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AMA: I'm Jeff Sheldon the founder and designer of Ugmonk.

over 4 years ago from , Ugmonk

Hey guys!

I'm Jeff Sheldon, the founder and designer of Ugmonk.com.

I started Ugmonk 7 years ago as a little side project to design a few t-shirts that I wanted to wear. I didn't consider myself an entrepreneur and had almost no business experience. It has all been just figuring things out as I go.

Since then Ugmonk has grown into a full-blown lifestyle brand which I now run full-time. We've expanded the collection beyond tees to include leather goods, ampersands, messengers bags, and more. We've shipped tens of thousands of products to over 65 countries around the world. We also partner with a charity called Rice Bowls to help feed kids in need.

Design is my passion and still the main focus of what drives the brand. We've done almost no paid advertising but rather focus on building a loyal customer base who truly appreciates the detail and quality that goes into each of our products.

Watch story of Ugmonk here

Outside of Ugmonk I enjoy soccer, snowboarding, Setters of Catan, Chipotle, and good coffee.

Ask me anything and I'll do my best to answer :)

I’ll be answering questions starting at 11am EST Wednesday, September 2

Jeffblack seriesUgmonk Studio

42 comments

  • M. AppelmanM. Appelman, over 4 years ago
    1. How did you come up with the name Ugmonk and what does it mean?
    2. Have you ever run into issues with Expedition-One and their use of the ampersand logo?
    3. Not a question but a silly request: could you please @2x those credit card icons (rest of site looks amazing on my Retina screen).
    4 points
    • , over 4 years ago
      1. The name Ugmonk was actually a happy accident. When I started I really wasn’t planning for Ugmonk to be anything more than a little side project. We tried to come up with creative names but everything we came up with was pretty cheesy and unoriginal.

      We were joking around and googling words to see what URLs were available and “Ugmonk.com” happened to be open with no results in Google. So we went with it and now if you google “Ugmonk” there are over 60,000 results.

      The actual origin of the word remains a secret, but it doesn’t have any deep meaning :) 

      1. Actually never heard of them until you posted them. I think it's different enough that there shouldn't be any issues.

      2. Good catch. Will add to our list of updates :)

      2 points
  • Joel CalifaJoel Califa, over 4 years ago

    Can you make a cool version of Settlers? :P I'll buy.

    3 points
  • Daniel De LaneyDaniel De Laney, over 4 years ago

    Hey Jeff, I just bought one of your shirts (Juggle) a few days ago.

    How did you establish your brand amid a sea of direct or indirect competitors? What do you think elevated Ugmonk above the background noise to the point that I was able to hear about you?

    3 points
    • Jeff Sheldon, over 4 years ago

      One of the main things has been just sticking to designing what I like rather than chasing t-shirt or apparel trends. When I started Ugmonk 7 years ago the main trends were all-over prints and crazy illustrations. I wanted simple, clean, and minimal. There were very few brands doing things in that style, especially with a typographic influence. I thought it would be cool to design a few tees with that aesthetic. That same aesthetic is what Ugmonk is still known for today.

      There are many other factors that go into creating an established brand (could go on for hours), but one of the other main things I've tried to do is just be personal and human. Rather than trying to position Ugmonk as some giant brand, I've kept everything personal with how I communicate with my customers and fans. I want that transparency to be something that is always core to the brand.

      People will naturally talk about products if they are truly good and unique. I attribute much of my success to my loyal fans :)

      2 points
  • Dan SherrattDan Sherratt, over 4 years ago

    Hey Jeff,

    What kind of money did you initially put into the 'few t-shirts you wanted to wear' ? What sort of sacrifices to quality did you make, if any? I've always wanted to get some t-shirts printed and the costs for the quality just don't make sense.

    2 points
    • Jeff Sheldon, over 4 years ago

      My initial startup cost was around $2000 for 200 shirts. Many people choose to do pre-orders to gauge interest, rather than carrying inventory which can be a smarter way of doing it. I kinda just went for it and thankfully it played out well. That said, it's very easy to get a ton of cash sucked into inventory which can be problematic on the cash flow side of things.

      1 point
  • Brent GallowayBrent Galloway, over 4 years ago

    Hey Jeff, when you're just getting started with an apparel/lifestyle brand, quality products and good design certainly goes a long way, but beyond that, any advice on building your brand's story? Thanks!

    2 points
    • Jeff Sheldon, over 4 years ago

      Hey Brent, here's a few tips.

      1. Think about what makes your brand different and make sure everything points back to that. Is it your style, your process, the way your products are made, the message behind your brand?

      2. Tell your story like you'd tell it to a friend. People connect with authentic stories. Your passion for what you do will be more contagious than and "features & benefits" list.

