Damon Baz Redd of Kind Design Discusses eCommerce, Topographic Art and Resilience in Business

In this Stickers on the Mic episode, Hamish sits down with Damon Baz Redd, the owner and founder of Kind Design, a custom clothing and lifestyle brand out of North Boulder. Hear what inspired Damon to get this business started, new products brought in along the way, and what is coming up next for this unique business out of Colorado.

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[00:00:08] Announcer: Welcome to the Stickers on the Mic Podcast, brought to you by stickergiant.com. Where we talk with our customers about how they started their business, how they're marketing their brand, and how they're growing their company. If you're joining us for the first time, welcome. If you are a regular listener, thank you for your continued support. Without further ado, it's time for the Stickers on the Mic Podcast from Sticker Giant. Let's get on with the show.

[00:00:44] Hamish: Welcome back to the Stickers on the Mic Podcast. My name is Hamish and I'll be your host for this episode. Joining me today is the founder of Kind Design, Damon Baz Redd. Damon, welcome to the show and thanks very much for being here.

[00:00:55] Damon: Thank you, Hamish. Happy to be here.

[00:00:57] Hamish: Glad to hear it. To start with, just give our listeners a quick introduction to Kind Design, a quick intro and explain what it is.

[00:01:05] Damon: Kind Design is a clothing and design company. We do a lot of very fun and different things. We have our own line of clothing, we do custom clothing, custom design, we do custom topographical ties for weddings and a whole lot more.

[00:01:26] Hamish: Nice. Before we get into the nitty-gritty stuff about the business, let's wind the clock back and talk about your background, how did you get into graphic design and what led you to starting your own company.

[00:01:38] Damon: [chuckles] Okay. I was living in Vail at the time-- What was it? 2008. I was feeling very inspired by that lifestyle I was living, which was working ski patrol all winter and I was whitewater raft guard all summer. I was never formally trained in graphic design but I wanted to start a little t-shirt company and was forced into graphic design because of that, but I was always creative so I did want to explore my creativity.

Basically, self-taught, Adobe illustrator, got better and better at it and just started doing more and more different things with it. My end goal is really to be able to help protect those beautiful places that I was living in, including the ski areas, skiing all winter and rafting all summer. Just making sure I work to conserve those places one day and we're finally getting there, 10 years later [chuckles].

[00:02:48] Hamish: I noticed in all your designs the topographic feature and style is something that's really prominent. What is it that drew you to that kind of design?

[00:02:56] Damon: I think one of the most beautiful patterns and designs are natural patterns and designs. Topography is so beautiful, and so different wherever you go. I always wanted to be able to separate the lines and the patterns away from all the information that you see on a typical topographic map. I knew applying them to artwork and clothing in a unique way had potential. People carry around a lot of pride for certain places, me included, and this is just an extension of that.

[00:03:34] Hamish: I think that's spot on, nature has its own amazing view you almost can't replicate and you just got to be amazed by it.

[00:03:42] Damon: The reality is there's a lot of artists out there that just do it in their own way, and this is how I do it.

[00:03:49] Hamish: I know on your website, 'About us' you talk about your wife, Kristen. How is it being a husband and wife set up, working together?

[00:03:59] Damon: My wife Kristen is amazing. She has joined the team and is now running the company because I know she will do a much better job than I did over the last 10 years. Obviously, after having three kids, the inspiration for the brand, while it started with the mountains, has now become just motivation to succeed and be able to provide for my family. They are the best. Very pleased that she's working with me, she's amazing.

[00:04:32] Hamish: I'm sure that it has its own benefits as well as its stresses, but like you said.

[00:04:38] Damon: Yes. We're figuring that out. I think the great thing about the two of us is that we are so different, that we have very clear cut roles on what we can do for the business. She is new to the company but so far it's been totally great. It's honestly great to spend more time with her and I actually work a lot better and more efficiently when she's around [laughs].

[00:05:04] Hamish: Nice. Are you sort of pivoting to the creative side of stuff and she's doing a little bit more of the administration?

[00:05:09] Damon: Yes, exactly. I'm going to focus more and more in creative and let her take over everything else.

[00:05:15] Hamish: Nice. I think that's actually a good thing to talk about. You're a self-taught illustrator in graphic design, how was it letting all the business stuff in the beginning? Presumably, this was your first business venture and you had to figure all that stuff out as well.

