Need a one-of-a-kind shirt that will leave friends salivating? How about a website created by a Savannah company that gets at what market you are trying to reach? How about some local screen printing and even maybe a bit of branding? 13 Bricks has GOT you covered. The one-stop shop for all things printing that was started as an artists collective has turned into a model business of what can happen when creative, talented individuals get together to create a space for themselves and others like them to thrive.
A sweet little shop nestled away on East Broad Street, 13 Bricks not only offers graphic apparel lines, but a variety of services including web design, brand development, screen-printing and plenty more–all lovingly created by a team of artists turned high-tuned designers. We were lucky to sit down with Executive Director Vann–Ellison Seales to learn how they went from selling at vendor tables, to having a wrap around service model that meets all printing needs.
Creative Coast: Talk to us about why you decided to open 13 Bricks?
Vann-Ellison Seales: I think that I knew I wanted to be a business owner, but I didn’t know exactly what that business was going to be. There’s a pretty big difference on what I thought 13 Bricks was going to be and what 13 Bricks became. When I first started, it was more of a hobby, a personal pursuit to create a clothing line.
We began a movement in a way, before there was a brick and mortar, before we were an online store, before we really were recognized. There was a lot of positive feedback and we started getting more and more referrals, referrals from people who were like, “Hey, Vann, I like what you’re doing. Let’s see what’s going on here. We need this, we need that,” and we found out through this t-shirt endeavor, there was a demand for design services, for digital printing services, for screen printing services, and that the community felt underserved when it came to seeing their vision transformed into products or promotional material or whatever their brand needed to say how they see it.
CC: It sounds like y’all really started as an experiment and landed as an incredibly professional business—y’all had to have created that path somehow right?
VES: When I first thought of 13 Bricks as a artist collective, I had no idea really what I was doing. I had no idea what the potential for it was going to be. I had my parents in the back of my head saying, “You need to find a job. How are you going to support yourself like this?” There was a real burning passion inside of me to make it a tangible, feasible, viable outcome, a vehicle for other people.
The philosophy behind 13 Bricks is if you can dream it, we can scheme it. We can take your idea, extract it out of your own head, and translate that into a material existence. The imagination is like the bricks, and we’re actually building the world around us through image, through identity, through statements on a shirt, through your image, through whatever graphic you want to see out there.
CC: There’s just a huge importance in the fact that as a young person in Savannah, you stayed here to open a business. So many young people go to places like Portland or San Francisco or New York or wherever plentiful opportunities are, but you made your opportunity here. I guess I’m curious to hear from you how you took this artist collective and this thing that was really wrapped around imagination and then turned it into the brick and mortar business it is.
VES: It really organically evolved from, “hey, let’s meet up at the coffee shop at the time, to hey, we’re going to learn how to print our own shirts, to we need a place to store this printing press, to oh we have to pay rent.” We started treating ourselves less and less like a artistic movement and taking the steps to be recognized as a legitimate business.
When we took that first step, myself and my partners Alfredo Martinez and Jared Jackson, we went ahead and took a leap of faith and I find the lease for the first brick and mortar, before we knew how we were going to make ends meet. It was a huge risk because we had no confirmation of we were going to have enough customers that month. We were scared, I’m not going to lie.
It was really a matter of faith and knowing that we knew we were good enough, and the end product and the work that we did was good enough to attract whoever that customer was going to be. We knew that there’s … based off of the requests we were getting, that there was a demand, so we at least knew that.
CC: So really for y’all, was it about seeing the gap, knowing you could fill it, but then being brave enough to take the full leap?
VES: That’s actually a good question. I would say a lot of it’s managing, knowing how to differentiate between your needs and business needs. You are not your business, so being able to differentiate between those things is important.
Make sure, if you’re not an organized person, you become one. And take opportunities—You’ve got to take those opportunities seriously and really invest in yourself as far as preparation, so prepare yourself. I did a lot of reading and I did a lot of observation. I observed a lot of other business owners, how they interacted with the public, how they were doing things.
I’m a big believer in not reinventing the wheel, so I looked at the people who were successful around me and just wanted to find out what worked for them and try to emulate those things. I believe in learning from example. You are going to learn through experience, especially as a business owner. You’re going to fail. That’s okay.
CC: Last question—we have so many folks who want to make the leap you did. Any advice for them?
VES: I almost would encourage a certain stubbornness because if you can get talked out of your own idea, then you obviously don’t believe in it strongly enough to pursue it and take that risk.
Scale up in a way that makes sense for your business. We started off just setting up a vendor table, selling shirts at events. We weren’t printing it ourself at that time, we were just paying to get it printed. We didn’t have a brick and mortar location, we were just meeting at a coffee shop. We didn’t have a 9 to 5 schedule, we just met up when we were all available.
Lastly, invest in your business but also invest in the community around you. They are who makes it possible that your doors stay open—show them that you appreciate their business by giving back at the ground level.
Need your printing now? Visit 13bricks.com