      3. Don't worry if some people don't "get it." Only focus on telling your story to the niche group of people who are truly interested in whatever your brand represents. 1,000 true fans :)

      2 points
  • Sean GeraghtySean Geraghty, over 4 years ago

    Hi Jeff,

    I am looking to start my own side business alongside working, also with physical goods. What tips would you give out to someone looking to start a physical product business in a world that seems so digitally orientated. Also how do you go about manufacturing your products? I have only come across the theory of manufacturing throughout my university course in product design, therefore any practical advice would be great.

    As a side, which football (soccer) team do you support?

    Thanks,

    Sean

    2 points
    • , over 4 years ago
      1. Producing physical products can be very time/money consuming. Just be prepared for everything to take more time and money than expected.

      2. Start small and learn as you grow. Mistakes are easier to fix if you start on a small scale. Don't try to carry to much inventory at the beginning.

      3. Finding good manufacturers is not easy. Every new product I produce involves a lot of time researching and talking to potential manufacturers. There are plenty of places overseas that can make things super cheap, but I try to find manufacturers in the USA that are focussed on quality and detail and treat their employees fairly.

      For soccer I don't have a club team that I follow closely, but I enjoy watching the Premiere League when I get the chance. And obviously rooting for the US in the World Cup, CONCACAF, etc. but we have a long way to go :)

      1 point
      • Sean GeraghtySean Geraghty, over 4 years ago

        Thanks for all the replies Jeff :)

        Yeah products can be super expensive which is why I am trying to seek out as much advice as I can before I head down this route for certain.

        0 points
  • Matt Bero, over 4 years ago

    How did you get exposure when you first started out (friends, word of mouth, etc.)? Also how many products did you start off with?

    2 points
    • Andrew Slifkin, over 4 years ago

      Hey Jeff,

      I have the same question. Who were your first customers and how were they acquired?

      0 points
    • , over 4 years ago

      Yep, friends and word-of-mouth. I had won a few tshirt design competitions and made a little bit of a name for myself within the tshirt design industry. I also emailed blogs that I had been following with a personal message telling them about Ugmonk.

      I started with 200 shirts. 4 designs, 50 of each. (One of the designs was so poorly printed that I never actually put it up on the site, but that's a whole other story)

      2 points
  • Steve ShreveSteve Shreve, over 4 years ago

    Hi Jeff, Have you ever had any issues with knock-offs or copy-cats? If so, how did you address that?

    2 points
    • , over 4 years ago

      Yes, many people/brands have ripped my designs. We've even had people lift our entire website code and just insert their products. The funny thing is that one time they forgot to change the contact email code on their FAQ so we were getting inquiries from their customers which is how we found out they stole our design.

      Often I'll just email the shop owner or tweet about the knockoff and they will take it down immediately. Public shaming is probably not the best way to go about it, but people know deep down when they've stolen something. People seem to think the internet is a big enough place to get away with stealing stuff, but it's pretty crazy how many people get found out. Most of the time it's my fans that send me the links to the ripoffs.

      At the end of the day my true fans and customers know what is legitimately Ugmonk and what's a knockoff, so I'm probably not losing a lot of sales to the knockoffs. Still very frustrating though!

      1 point
      • Steve ShreveSteve Shreve, over 4 years ago

        Good points. It seems like the best defense against rip-offs is to create a strong brand identity and a loyal fan base. Thanks for your answer.

        1 point
  • Yohul CYohul C, over 4 years ago

    Hey Jeff, been following your work for a while now (wearing Mountains as I type this) I read somewhere you were working in a design agency before you jumped into Ugmonk full time. I'd like to know, as it's a question that plagues me well, at what point did you decide to shift over to doing something that was your passion? Was it a calculated decision, or a leap of faith? I'm asking as im working as an in house UI/UX designer, but print/branding is where my heart is, and i know working full-time and managing branding/print jobs on the "side" is going to get too much to handle soon. Any advice, or anecdotes from your shift to Ugmonk?

    2 points
    • Jeff Sheldon, over 4 years ago

      Nice! thanks for reppin the Mountains tee :)

      Yes, I grew Ugmonk on the side for 2 years while working full-time at an agency. I'm a big proponent of starting something on the side and seeing where it goes before making any blind jumps.

      I actually never thought Ugmonk would get to the point where I would go full-time with it but as I poured in many many hours those first 2 years it got to a point where I felt semi-comfortable making the leap. It did get to an unhealthy point where I was working every night and weekend in addition to my day job, but I knew that would only be temporary and was worth sticking it out.

      I didn't take any money from the business for the first 2 years and saved up enough of a cushion so that when I jumped I had enough to fall back on just in case. Building it on the side allowed me to focus more on the products and less on the money. There's no magic time to make the jump since everyone's scenario is different, but this is just how I chose to do it.

      1 point
  • Ali DemirciAli Demirci, over 4 years ago

    Did you know anything about textiles before start to ugmonk?

    I would like to know because, sometimes i catch a great idea but i will give up because i am not expert in that industry. I am just web designer, i affraid to create somethings in real world.

