to break out the tough questions. If you could choose between being a member of the A-Team or The Real Ghostbusters which one would you choose?
WHOA. Do you realize the gravity of choice you have just thrust upon me? I LOVE both of those shows. The Real Ghostbusters are some of my favorite characters ever to be created and Mr. T is my hero. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve often day dreamed of being in both crews. (We’re talking like yesterday here, not just when I was a kid *laughs*)
Riding in the A-TEAM van with B.A., Face, Murdock and Hannibal would be a dream come true and strapping on a proton-pack and chasing ghosts all over New York City with the Ghostbusters would make me eternally happy… DAMMIT! Why must you do this to me? If I HAD to choose I think Ghostbusters would edge out A-TEAM. But just barely. If the A-TEAM had a headquarters with a fire-pole, this question would be impossible to answer.
What’s the strangest thing you can remember doing as a kid?
Probably that time I helped future me go on a daring midnight Toys R Us raid. We got SO MUCH stuff… toys, video games, you name it. Future me was kind of a jerk though. We stared loading our spoils into this crazy looking machine and I was like, “Don’t I get any!?” He was all – all of this will be yours “later.” Pssshhhh. Whatever. At least I know the time machine I’ve been working on the past few years will eventually be operational. Been waiting well over 20 years for all those mint conditioned, un-opened He-man figures. THEY WILL BE MINE!!!