[00:05:29] Damon: Hamish, I'm still figuring that stuff out. I have a lot of great friends and family who are always happy to help and give me advice. I've learned a lot over the years and it's gotten to the point where I do want to know and understand every facet of the business but the reality is I can't do it all. My biggest skillset is the creative, so I think using my skillset the best and my wife's skillset the best will work out really good in the long run.

Running a business is not easy, I will say that. Especially when you didn't go to school for it, you never had a business plan and you just started from scratch, grassroots, organic. I think as we talked about yesterday, if you're kind, honest and work your butt off, good things will eventually happen.

[00:06:28] Hamish: I think that's actually a great time to what I wanted to talk about because you have a really authentic brand. The Kind Design, you explained to me the other day, is about being kind and doing good things. I feel that approach is really integrated into the brand in the way you like to give back and be part of the community.

[00:06:48] Damon: Kindness is a very important thing, I think it's infectious and I think the world needs more of it. Part of that is teaming up with non-profits that mean a lot to me for certain products. I teamed up with Western Resource Advocates to help conserve rivers and lakes across the west. I worked with Protect Our Winters to help all of this climate change stuff.

They do stuff at policy level, they're not just out there cleaning out the river and picking up trash, they're actually making a big difference. Another non-profit is Like High Fives, who help athletes with life-altering injuries, worked very closely with them. It's not always easy to give back but I think if you have time and you can, you should and more people should. Especially these days when you see a lot of bad stuff and you just want to help more.

[00:07:48] Hamish: I think it's more than a marketing play, it's intrinsic to your business, in your personality. Clearly, you get that from just talking to you just for a few minutes.

[00:07:56] Damon: Calling it Mean Designs would've been a bad play.

[laughter]

[00:08:02] Hamish: Doesn't quite have the same ring to it. I know you had some trouble in 2013, that was a real turning point from your business. Could you talk a little bit more about that?

[00:08:14] Damon: Sure. Let me get this PTSD under control [laughs]. We got hit by that big, thousand year, flood in Boulder. I just woke up and my whole business, which was in the basement of my house at the time, was under six feet of water and mud. It was obviously a big turning point, I lost everything I had built over five years but I'm happy I didn't give up [laughs]. We had so much support from friends and family helping clean up and salvage what we could.

Before the flood, I designed a couple of hats with our logo and the color of the flag in it. If you don't know, our logo was a water drop with a snowflake in it. The hats, they looked great and they actually looked like flood relief hats. It was too good to be true. I put them up on Facebook and threw it out there to basically try to dig myself out of debt because I actually didn't think I was going to save the company. Luckily, it went viral enough and we presold enough hats to save the company, it was an amazing turn.

Then we had this huge new following of people and we were able to ride that momentum for a little while, which was great. I think there's a silver lining, I was able to hit the reset button too. Before the flood, I had also created products and helped raise money for natural disasters like forest fires and stuff. There was all those fires going on in north Boulder and all that. I think people saw that we were on both sides of the equation. It's just a very humbling experience. I think it made me a better person for it.

[00:10:04] Hamish: It seems like the businesses only got up and up from there. You really managed to claw your way out of that terrible tragedy.

[00:10:13] Damon: [laughs] We're still dealing with the effects of it but I think it definitely will cause a positive thing in the long run, as strange as that sounds.

[00:10:26] Hamish: Yes. It's like you have a smile on your face. Glad it happened but obviously, that was just really tough time for sure.

[00:10:32] Damon: It was very tough. I'm happy my kids weren't born yet. That would have been a whole different-- We had to move out of the house and it was just stressful enough as it was and [laughs] adding kids to the equation would have been very, very difficult. Tough but still everything happens for a reason.

[00:10:55] Hamish: Yes, definitely. Even just seeing your space yesterday, you got a ton of cool merchandise in there and it looks like you're really breaking new ground. That's actually what I wanted to move on to next. Can you talk about the ties a little bit because it's different from the lifestyle, t-shirts, and stuff? It's a bit of a different play but it sounds like it's working out really well for you.