    2 points
    • Shrihari SankaranShrihari Sankaran, over 4 years ago

      Exactly what I would like to know as well :)

      I dig bags. I wish I could get into the business of making and selling bags at some point in the future. Jeff's post about Ugmonk's Messenger Bags was a turn on for me! :P After reading it, I went out, bought some materials and started making the bag of my dreams. But, it ended with just that one bag.

      0 points
    • , over 4 years ago

      I knew almost nothing about textiles before I started Ugmonk. I had taken one basic screen printing class college but knew very little about the actual production process and garment industry.

      Producing physical products is VERY different from digital design. Though something can look great on screen, it may not translate well to a physical product. Everything from scale to colors to printing techniques to materials needs to be carefully considered. Getting physical proofs of whatever you are producing is vital to understand each of these details.

      And anything beyond simple screenprinted items gets exponentially more complicated. I share lots more details in this post: Messenger Bag Process: From Sketch to Finished Product

      1 point
  • Surjith S MSurjith S M, over 4 years ago

    Hello Jeff,

    Do you use any marketing technique? If so how?

    1 point
  • Max LindMax Lind, over 4 years ago

    I'm always curious about how designers find inspiration. What (if any) services/workflows do you use to catalog bits and pieces for your designs? Add to that, do you have a music or beverage or snack preference as you work? :)

    1 point
    • Jeff Sheldon, over 4 years ago

      I see inspiration as a collective thing rather than a specific source. I used to frequent design blogs a lot more, but don't find myself spending as much time on those anymore. I tried different bookmarking solutions but still prefer just dragging images into a folder on my desktop whenever something catches my eye. I've compiled a giant folder of images that I go to when I need a spark.

      As far as beverages, either coffee (see my response to Paul for more on that) or water. My all-time favorite snack is home made chocolate chip cookies, but most days just trail mix or pita chips.

      Music varies quite a bit, but a few bands I've really been digging: Ben Howard, London Grammar, Joywave, Aurora, Phoria, James Blake.

      2 points
  • Anthony Gibson, over 4 years ago

    Hey Jeff,

    Don't really have a question, just wanted to commend your authenticity. I've been following your days since emptees.com (and then mintees.com) and your the only brand that I've stayed on the mailing list for because of how amazing your work is.

    I know how hard it is getting an apparel line started, and having it actually be profitable, keep up the amazing work man. I love what you do for your anniversary sets!

    1 point
    • Jeff Sheldon, over 4 years ago

      Wow, you have been following for a while! You're probably one of the few that has seen the full evolution of Ugmonk.

      Thanks for your support over the years! This year's anniversary set is going to be killer :)

      3 points
  • Paul JarvisPaul Jarvis, over 4 years ago

    VERY IMPORTANT QUESTION: Describe your coffee brewing or purchasing techniques.

    1 point
    • , over 4 years ago

      Finally a real important question :)

      Usually only 1 cup a day. Since I work from home I have the luxury of being able to brew my own coffee without being in a rush and I enjoy the process. I use either the Aeropress or Chemex. Iced in the summer, hot for the rest of the year.

      It's all about having freshly roasted beans. I was doing the Tonx (now Blue Bottle) subscription for a while, but I've recently been mixing it up. My current favorite roasters: Square One, Cartel Coffee Lab, and Counter Culture.

      2 points
      • Paul JarvisPaul Jarvis, over 4 years ago

        Follow-up: BUT HOW LARGE IS YOUR CUP? I drink one cup a day as well, but the cup is large as a northeastern state.

        And I should mail you a bag of fresh Vancouver Island roasted beans.

        I did TONX for a while too, but I'm too picky with flavour profiles so I ended up not liking much of what I got.

        2 points
        • , over 4 years ago

          Haha, yeah I'm talking normal cup :) Too many jitters if I down a gallon like you.

          And yeah, I'd love to try some of those beans sometime.

          0 points
  • Michael GreenMichael Green, over 4 years ago

    No questions, but just wanted to say that I am rocking my "Get Uncomfortable" shirt today. Thanks for all you do!

    0 points
  • Ian De DobbelaereIan De Dobbelaere, over 4 years ago

    Hey I'm student who's currently trying to get a budget together to start a brand on the side. Do you have any tips for me?

    0 points
  • Cory Miller, over 4 years ago

    Who are your top three most influential designers that inspire you and helped you develop your aesthetic?

    0 points
  • Nderitu Gitau, 3 years ago

    Let me just say that you're a true inspiration Jeff. I keep going back and forth between any and all articles featuring your / Ugmonk's story.

    I have a brand of my own & your story has become that extra push I've been lacking; the relatable story that's been missing I guess.

    I'd like to know if you actually started out doing the printing yourself...to get a feel of the whole process perhaps etcetera. I feel that that's the direction I'd like to take, mainly to establish quality benchmarks and a sort of consistency in the production process & a standard for my brand's final product.

    0 points