I Met Brand Master Johnny Earle, CEO of Johnny Cupcakes!

aerialardour_johnnycupcakes_jeffjohnnyme01

Look at that cute lil cupcakin’ family. ;P Here’s my hub-hubs Jeff, Johnny Cupcakes CEO Johnny Earle, and me.

As a longtime fan of cupcakes and t-shirts, my world changed 5 years ago when I found out there was a company that sold t-shirts with cupcakes on them. Not just any cupcakes. But COOL cupcakes. With his iconic cupcakes-and-crossbones logo, Johnny Cupcakes CEO and “Head Baker” Johnny Earle brought this cutesy little frosted pastry to the masses by integrating bold and rockin’ design with humor and playfulness.

aerialardour_johnnycupcakes_van01

The Johnny Cupcakes van. According to the video they posted on their site, they slept in it when they arrived the night before.

If you haven’t read his story, I strongly encourage you to read it on his website here. It’s extremely inspiring, and it will put a smile on your face. Johnny Cupcakes is a company that values high quality products and loves its customers. Despite his phenomenal international success, Johnny Earle continues to give the brand a homegrown feel by taking the time meet and chat with his fans. So he hits two of the basic elements of a successful business: great product and great customer service.

So years ago, I bought my first Johnny Cupcakes t-shirt and was hooked. Ever since then, my husband has been giving me a steady stream of JC gear as wonderful gifts. ^_^

As a part of Johnny’s tradition (and genius brand formula), he does tours of pop-up shops around the country. Since he only has stores in Boston, L.A., Martha’s Vineyard, and London (haha, “only”), this is quite a treat to his fans around the country and the world. To celebrate Halloween this year and promote his latest line, he’s doing what he’s dubbed a “coffin tour” called Cupcakes From the Crypt.

I was so excited when I saw Chicago was one of the stops on his tour!

aerialardour_johnnycupcakes_tourlist01

Chicago! Yaaaaaay!

I was even more excited when I found out he was setting up his Chicago shop in one of my favorite stores in the world, Rotofugi, a designer toy store and art gallery in Lakeview. Having never been to a JC tour, Jeff and I were anxious to see how it went down.

aerialardour_johnnycupcakes_rotofugi01

Rotofugi’s signage. According to their site, the name comes from a combo of the owners’ beagle-shihtzu puppy (his name is “Fugi”) and the vaguely Asian-sounding word, “roto.”

Having heard that there are usually lines for Johnny’s tour stops, we decided to get there early, and it’s a good thing we did! There was quite a line already, at one hour before the official event start time. But the line system was well organized. To avoid petty line fights, someone behind the counter at Rotofugi handed us each a ticket with a number on it, which represented your place in line. (Jeff was #85, and I was #86, which I was excited about, due to my fandom for ‘Get Smart.’ :D)

aerialardour_johnnycupcakes_linenumber01

My line number: 86. As in, Secret Agent 86. ;D

It was a chilly wait, because this was the day Chicago decided to officially click into fall weather. Oh yes. We endured wind and cold for about an hour. But Jeff and I and everyone in line were in good spirits! That’s what we noticed about Johnny Cupcake’s fans. Everyone was there to have fun. No stressin’.

aerialardour_johnnycupcakes_lineoutside01

It’s a good thing we got here early. Check out the line the formed behind us!

Jeff and I developed a playful kinship with a group of girls next to us who were cracking jokes during our wait. “Let’s all play a game!” one of them chimed, “Maybe it’ll help us warm up!” (We didn’t end up playing a game, though. Maybe we were just too excited to get in.)

The event organizer was letting in people from the line, ten at a time, so we had fun counting down to our turn. “Oooh, we’re getting closer!” someone would say.

aerialardour_johnnycupcakes_mejeff01

It’s cold as heck, but we’re happy as clams! (Speaking of which, who determined that the default state of clams is ‘happy’?)

When we finally made it inside, we were greeted with a menu of our t-shirt choices. It was literally a menu! Ah, another one of Johnny’s great attention to detail and strong branding. It was also a smart idea to keep the line flowing smoothly, so by the time you got to the pop-up shop, you knew what you wanted and could order right away.

aerialardour_johnnycupcakes_menucover01

Menu cover for the freshly baked goods.

aerialardour_johnnycupcakes_menuopen01

The menu presented a fun array of different Halloween-themed designs, but Jeff and I had our eyes on one particular design, which proved to be quite popular.

It was another hour until the line took us to the actual pop-up shop and we were able to make our purchase, but it was a fun experience, which is what I imagine Johnny wanted for his fans. There was excited chatter amongst those in line, so good spirits and camaraderie continued inside.

aerialardour_johnnycupcakes_lineinside01

Line inside. We were happy to be in from the cold… and to see Johnny, of course!