[00:11:18] Damon: Yes, for sure. We do these custom topographic ties for weddings specifically but we do for corporate and just one-offs for people who like them. I found out about this company in Denver, Knotty Tie and they were making ties in Denver using 100% recycled materials and they hire refugees with all the skill sets they need. It just fell in line with everything I believed in. I was working on all the ski area stuff so I pitched to them to do this line of ski area ties which is 60 different ski areas across the country, 20 different colors and they're made to order.

Selling ties is very difficult, I found out very quickly. I put a lot of effort into it and was not selling a lot of ties [chuckles] but I did notice that people were buying 10 or so at a time for weddings that were at the ski areas. The light bulb clicked and I started the custom topographic tie program so people can choose from over 500 colors, they can choose from topography for anywhere in the world. We do all the wedding accessories you can think of. Ties, bow ties, youth stuff, dog bandanas and it's just a really neat special accessory that has a lot more meaning than a tie you'd buy in a store.

Most people put the venue on it. Sometimes it's where he proposed to her or just sometimes it's where the groomsmen are from. It's really whatever people want as far as that goes and I know it's nice being in that industry because it's nice working with these couples who are wanting to have your product visible on one of the biggest days in their life and 99.9% of them are extremely grateful and wonderful to work with. It's kind of neat.

[00:13:21] Hamish: Yes, it's cool. I bet that's the kind of products that they're going to hang on to for the rest of their life.

[00:13:25] Damon: Absolutely.

[00:13:25] Hamish: That tie is not going to end up in the charity store or anything like that. They'll keep that for the rest of their lives. How do you go about launching a new product? Do you have a plan with ties? You said you started it and then you figured out the wedding things afterwards. What was the thought process between going into ties in the first place?

[00:13:45] Damon: I think I'm always venturing outside of what I typically do just to see if it works. I'm always testing products. There's no rhyme or reason if I can do stuff at certain minimums and just test them out. Even if I can breakeven on them it was worth the try. A lot of it's guess and check. You don't really know what's going to work and what's not going to work.

I think I just connected with what Knotty Tie was doing and their approach to their business. I'm always looking to collaborate with similar companies. Like I spoke to you about yesterday, we're doing something very similar with Ink Monster coming up here. I just always wanted to collaborate with local companies and produce something new and different than nobody had seen before.

[00:14:42] Hamish: For sure. I think the first time I looked at those I was like, "I've never seen anything like that."

[00:14:46] Damon: [laughs] I don't think anybody else is doing it.

[00:14:48] Hamish: No, I think you might be the first one for sure. From ties, let's talk a little about stickers. How did they play into your product mix?

[00:14:56] Damon: Stickers have been a very important part of our business and it's so funny just because I never would have thought it would be such a big part but we-- Every one of our products comes with a decal. It's typically just our snowdrop logo, doesn't even say Kind Design because to me it's something that people can relate with. I want people to start a dialogue about it, like say, "What is that? Where did you get that?"

I don't love the overt branding and I try to stay away from it as much as possible. We've sold more stickers than I could ever imagine too on top of giving them away. When people place bigger orders, we always toss extra stickers in and people slap them on their cars, water bottles, they're visible. I don't know, it's just a great way to subtly brand and get your name out there.

[00:15:54] Hamish: Yes, it's something we do heavily as well when we talk about delighting customers. Every time I get stuff, I'm like, "Where are the stickers?" It's like, I don't want to brand out my garage or whatever else, sticking them on. I think they work for all kinds of businesses.

[00:16:06] Damon: People connect with certain brands and places and they're happy to help show them off and support them. It just goes along with my brand and all the practical places we try to promote.

[00:16:23] Hamish: Yes. I know. Thrown in with that, you do the handwritten notes with orders as well. It's like that little extra delight moment for people.

[00:16:30] Damon: I don't even remember, I'm sure I was inspired by somebody, another company that wrote me a handwritten note and I just think there's a huge disconnect with e-commerce these days and shopping online and just the customer experience. When I got a handwritten note from StickerGiant, I was also very pleasantly surprised.

[laughs]

[00:16:53] Hamish: That's good to hear. I think you put it really well, creating a personal connection in an otherwise quite disconnected world. Especially as well, obviously, your web store, kinddesign.co for anyone who wants to go check it out. I definitely encourage you to, there's really rad merchandise on there. It is that you sell in a digital space and advertise in a digital space. It's bringing it back to a personal connection. To pivot to that, how do you go about marketing your website?

