Capturing cult Kiwiana on cotton
Robert Ewan, director of Mr Vintage, turned a small T-shirt importing venture into a successful business. He chats with Julian Raethel about following pop culture.
Keeping up with New Zealand pop culture is Robert Ewan’s way of life.
He’s the director of T-shirt retailer Mr Vintage.
He has turned his sense for what’s trending and crowdpleasing into a successful enterprise.
His Sandringham-based business has capitalised on everything Kiwiana, from charities to sporting legends.
The journey started when Ewan began importing T-shirts from the United States in 2004 – many based on the Transformers cartoon franchise of the 1980s.
Ewan quickly switched on to the fact there was a growing market for nostalgic prints.
‘‘I started selling them on Trade Me, it was something fun to do,’’ the Sandringham resident says.
‘‘One of the very first ones I sold was a My Little Pony T-shirt.
‘‘It’s people buying on an emotional connection to the past ... Saturday mornings watching cartoons.’’
Ewan was holding down a part-time job selling wine while studying for his business degree.
He started putting his learnings into practice and branched out to hunt for ‘‘vintage’’ clothing.
‘‘I’d go into these secondhand shops in Papatoetoe and bribe the old ladies with wine.
‘‘I asked them to put aside the Ralph Lauren and Polo branded shirts for me,’’ he says.
‘‘Every Friday I did the circuit.’’
However selling clothes on Trade Me soon became too much work.
Sitting in his AUT lecture theatre, the penny dropped.
‘‘I was doing work stuff on my computer while in my lectures,’’ Ewan says.
‘‘There was just no time for uni stuff.
‘‘I took a step back and thought: I’ve got this business here so I’ve got to take the opportunity before someone else does.
‘‘No regrets – I’ve learned so much more than I ever could have at uni,’’ he says.
Importing T-shirts from the United States became too expensive so Ewan made the switch to local in 2007.
Mr Vintage began printing its own designs and almost a decade on it’s stronger than ever.
Ewan now collaborates with artists on what’s next.
‘‘I don’t have a personal favourite,’’ he says of his prints.
‘‘It’s like asking a parent who their favourite child is,’’ he says.
Mr Vintage was able to capitalise on the Black Caps’ recent Cricket World Cup success story as players became cult heroes thanks to the Alternative Cricket Commentary team.
Nicknames such as the ‘‘The Hairy Javelin’’ Grant Elliot and ‘‘Steady the Ship’’ Kane Williamson were immortalised in print.
‘‘I have a close relationship with the ACC guys through the Beige Brigade,’’ Ewan says.
‘‘They created all the content for us ... we put it on print.’’
As for the upcoming Rugby World Cup, Ewan and his team have a few ideas.
But for the most part he says it’s best to stick to the formula that works.
‘‘It’s all topical, reactive stuff. Then it happens and we pounce on it.’’
Robert Ewan, director of Mr Vintage T-Shirts, says his success is all thanks to pop culture.