Also, Rotofugi’s gallery displayed a wonderful exhibit with fun, colorful pieces, so we kept ourselves occupied by pointing out the various works of art.

When we finally got to the pop-up shop, we saw each of the t-shirts were on mannequins that seemed to have risen from their coffins, and each mannequin head was covered with a creepy mask, which really pushed the creepy Halloween feel and more importantly, kept within the theme of this tour. Love!

Every aspect of Johnny’s brand oozes with creativity and consistency. I was delighted at every turn. The friendly lady behind the coffins took our orders, and I was psyched to have gotten the last t-shirt design of my choice in my size. Whew! The checkout process was smooth as well. I added a limited edition Coffin Tour Pin Pack and Johnny Cupcakes Brand Book to our purchase.

aerialardour_johnnycupcakes_mannequin01

Great display presenting the t-shirt design of our choice. The display was decked out in Halloween-ness, complete with fake webs, that kept getting caught in my jewelry. 😛

Then we hopped back in the line to actually meet Johnny himself. But then I was starting to get nervous. I’ve been such a longtime fan, that I started to worry about whether or not he was actually as nice as his press portrays him to be. What if he can smile and be playful for the cameras as his website shows, but what if he’s actually aloof and annoyed and tired? (While on a 21-city tour with back-to-back days, wouldn’t you be tired? Wouldn’t that be hard to hide?)

Other worries popped up in my mind. If you’ve attended a standard meet and greet before, you’ll know that your time with the featured person is usually rushed (although understandably so), there’s a bodyguard that tells you not to touch anything or anyone, there’s a limit on how many times and what items the person can sign, and there’s a limit on pictures… if you can take pictures at all.

Basically, I was worried that my pristine and childlike view of the Johnny Cupcakes brand would be tarnished. (I know, maybe I have issues. 😛 But you can see where I’m coming from, right?)

After a little more of a wait, it was finally our turn! When Jeff and I stepped up, Johnny was the first to say hi. My first thought, “He’s so cute and little!” With a soft spoken demeanor and baby face, it was crazy-awesome to think that he’s the grand master – ahem – Head Baker 😀 – of an international retail company.

He asked us our names and shook our hands and asked where we were from. We told him how big of fans we were of his, and he thanked us graciously with a sweet smile. Then his eye caught my pinup tattoo, and he was wowed by the detail and was lavish with his compliments. I thanked him, and then he noticed I was wearing a Johnny Cupcakes t-shirt, which he expressed appreciation for with a smile.

He also noticed I was wearing my Johnny Cupcakes dangly silver earrings, and I told him Jeff gave them to me for Christmas a couple years ago, which he enjoyed hearing.

Then I told him how much we love his designs and how inspiring his story and his brand are, and how much of an inspiration he’s been to Aerial Ardour. I told him I make it a point to work with clients who value their brand and brand look, and I see he does that with Johnny Cupcakes.

aerialardour_johnnycupcakes_signedshirt01

Johnny was so cool and signed my shirt from a previous printing!

He then asked about my design work and gave me some great advice about working with more clients I want to work with. I responded with my own thoughts, and then in the midst of it, I realized, “Holy crap, we’re talking about business right now! There’s a whole line of people waiting to see this wonderful guy who’ve already waited 2+ hours, and he’s taking the time to talk to me about what makes a successful business.”

Wow.

I then offered him my business card, and he was impressed with the heft of the paper weight. (Yay!)

Then he said, “Ooh! Let me see if I have mine with me, so I could give you one.” (Double yay!)

His business card also had some nice heft. 😀 And of course, it was impeccably designed. He also presented the card in the great Japanese tradition of presenting with both hands, card facing me, and with a slight bow. Wow. This guy knew his stuff.

aerialardour_johnnycupcakes_bizcard01

Johnny’s designs are spot on, right down to his business card. LOVE.

He also took the time to sign the shirt I was wearing, as well as the JC brand book we had purchased. He wrote our names and had a great message to go with his signature. (There was a slight slip-up with the spelling of my name at first since, you know, my mom decided to spell my name as “Irene” but with an “A.” 😛 But Johnny saved it and made a great font from it.)

aerialardour_johnnycupcakes_goodies01

Here are all our goodies, including the Johnny Cupcakes Brand Book that Johnny signed. “Keep positive,” he signed below our names and his signature. He keeps his overall message consistent in every touchpoint of his brand.