[00:17:27] Damon: We use all the typical social media platforms. We have our email newsletter that you can sign up to at the footer of our website, but I think Instagram is our current focus. Facebook as everybody knows their algorithm changes weekly. We had 22,000 followers after the flood there and I would get 1,000 likes on a post and then one day I just started getting like five likes on a post and it's just like, "Well, you guys--" You got to pay to play it there.

Instagram is very visual and easy to use for the short attention spans people have these days. We do most of it there. Then, we actually are just starting to do a bunch of stuff on Pinterest, especially with the topo ties because a lot of couples create their wedding in Pinterest and they try to find all of their ideas and create a board. It's just a great way for people to organize their thoughts for weddings.

[00:18:39] Hamish: Yes, it's a great point. I'm sure there's a ridiculously high percentage of searches on Pinterest probably related to weddings. I know it's probably one of their biggest categories. That's a good point about just being where your customers are for sure and with your visual designs, I totally get why Instagram works so well. It's the visual platform. Shame about Facebook. Facebook, like you said, it's tricky. You are going to have to figure out what you're doing.

[00:19:04] Damon: Yes, and it's not like we don't use it. We just don't use it as much as we used to use it. I don't want to say print's dead but we've experimented with print and as far as ads go, [laughs] it's one of those things where you can't track it. Who the heck knows.

[00:19:23] Hamish: I can't imagine getting into those wedding magazines is going to be particularly affordable for an advertising.

[00:19:27] Damon: Yes, or any print.

[00:19:30] Hamish: Stickers. That's why I say stickers--

[00:19:31] Damon: I meant any print ad.

[00:19:33] Hamish: No, I'm with you. I always say stickers are the only form of print advertising that still works.

[00:19:38] Damon: That's a good point. That is actually true because that's worked the best for us as far as anything we print goes.

[00:19:46] Hamish: Yes. Having worked in publishing for a short time, I know what it's like in terms of just trying to track anything is so difficult. I think digital is definitely where it's at, especially when you have a website and lots of visual products you want to get people on that browsing stuff. I know you mentioned as well you do some athletes sponsorship. I know it's on your social media, you're quite involved obviously in skiing, your background. I suppose that's another way that you're putting yourself out there with mountain culture and community.

[00:20:17] Damon: Yes. I will say skiing is my first and biggest passion. My parents put me on the hill at like 18 months, which is probably why I did the same to my three kids and I love it more than any other sport or recreational activity in the world. I do know that I’ve always wanted to be in the ski industry in some capacity. Again, it was a large part of the inspiration behind the company and yes, did I not answer your question?

[laughter]

[00:20:58] Hamish: I think you got it. I was thinking about the athletes I know when I look at your Facebook page, you're working with one of the quadriplegic skiers, that looked really awesome.

[00:21:08] Damon: Yes. Trevor Kennison, this kid is doing unbelievable stuff. He's just hocking massive cliffs on his set ski and he works with High Fives who is the non-profit that I work with very closely out of Tahoe. Most of our athletes are skiers but we sponsor a couple of other different kinds of athletes and I think that's just a reflection of us being in that industry, started the company in Vail.

Most of the athletes you'll see they're in Vail Valley or Colorado in general, so I think part of what we do with our athletes is make sure that they give back in some way also and they say on top of their grades and they're good, kind people. A lot of people want to be sponsored by a lot of companies but I think we just have to have all the same views and morals. I guess that's it. [laughs]

[00:22:15] Hamish: I totally agree, you have to have a good cultural fit and somebody that goes out and represents your company in the best light and represents it as you would represent it yourself.

[00:22:25] Damon: See, Hamish, you said it better than me. Thank you.

[00:22:28] Hamish: [laughs] It’s all right. It’s what I’m here for. In terms of any tips that you might have for somebody else trying to start a new business, we’re always trying to bring it back and for our listeners we hope we're reaching a small business audience and we want to try and get some of those ideas out there for how people can succeed in their own space.

[00:22:52] Damon: Man, that is the million dollar question. I think everybody would start a business if it was easy. Again, I'll go back to being kind, honest and working hard are three very important things. In retrospect, I wish I did a little more business stuff in school, took design classes, had a business plan ready, maybe I'd be in a different place, maybe it wouldn't be the place that I want to be so it's hard to say. I think for everybody it's different, but don't take shortcuts, don't just want to succeed to be successful.

