“Like Poetry, fashion does not state anything – it merely suggests.” – Karl Lagerfeld
When you are growing up geek, one of the main social issues is fashion, or in our case – lack thereof. Geeks, at least in my generation, were never ones to be on the front line of any fashion trends, instead crafting their own style or simply adapting to the trends a year late. While this behavior was frowned upon by the trendy kids, being individuals and true to our creative geekdom was much more important and the trendy kids could go stuff themselves. Then, at some point in between my teenage years and this morning, geek style became trendy.
I’ve talked about that conundrum before, in regards to geek style (and yes, I’ve reused that Lagerfeld quote), but this is more about what we did then. We made our own style. What geek hasn’t dreamed of designing their own t-shirts and clothing? Hell, what teenage or college student hasn’t dreamed up a line of silly or sarcastic t-shirts? We all have (or maybe we all haven’t, I’m generalizing). The point is, especially with so many internet tools to do so, designing and selling your own line of smart-alecky and geek related t-shirts seems easy. But it’s not. It takes more attention than us ADHD riddled geeks can give.
Which makes it more of a mystery that J!NX, the popular geek t-shirt outlet found on the internet, is as successful as they are. Founder Sean Gailey mused on this fact during one of our many strange and enlightening email conversations over the past couple weeks.
“T-shirt companies are extremely common start-ups. When we first began approaching screen printers with promises of how successful we were going to be, we were met with rolling eyes. Apparently they’ve heard that before. I get why so many people give it a shot though. It’s not rocket science, it’s a lot of fun, it’s a great creative outlet. However, it doesn’t always work.”
J!NX began with a simple premise: hacker geeks creating hacker geek shirts for hacker geeks. A coder and artist, Gailey was literally making shirts with a Sharpie marker. Occasionally, he would sell one, off his own back. Spending all that time shirtless probably gave him time to think, and like so many before him, he decided to give the whole t-shirt company thing a go. Along with long time friend Tim Norris they created a J!NX website and had six hacker-related shirts for sale. For the next four years, it was simply a hobby, neither man collecting a paycheck from the site.
Says Gailey, “We began in my 10×10 2nd bedroom. Every morning, I moved all the boxes that cluttered the room to my family room, worked for the day, then moved all the boxes back in. I was surrounded by t-shirts, day and night. The smell of cardboard still occasionally makes me feel ill. We shipped 9 orders a day and we were focusing on how to get to 10.”
Those four years culminated on a snowboarding trip at Mammoth Mountain where the two friends, along with another long time buddy Jason Kraus, decided to go all in and make J!NX their full time gig. It may have been the snow, or mystical conversations with a long lost Yeti clan, but after about six months J!NX started to take off, and each man was awarded with a paycheck of $50.00. Word is that Gailey spent his entire paycheck at the bowling alley, racking up a moderately high score on the Indiana Jones pinball machine.
From there, it was a roller coaster of debt as they bought the dot com site for way too much money and moved into a real office, which could only fit one person. In that case, it was their first employee Brian “Nooch” Berling (now Senior Manager of Operations and Marketing) who still works for J!NX because they let him store his three palettes of comic books in the warehouse. Eventually J!NX became what it is today, a fantastic site full of branded geek uniforms and inside hacker jokes printed on a plethora of t-shirts. As Gailey attests, it was not easy getting to this point.
“When we eventually moved into our next office, we even had warehouse space. Whoa. Yeah, big time. We even bought palettes and a palette jack. I remember laughing at that concept of needing that stuff. It was at that point that we were finally over ‘the hump,’ able to 100% live off J!NX with no supplemental income. I stood in awe in the center of the new office while an electrician, an AT&T tech and another contractor bustled around me, making the final preparations in the mini-fortress for our arrival. I was reminded of the 4 years of real blood, real sweat and yes, real tears, that went into getting J!NX to this point. It was hard. Really f—ing hard. But we made it.”
J!NX isn’t just an American success story about making t-shirts, it’s a brand that has become familiar in every geek circle. This continued success isn’t just due to three guys busting their asses to become the rare t-shirt business success, but it’s also due to a dedicated team of creative individuals who get up every morning with the knowledge that they work in a very unique industry. J!NX is the place you wish you worked at if you are a creative; hell, I wish I worked at J!NX.