Then we took a picture with the help of the person who was next in line, and it took a couple of tries to get it right, but we finally got a great shot. Johnny even took the time to change our position in order to get better lighting.

aerialardour_johnnycupcakes_jeffjohnnyme01

Johnny took the time to shift our positions so we could get the best lighting. His attention to detail and consideration for his fans are just two of the infinite elements to his success.

Feeling we were taking up some time, Jeff and I started our good byes, and even as we were leaving, Johnny stopped us to offer me more words of wisdom for my business. Wow. This was surreal! I thanked him graciously, wished him luck for the rest of his tour, and he gave me a hug and we were on our way. Wow.

So all my worries were unwarranted.

Mr. Johnny Earle IS as sweet and IS as genuine as everyone says he is. Jeff and I walked away feeling so special and even BIGGER fans of Johnny Cupcakes.

THIS is why Johnny Earle has sustained a successful business. He really truly absolutely values his fans. He invests his time with his fans, and they give back tenfold.

For the rest of the day, I had such a great high from the experience. I felt special, and I felt happy, which is what Johnny wants his fans to feel when they experience his brand. (Note that I said, “experience his brand,” and not merely, “buy his t-shirts.”)

And from this, I have resolved to buy even MORE Johnny Cupcakes products.

And THAT is why Mr. Johnny Earle is a brand master.

What do you think are attributes that a company must possess in order to be a brand master? Share your comments below!

Thanks for reading!

And go buy something from Johnny Cupcakes! 😀

P.S. In Johnny Cupcakes’ video from the Chicago stop below, you can catch a glimpse of me and Jeff behind the window at 2:18 when Johnny takes the time to high five some fans walking by Rotofugi.

>

Help Flood Relief in the Philippines

As a Filipino American, I had to post this one.

On August 6, Tropical Storm Haikui wreaked havoc into the capital city of the Philippines: Manila. My awesome mom was born and raised in Manila, and a lot of my family still resides there. Tropical Storm Haikui brought massive flooding and landslides, over 800,000 people were evacuated from their homes and 250,000 people have moved into emergency shelters. And still, an estimated 2 million people live in informal settlements in high risk areas along river beds that are prone to flooding.

Threadless is selling a t-shirt design in which 100% of the net proceeds from the sale of this tee will go to Architecture for Humanity’s Philippines Floods Response Program.

Yes! 100%! When was the last time you heard that in regards to a proceeds promo?

Their goal is to raise at least $100,000 to execute a disaster resiliency and reconstruction program and provide communities with the skills and training needed to mitigate the impacts of future flooding.

On their blog, Threadless featured the t-shirt artists, fellow Filipino designers Feanne and AJ Dimarucot, and their beautiful t-shirt design that incorporates elements of the Filipino flag and culture.

Even the title of the design is beautiful: “Bayanihan,” which is a word that refers to the spirit of a community that unites to achieve a goal. How appropriate and perfect.

I’m particularly a fan of this design, because I find that it’s easy to have the elements of a design featuring the Filipino flag come together and look hokey. (That, or I’ve seen way too many ill-designed Filipino-themed tattoos. :P)

This is a design I would proudly wear both for the aesthetics and even more for what it stands for.

I got my t-shirt.

It would mean a lot to me – and the several thousands of others in Manila – if you got yours too.

You can purchase the Bayanihan design from Threadless here.

Salamat (thank you) for reading!

A Brand-Spankin’ New Website

As I smattered all over the Facebook and Twitter on Friday, I am BEYOND EXCITED for the launch of my new website!

THE OLD

What was my old website like? Before Friday, it was simply a Tumblr template redirected to a vanity URL. No diss to anyone who uses that method. It certainly worked for me! (It was free, and it took zero time to put it together.)

However, at the beginning of this year, I had a rash of requests for proposals that ended up with the potential clients not taking me completely seriously. They had found me through my website, and after great initial meetings and phone calls, when it came time to reviewing a proposal, they would be shocked – hell, even borderline insulted – when it came to the sticker price, despite my experience and portfolio containing work for fairly large and reputable companies.

It also strongly struck me when I lost out on a particular project earlier this year. I was so sure I had it in the bag. I had asked the potential client why he chose not to go with me, and said this: “You need to toot your horn a little louder.”

Aye.

He was right. I was too meek for my own good.

Clients want someone who is confident in their work. I am confident… but I needed to SHOW it.

My old site didn’t fit what I wanted to communicate to people. It was clunky and amateurish. It didn’t accurately and fairly represent the services I could offer to potential clients, and it didn’t fairly represent the work I had already done for so many of my amazing clients.

THE EPIPHANY

I did some soul-searching. I looked at my branding, my language. Ah HA! There it was.