There needs to be something else behind it and I don't know exactly what that is for everybody but I know what it is for me and I’m starting to see the future of Kind Design finally 10 years later which is pretty cool. I've never been able to say, "Here's my five year plan," because I was always so fast paced trying to do different things, figure out what I was good at, what was making money, what made sense for me but it's nice and comforting to know, "Okay, this is the direction I'm going to take the company and I want to be completely unique and I want to be kind and give back." I think at the end of the day that's it for me.

[00:24:21] Hamish: Yes. No, I think that's a great answer and it’s a great piece of advice. What's next for Kind Design?

[00:24:28] Damon: What’s next? Well, I'm going to sell and move to the South of France. [laughs] just kidding. We recently launched these really great prints that are topographical prints of the ski areas around the country and we're about to launch a river version of these prints so big rivers and sections of rivers for both rafting and fly fishing. We're not only going to do the prints but we're going to be applying these to functional clothing whether it's buffs for skiing and fishing.

We're doing leggings, we’re doing all kinds of fun stuff and we're going to be working with Ink Monster down in Denver to do some made-to-order clothing that's completely unique made in Colorado, functional material. For all these things, for the ski stuff, we're working with Protect Our Winters and then for the river stuff we're working with Western Resource Advocates, donating $2 from each product back to them and the conservation of these places.

[00:25:43] Hamish: That sounds really cool. When I took a look at the board shorts yesterday with the Grand Canyon river running through the middle of it and they just look so awesome.

[00:25:53] Damon: Yes, we have a line of Colorado River shots. Last year we launched the headwaters Glenwood Canyon and Moab and then this year we’ll be launching the Grand Canyon shorts. I surfed when I lived in Florida, I was a raft guide obviously for years and I know what I like with board shots and I think they're more functional than the average board shot. I do not agree with using Velcro on board shorts as they just deteriorate. I also don't like pockets down low so I put the pockets up high in the hip so your stuff doesn't bang against your knee. I think it's just a great product four-way stretch, quick drive and looking forward to seeing that line develop as well.

[00:26:44] Hamish: Yes, I know it definitely sounds like you designed it with the user in mind. It's not just about style, it's about functionality especially somewhere like Colorado we want our outdoor gear to work really well, as well as look pretty cool too.

[00:26:56] Damon: Yes, actually we were in Outside Magazine’s buyers got it last year and they were the coziest in the mix was their review. That was a great little review from a big publication.

[00:27:08] Hamish: Yes, that’s right. We're coming up on time so thanks so much for sharing your story and we just like to wrap things up. Obviously, shout out your website, social media handles, where can people find you, are you going to be at any event, stuff like that. Let people know where they can come find you.

[00:27:26] Damon: Sure. We're located in Gunbarrel, North Boulder and you're always welcome to stop by if you’re in the area. Website is kinddesign.co and our handle on Instagram is @kinddesign. We will be at the GoPro Games coming up this summer in Vail, set up in the vendor merch section which will be pretty exciting. We've been setting up with High Fives there for the past few years helping them so it'll be nice to let them do their thing.

I think they'll be more successful doing that and we’ll be more successful doing our thing. Other than that, you're always welcome to reach out if you have any questions. Our number one priority is customer service especially since our customers saved our company so do not hesitate to reach out if we can help you with anything.

[00:28:21] Hamish: That's awesome. Well, thank you, everyone, for tuning in to this episode. It's been amazing talking to Damon and we're going to put links to his website and social media in the show description so if you didn't catch those you can find them there. Definitely go check out his store, the merchandise is awesome and if you happen to be at the GoPro Games up in Vail swing by the booth and see the stuff for yourself. Thanks very much for listening and remember, every sticker has a story.

[00:28:45] Damon: Thanks, Hamish.

[music]

[00:28:52] Announcer: That wraps up this episode of Stickers on the Mic, brought to you by stickergiant.com. You can download us on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, SoundCloud or your favorite podcatcher. If you enjoy what you're hearing please leave us a review, it helps us reach new listeners and share our customer's sticker stories. Thanks again for listening to Stickers on the Mic.

[music]

[00:29:23] [END OF AUDIO]

 

 

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