We caught up with Rosser Riddle who’s shirts you may have seen around Atlanta or at Citizen Supply. He gave us some insight as to how and why he started his line, what his design process is like, and where inspiration comes from.
How long have you been running your clothing line?
I “launched” in January of 2014, but, I spent a couple of years prior to that sampling, tinkering, and procrastinating. I started working in fashion in 2009 at a men’s consignment shop in Nashville, and saved up enough money to move to NYC in 2010. I moved and basically took the first fashion internship there I could find, and it just so happened to be in production. I learned a hell of a lot during my time in production and product development before launching my line.
Why do you do it?
Music and clothes have always been my two biggest passions. I really love Graphic T’s as a form of art. My first cassettes that I remember were Boyz II Men (CooleyHighHarmony), Michael Jackson (Dangerous), and Garth Brooks (No Fences). I can always remember my coolest graphic T’s growing up, they were just something that I loved from a young age.
I remember this amazing black “Hook” t-shirt that I got in kindergarten; all of the No Fear, And 1, and Big Dog T’s I had; I was obsessed with sports teams logos like the White Sox, and Georgetown Hoyas, and Detroit Pistons when they changed logos in the late 90’s; my Ray Charles t-shirt in high school). I knew I had always wanted to have my name on something one day because I would (poorly) sketch sneakers with my last name as the brand.
The spark that actually led me to “go for it” was when I was working part-time for Sting’s management company in NYC in 2012. They were trying to come up with new ideas for his T’s and merch, and I took it upon myself to come up with some designs of my own and pitch it to them. They thought the ideas were nice and a “good job”, but it didn’t go anywhere. It was kinda out of the frustration with that experience that led me to “hey I think I’m creative. I bet I could come up with my own stuff.”
I felt like a lot of the music I loved wasn’t properly and tastefully represented on clothing. One day while I was on a Google search looking at photos of Jackie Wilson (one of my favorite singers), I came across this amazing portrait of him from an old photographer, William “PoPsie” Randolph. I followed the photo to the original site, and it took me to PoPsie’s estate website – it was one of those primitive, early 2000’s websites. The estate and site are run by his son, Mike Randolph, and I found his number at the bottom of the page. I called him, gave him a pitch, and we started working on what would become my first collection that I presented to stores. I wouldn’t have gotten that start without Mike, so I’m forever grateful. Those T’s got picked up by Saks Fifth Ave and Urban Outfitters, and I’ve been going ever since.
Text on shirts is a crowded market. How do you make it work?
Since music is a big passion for you, where do you find the specific inspiration for your designs and how do you choose what makes the cut?
I’m obsessed with typography, so I feel like a lot of my designs start with that frame of mind. There’s tons of inspiration from old album covers, vintage T’s from the 60’s and 70’s, iron-on letters, lyrics, Japanese clothing magazines, what people are wearing, and just the accumulation of all these years looking at graphic t-shirts and listening to music. Some of my most successful designs just popped into my head and were written on my Notepad, then fleshed out from there. In regards to licenses (Otis Redding, James Brown, etc), I pitch my designs to the powers-that-be, and they have the final decision on what can be released, and what cannot.
“The garment is everything.”
Talk more about your design process a bit.
Any idea I may have, I will start by looking at what’s currently out there in the marketplace (I don’t know how I would’ve gotten by without Google.) I have my own perspective, but I usually want to start by making sure that whatever I have in mind hasn’t really been done already. I do a really deep dive into the artist’s imagery, discography, prior merch (if any), and try to see what I can bring to the table. Sometimes it may be a continued theme from one of my other licenses/designs, but I try to do something new with each one.
Then I’ll get to sketching. I don’t have and don’t know how to use Illustrator or Photoshop (bad with computers), so my first sketches are done with pen and paper. Then I’ll start sourcing the body for the design. This is the most important piece of the puzzle to me. The garment is everything. After I’ve chosen the blank(s) that I like, I will work with my graphic designer to complete the file, and mockups. I have a great circle of friends with all different backgrounds, and I like to text them photos of mockups to get feedback. Sometimes the designs won’t go past that! If they do, I like to post an Instagram story to see what reaction and feedback is like from my followers. They’re a great barometer.
How did you get hooked up with Citizen Supply?
We talk to a lot of people interested in starting a clothing line. Do you have any advice for them?
I’m best at bulleted lists, and the answer should be divided into two parts:
1. Before Starting
2. Once You’ve Started
• Offer something to the marketplace that isn’t already being offered.
• Choose and use good quality blanks (and finish them).
• Trims are more important than you may realize.
• Know your margins.
• Add value where you can.
• Be great at serving your customers.
• Become really good at one category first.