I had resolved that my website was… not a real website – at least for a designer who was expecting to be taken seriously. I realized I had been wearing boxer shorts and a flannel shirt to interviews with Fortune 500 companies and then was shocked when the hiring manager asked me to work for less than minimum wage.

Essentially, I wasn’t representing myself the way I wanted to be treated. When I first started freelancing, I had quickly put together a website, naively resting on my laurels, thinking that my portfolio would speak for itself. Boy, what a cocky and foolish thing to think. A portfolio will only take you so far. The right clothes can take you further.

So I got serious and, with a pep talk and the help and dedication from a very talented developer, I got it done!

WHAT GETS IN THE WAY? A LOT OF TIMES, YOURSELF.

Getting the website done was also quite a feat, because after taking this project to a handful of developers already who couldn’t take the project home for me, 3 years later, my custom website is now a real thing. I had always intended to have a custom designed website, but I used my busy workload as the eternal excuse for not getting it done. This whole story is the classic cautionary tale that I relate to potential clients. How ironic that I didn’t heed my own advice.

But now, here I am, excited and proud to refer people to my site, instead of mumbling an apology/disclaimer.

The site was developed by my great friend and fellow lady entrepreneur, social media maven, and WordPress queen, Laura Oldham of El-Be Social Marketing. She brought my vision to life!! 😀 THANK YOU, Laura, for making this magic happen! (Seriously, as I was going through my list of custom plug-in requests and sent her my design, I was sure Laura would come back and tell me that I couldn’t do a couple of things. But no. She told me I could do all of those things. And better.)

THE FEATURES

As you can see, the website features a little bit about me, large images of my work as well as comments about each project, social sharing buttons on each project, a blog, and the ability for anyone to contact me directly through the website.

I’m also excited about the widgets at the very bottom of the website that connect you to my Instagram feed, Twitter feed, and also showcases friends’ and colleagues’ websites in my industry whose work I admire. (Laura did an AMAZING job with those widgets.)

I’m excited about this, because after years of slacking on a decent website (hey, clients get taken care of first!), I am excited to finally have myself look like a legit company. ;D I’ve been blessed with having great clients, and I’m excited to showcase them all on my website. I look forward to many more years of working with fantastic clients.

2012: THE YEAR OF SWAGGER

In January, when I was lamenting to Laura about the pitfalls of not giving my own branding enough attention, we had determined that we both are naturally inclined to hesitate talking too much about ourselves. Humility is great, but not when it’s detrimental. So we resolved to do better this year. As Laura awesomely put it, 2012 would be The Year of Swagger. Laura has been fulfilling her end of the bargain by working on more exciting projects with great clients… and I’m now finally happy to have begun fulfilling my end of the bargain.

Introducing: VeeV® VitaFrute™

This is the huge project I’ve been working on from the bottom up since… holy crap, January.

January!

VeeV Açaí Spirit® – The World’s First Açaí Spirit – is taking on the ready-to-drink beverage category and has launched VeeV VitaFrute™ Cocktails as of this month!

Check it: http://veevlife.com/vita-frute/

VeeV VitaFrute promotional poster.


Look at those colorful, delicious bottles!

I worked in conjunction with Spring Design Partners to complete the bottle label designs.

VeeV VitaFrute label designs.


I also had a hand in finalizing the logo, brand book, sell sheets, case design, and a number of other brand design components. 

VeeV Spirits has been so fantastic throughout the process of creating the VeeV VitaFrute™ brand, as they were with creating the VeeV brand.

VeeV VitaFrute™ is pretty awesome for the following reasons:

  • The cocktails are made with VeeV Açaí Spirit®.
  • They come in three flavors: Organic Lemonade (yes, really organic! Trust me, we had to go through a ton of red tape and specifics to make sure it was), Margarita, and Organic Cosmopolitan.
  • They’re ready to go, so all you have to do is pour over ice and drink up!
  • That means it’s super easy for parties… as well as those days where you just don’t feel like whipping out the cocktail shaker. (As much into mixology as I am, there are definitely those days! Haha, yes, first world problems.)
  • And um… each of the cocktails are under 125 calories. YES!

VeeV VitaFrute™ case stack mockup. Look out for these in a liquor store near you!

Where can you find some?

Keep up with VeeV on Facebook and Twitter for updates. I know as of today, VeeV VitaFrute™ is currently available in New York with steady distribution continuing throughout the country.

My heartfelt thanks to VeeV Spirits for the honor of trusting me with their brand new baby! I have no doubt they’ll match if not surpass the success of the VeeV brand with this new endeavor. 