In that vein, I decided the best way to show you how J!NX cultivates a creative atmosphere to bring you the best in geek wear, is to go right to the source and highlight the employees of the company. Because what else is a primary indicator of a company’s success? Understanding the employees gives you that personal touch, that in-depth and personal association with what is normally a cold and impersonal process (buying something online.) In the end, I received some very detailed and creative responses to my basic questions. So, I had to do some editing to fit them all in, because I didn’t want to leave anyone out. If this kind of stuff bores you, then I think Wal-Mart has a sale on screen print tees.
Name: Miguel “Borador” Rojas
Ultimate T-Shirt: Zombies!!
Best bit about working at J!NX: Our creative freedom. We are able to show our passion for what we do and like.
Name: Kino “Lunchbox” Finch
Position: Art Team Project Coordinator
Ultimate T-Shirt: Even if I knew the answer to this question I wouldn’t share it, because one of our competitors could read this article and steal what is likely to be the most epic tee shirt idea ever hatched.
Best bit about working at J!NX: Working at J!NX is the ultimate vindication for all of the times I had to listen to people say things like, “Video games are never going to get you anywhere!” “You’re wasting your time and rotting your brain.” “Stop doodling all over your papers!” “Grow up!” And, sometimes, there are donuts in the break room.
Name: Alex “Paragon” Weitz
Ultimate T-Shirt: I think I would go with the WoW Horde Faction Logo
Best bit about working at J!NX: It’s great to wake up each day and go to work knowing I will be contributing to someone’s geek happiness.
Name: Don Lopez
Position: Warehouse Associate
Ultimate T-Shirt: A t-Shirt of Hulk Hogan ripping the t-shirt that he is currently wearing
Best bit about working at J!NX: The coolest thing about working at J!NX is definitely the people here.
Name: Zac “Hanbanana” Scuffham
Position: Brand Manager/Guild Leader
Ultimate T-Shirt: Couch Critters Premium. I basically wear it for days at a time already.
Best bit about working at J!NX: The authenticity. I love working with open minded people, and brainstorming with other authentic gamers on what products gamers want to wear.
Name: Kevin “FookNasty” Nguyen
Position: Web Developer/Designer/Programmer
Ultimate T-Shirt: Shirtless
Best bit about working at J!NX: Being surrounded by a team of amazing, creative, and passionate people. I can say, without exaggeration, that everyone here loves what they do, including and especially myself.
Ultimate T-Shirt: It would be a huge armored dragon soaring past a crimson sunset. The dragon would have metal legs (it’s a risky procedure, but it’s worth it) with chainsaws for talons, jet engines slung under each wing, and a quad laser cannon coming out of his mouth. A mighty barbarian king would be standing atop the dragon’s neck, guiding it with a long chain and swinging an absurdly large power sword above his head while a lovely barbarian princess straddled the dragon’s neck firing a six-barreled minigun at the WWII-era fighter planes and bombers that circled around our brave companions. This shirt doesn’t exist yet, but it should.
Best bit about working at J!NX: The best part about working for J!NX is the Minions. That’s what we call customers who come back and participate in our Community area.
Name: Jorge aka Three11
Position: Web Designer of Doom
Ultimate T-Shirt: I’d wear dark colored heather shirt, with a stylized mural depicting some WWII fighter planes caught in an epic battle against a squadron of flying golden chariots, possibly on fire. The action is surrounded in a cross fire of bullets, flames and lighting bolts.
Best bit about working at J!NX: Working at J!NX gives me the freedom to creatively explore across different mediums. Always learning. Always leveling up.
Name: Chris “Moustachio” Hope
Position: Conceptual Artist
Ultimate T-Shirt: I have this shirt by one of my all time favorite comic book artists Brian Ralph. The drawing is from the cover of his first graphic novel “Cave In.” If I had not already worn many holes into it, and retired the shirt, I would wear it every day.
Best bit about working at J!NX: My co-workers. It’s an amazing feeling to come to work and be surrounded by great friends with similar interests and a passion for them.
Name: Jason “Windminstral” Kraus
Position: Owner/President Biz Dev & Marketing
Ultimate T-Shirt: I’m really digging the Minecraft Retro Creeper Premium Tee in heather green.
