The Cake Over: How a Simple Idea Can Become a Phenomenon.


A couple years back, I came across a company called Johnny Cupcake and was in awe of just how such a simple idea, a man, a brand and a t-shirt, had become an underground phenomenon. By playing off a common theme…cupcakes and cross bones, he would go on to create one of the most sought after clothing items this side of the Louie rag.

Johnny Cupcake started modestly enough back in 2001 by rocker turned t-shirt maker, Johnny Earle, as another outlet for his creative expression. After realizing that he was way more into his t-shirts than he was in his band, he decided to go hard and grind it out full - time. Not many people would give up a dream to be a rock star, especially after just signing to a major label, to only sell shirts. But he did.

Like all dreamers, Johnny thought being at a major chain was the move. You know, get rich… in a hurry. But the idea of having his work everywhere, on everyone, all at once, wasn’t how he saw his company growing. (Don’t you just love stories of people turning down perfectly good money?). He decided to go at it alone. Dolo. For self. The hard way. He went so far as to make his t-shirts in just a few limited runs. He threw what he called “Cupperware” parties, where he took appointments to come by someone’s house and sell his …wears. Keeping his shirts in just a few stores and handling most of the sales himself, was probably the wisest decision he made. He was able to keep creative control over how his brand was seen and talked about.

His first store was inside of an old boathouse in his neighborhood of Boston. Since not that many people seemed to where he was headquartered, he in turn created a frenzied movement and an air of exclusivity. Those who saw it, wished they could rock it. The few who rocked it, felt special. In 2007, he had become a quiet success and opened his first store on the ritzy strip of Newbury Street in Boston. Lines of customers wrapped around the block to shop in his store.

From the now infamous “oven baked” tees, to the aprons the sales people wear, creative branding and hyper locale marketing is a huge part of its success. Johnny Cupcake has not only been able to keep his clothing freshly baked, but his brand continues to be hot in the streets.

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