Mmmm, Margarita… hey, it’s Friday! ;P Cheers, and thank you for reading!

‘Egg & Dart’ Menu Design

It’s been all about menu designs in July! And I love it.

I designed the full menu for a rustic Greek restaurant in Miami, FL called Egg & Dart.

A Greek restaurant named Egg & Dart? Shouldn’t it be named… John Stamos or something? (Yes, I’m demonstrating my expansive cultural awareness right now. 0_0)

Well, after looking it up (apologies to my Art History professor for not paying attention to this in class, if this indeed WAS covered in class, ooooooh!), I found out “egg-and-dart” refers to a Greek ornamental device that uses alternating egg and arrow shapes.

I figured the owners must get that question a lot, so I thought it would be neat to put that definition up at the top of the menu.

The owners of Egg & Dart had a good foundation for the menu design, but it didn’t quite reflect the rich and elegant rusticity of their restaurant. It was set in a basic Word doc. Print. Distribute. For a restaurant that took its time crafting their food, you want to communicate that same dedication to detail in the menu.

Egg & Dart’s drink menu. Before.


Egg & Dart’s drink menu. After.


I kept this super simple and utilized the beautiful egg-and-dart device that was in their wonderfully designed logo and used that as a border all around the tabloid-sized document, while taking care not to have it completely dominate the page. 

To further communicate the authentic Greek cuisine, I thought it would be good to accompany each menu section with the Greek translation of that word. So even if you couldn’t understand the Greek translation, its presence was still effective. (I preemptively asked the owner for forgiveness if I had any of the Greek words incorrect, since I was using an online translation service. It’s been approved with no admonishing, so all is well!) 

Egg & Dart’s food menu. Before.


Egg & Dart’s food menu. After. Small bites, salad, main dishes, and dessert. Seriously. YUM. This is torture.


The real challenge of a menu is fitting in the copious amount of information in an organized and visually appealing way, while also taking into account legibility, readability, and even the lighting in the restaurant. A beautifully designed menu is nothing if the guests can’t read it. 

I feel fabulous about this project, and I hope you enjoy its beautiful simplicity too.

Because I’m located in the Midwest, I’m sad that I won’t be able to enjoy Egg & Dart’s cuisine in Miami. But next time I’m in Florida, I know exactly where to enjoy deliciously crafted and rustic Greek cuisine – and now you do too! 

‘The Village’ in Studio City, CA

On July 19, Chef Frank Leon of Bokado, La Loggia, and Next Door restaurants, opened his latest and most delicious dining endeavor: The Village, a gastropub in Studio City, CA.

According to their press release, Chef Frank “sought the advice of La Loggia and Next Door’s loyal, young-Hollywood patrons, including Jessica and Ashley Simpson, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Shia LaBeouf, and Ashley Tisdale. From those conversations, The Village was born.”

Here’s what Eater L.A. had to say (yes, they’re getting great press already!):

Cocktails and beer are listed on chalkboards throughout the venue, all specialty drinks were named after American authors known for their boozy habits. The Rum Diary is made with rum, Applejack, maple syrup, lemon, orange, and peppermint; meanwhile Churchill is composed of Armagnac, orange brandy, egg white, raw agave, and nutmeg.

Thirsty yet? 😉

I was most honored to work on several projects for The Village, including a photo booth, menu design, and Grand Opening invite. 

Here’s the freshly completed photo booth, before it was transported to The Village. Thanks to Hayley at Photo Illusion for sending this snapshot!


Here’s the drinks side of the menu. Menus were printed on Kraft paper to fit with the intimate and carefree feel of the tavern.


You can’t have a Grand Opening without people! This invite gives a wink to the chalkboards inside The Village that list menu items. I wanted the invite to give the guest the feeling that The Village is a cozy and fun place to spend an evening. I’m happy to report that they were so happy with the invite that they plan on using this design for all future invites and announcements.

What was wonderful about working on The Village was first and foremost, their people. A great restaurant can’t open successfully without great people. They communicated what they were looking for while giving me the right amount of creative freedom.

I also loved the rustic-yet-sexy approach of the place. This allowed me to go with a simple and clean direction that had a nod to the relaxed personality of this hot Hollywood destination. 

One disadvantage of having great clients on the West Coast is that since I’m in the Midwest, I miss out on fabulous events like these! I can’t wait for my next visit to L.A. to run down the cocktail list and get my ‘Literary Lesson’ from The Village.

If you find yourself cruising around that area, let me know what you had to drink and eat and describe it to me in great, excruciatingly torturous detail, so I can drool until I can make my own visit! 😀