It all started with a simple idea – design fresh high-quality unique items. Just one month after I had graduated college, married my high-school sweetheart, moved to Burlington, VT, and started a full-time design job, I found myself brainstorming about launching my own brand centered around my love for typography and minimal design. I felt like the design culture at the time was really lacking in this area, and apparently this design sensibility connected with many people all around the world. What started as an outlet for my passion and entrepreneurial experiment quickly grew into much more than just selling a few shirts.
Ugmonk didn’t start with a formal business plan and in fact I had very little background in business. Rather than following the “traditional” model of starting a business, I just tried to apply common sense and research to figure things out as they came up. I’ve found that the best way of learning is by doing.
After launching Ugmonk in August of 2008, with just 4 designs and 200 total shirts, things accelerated quickly. We were featured on several blogs and sales started rolling in from countries all around the world. Then things really took off with the release of what’s become Ugmonk’s signature design And Then I Woke Up.
Through the first two years, we continued to build Ugmonk by working late nights and weekends refining designs, organizing logistics, and packing orders. Each new release received an enthusiastic response from the community and knowledge of the brand spread organically through word of mouth and online features. My dream of starting my own brand was no longer just a dream.
Just before Ugmonk’s 2nd anniversary, I decided to leave my full-time design job so that I could focus all of my energies on the passion that I had for Ugmonk. As part of this change, my wife and I moved back to our hometown in PA, and my parents graciously agreed to allow their house to become the Ugmonk warehouse and shipping center.
The celebration of Ugmonk’s 2nd Anniversary was a huge success and took the Ugmonk concept to a whole new level with the 2nd Anniversary Collector’s Set. Each limited edition shirt was packaged in a custom wood box, along with an individually-numbered wooden coin, and signed collector’s card.
The thought that went into creating the set was noticed by an editor at Computer Arts magazine based in the UK, and Ugmonk was featured on 7 pages of the December 2010 issue. This feature and the feedback we continued to receive from our fans assured me that Ugmonk was filling a niche and providing designs and products that people could appreciate and support.
As the 2010 holiday season approached, we took another big step and moved beyond t-shirts, adding sketchbooks, prints, and the first Ugmonk mug. These new products reinforced the vision that I had: Ugmonk is more than just t-shirts, it’s about design, simplicity, and a mindset. Ugmonk will always remain a design-driven brand where design and quality come first.
Another pillar of Ugmonk is the desire to give back to those in need. Just a few months after opening shop, we decided to hold our first annual Ugmonk Gives Back charity drive – donating to children in need for each item sold during the holiday season. Each year we’ve partnered with Samaritan’s purse, and through three years we’ve been able to give over 2000 meals to needy children around the world. We are grateful for the support of our customers and the ability to share our success with those in need.
Through the magic of the internet, Ugmonk has become a global brand. Ugmonk shirts have been shipped to customers in more than 55 countries around the world. Additionally small shops and boutiques in several countries carry Ugmonk items to offer to their customers locally. In the US, a couple Ugmonk designs were even picked up by Urban Outfitters and were carried in their retail stores around the country.
Ugmonk has been featured in print publications such as Computer Arts, TypoTees, Typoshirt One; on popular websites such as Cool Hunting, Behance, I Love Typography, NotCot, Cool Material, Lovely Package and many others; and has even been spotted on various television media outlets including ABC, MTV, Project Runway, the Disney Channel, and Dutch national televison.
While it’s fascinating and exciting to see Ugmonk show up in mass media, it really is just as fun to hear about people who randomly spot someone wearing Ugmonk on the street and discover the brand that way. No matter how big the brand gets, I want to keep the personal touch and service that people have come to know with Ugmonk. My goal is to provide each customer with the same innovative designs, quality goods, and excellent customer service that I would want. We want “Ugmonk” to become simply another way to say “great designs and superior service.”
Jeff Sheldon makes his home in Downingtown, PA with his wife and their Boston Terrier Pixel. He graduated with a B.S. in graphic design in 2008 and has a passion for all things design. When he’s not designing or scheming up the next Ugmonk release, he’s probably raving about Chipotle, trying to dominate Settlers of Catan, planning his next snowboarding trip, or sleeping.