Best bit about working at J!NX: It’s never really been a job for me. It’s really a way to continue to be a kid at heart as an adult.
Name: Brad “Rogan” Armstrong
Position: Type/Style Design
Ultimate T-Shirt: A Liverpool soccer jersey.
Best bit about working at J!NX: It is not often that I get to work in an environment with people who strive to better themselves and the company as much as they do here.
Name: Samantha aka Leeloo
Position: Conjurer of Cut & Sew
Ultimate T-Shirt: The word “Multipass” in binary code (01001101 01110101 01101100 01110100 01101001 01110000 01100001 01110011 01110011.)
Best bit about working at J!NX: Everything.
Name: Matt aka Tron
Position: Production Manager
Ultimate T-Shirt: A depiction of the ocean.
Best bit about working at J!NX: The way that the whole team comes together to work towards a common goal.
Position: Warehouse Manager
Ultimate T-Shirt: Interweb securitist is one shirt I would wear for the rest of my life for three reasons; 1) It’s bright blue so everybody can see me. 2) It’s form fitting so it show cases my Pecs, make me look like a super hero. 3) The plain yet uber nerdy text is a simple representation of the lifestyle J!NX is all about.
Best bit about working at J!NX: The best thing about working at J!NX is the people that work here. In the hiring process we are very select in the individuals we bring on board. Everyone who has made the team brings a special “IT” factor to the table which not only strengthen our team but surrounds the office with an impenetrable force-field of awesomeness.
Name: Kacia aka Oracle
Ultimate T-Shirt: One that I bought at a Renaissance Faire a few years ago. It simply read “The floggings will continue until morale improves.“
Best bit about working at J!NX: There is always an opportunity to share your talents, even if they don’t relate to your official position at the company. Also, donuts are often available in the lunchroom.
Name: Marcus aka Altriak
Ultimate T-Shirt: My Alias- “Altriak.” It’d have to be made visually appealing somehow, though. I use this alias often and I chose it purposefully as I wanted something that symbolized a lot about me. The conception started based on the Dungeons and Dragons game, which I grew up and loved. In the forgotten realms calendar, the month of February (aka The Claw of Winter) is titled “Alturiak.” This month was of interest because I was born in February. However, I didn’t quite like the idea of it being the name of winter — often represented as cold, harsh and unfriendly. I ended up taking the “U” out so the name became similar to “Altruist.” That word represents me a bit more, as I often play more support-role characters in video games like priests, clerics, healers, who tend to have altruistic backgrounds.
Best bit about working at J!NX: The fact that J!NX represents the group of people who aren’t quite mainstream. I’ve always been fond of the eccentric stuff and geeks are into some pretty interesting and eccentric stuff. Oh, and the free donuts on Mondays is a plus.
Name: Brian “Nooch” Berling
Position: Senior Manager of Ops/Marketing
Ultimate T-Shirt: Detachable shuriken. Duh.
Best bit about working at J!NX: In what other workplace could you ever run across a Polar Bear, a TARDIS, and Frostmourne all in the same day?
So in the end, how does a company like J!NX stay ahead of the competition? Parody shirt sites and geek shirt sites are popping up every day. I think it’s because J!NX is a company full of gamers and geeks, and when it comes to the design of the clothing it’s from the same point of view of the rest of us. As Nooch says, “Our products resonate with the players because WE ARE the players.” If anything, this business model should be an inspiration to any fledgling company out there looking for their next move.
For Gailey, he stands true to a trifecta of personal rules to live by, good advice if you are out starting a business or already running one.
“Here are some things I’ve always lived by that seemed to work well for us,” says Gailey. “One, be passionate about what you’re doing – Nothing in life is achieved without passion. I read that on a fortune cookie so I know it’s true.
“Two, build the ultimate team of badasses – This was our goal from day 1. We take 6+ months to hire anyone, good people are hard to find. You will never find a more hard-working, creative, honest, genuinely rad group of geeks anywhere. I am so thankful to have these people dedicating their passion and energy to what we do. We’ve never had anyone quit. They rule.
“And three, build honest relationships – Don’t be a lying asshole and be honest in business. Believe it or not, you will attract honest people that you can (and will want to) partner with. Avoid the shortcuts. Strong, honest relationships with people you respect are the only partnerships worth having.”