What Designers Inspire You? Read About T-Shirt Apparel Brand, Johnny Cupcakes, by FIDM Graphic Design Student

Every quarter, students in the Graphic Design program at FIDM/Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising are challenged to research, write and design reports on a variety of design-related topics from the biography of a graphic design leader, to the history of a design era. This quarter, Graphic Design/Branding Student Katherine Calderon presented the following reports in her History of Design class. Originally from Gardena, California, Katherine decided to write about T-Shirt brand, Johnny Cupcakes. [UPDATE: Check out Katherine’s T-Shirt designs in her final portfolio here.]


(Above) Self-portrait Caricature of Katherine Calderon, FIDM Graphic Design Student.

“I learned that anything is possible if you focus hard enough. Johnny Cupcakes started out by selling shirts out of a suitcase. Now it’s a cult-like brand with two stores in the United States and one opening in London,” says Calderon, who says that she’s interested in the idea of starting a children’s T-Shirt apparel line.

“The story of Johnny Cupcakes is inspiring for everyone, especially for designers. He stays committed to what his brand stands for which is difficult in society today.”

Visit Katherine Calderon’s graphic design portfolio Website here.

Read the full report below, and click here or on any of the icons to download Katherine’s report, which she designed herself.

Download Katherine Calderon's Report, Click Here

Johnny Cupcakes started with Johnny Earl, a college drop out with self diagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder working at Newburry Records, a record store in Massachusetts. It all began as a joke, when he ordered custom shirts that had Johnny Cupcakes written across the front. When he noticed that people where interested in his shirts he came up with other designs that integrated cupcakes into iconic pieces of work. An example would be the statue of liberty holding a cupcake instead of a torch. Johnny had the bright idea of adding a cupcake to crossbones instead of the skull and a famous logo was born.
quoteboxJohnny was leading a drug and alcohol free lifestyle when he began touring with his band Broken Wings and sold his shirts from a suitcase in the back of their van. He quit the band to focus on his clothing line. He decided that it was time to take his company to new heights and attended a Las Vegas trade show. Everyone working at the booth wore Chef outfits and handed out cupcakes with pamphlets of the shirt designs. His line was bought by stores in Japan, Canada and the U.S. It wasn’t until afterward that he decided that he didn’t want his brand to be sold everywhere, he turned down offers from stores like Hot Topic and Nordstrom. He decided that he wanted his brand to be exclusive. The shirts are limited edition and once the item is sold out, it isn’t reprinted.

In 2005 the first Johnny Cupcakes store was opened in Hull, Massachusetts. At first the idea was to use it for storage but it was transformed into a vintage bakery for shirts. The second store is located on Boston’s Newbury Street and the third one is on Melrose Avenue in Southern California. He has maintained a close relationship with his customers and likes holding events to meet them.
Johnny was voted America’s #1 Young Entrepreneur of 2008 by BusinessWeek. He lectures at universities encouraging students to live a drug free lifestyle and to pursue their dreams and become determined individuals with goals in mind. Recently he started touring around the U.S. meeting fans of his clothing line and selling shirts from a suitcase the way he did when he started out.

Johnny Cupcakes2

The design uses curvilinear lines within the top of the cupcake which makes the top look a little bit softer against the sharp angular lines of the crossbones and the bottom piece of the cupcake. I believe that the logo design is very successful, the logo can be applied to almost anything. The online store has earrings, pens, ties and even umbrellas. There are also different variations of the famous logo, for example for baseball fans, the crossbones have been replaced with baseball bats and the cupcake has a baseball design on it. The fact that the logo can be altered in different ways but still be recognized makes it a very successful design. There are also special edition designs where the logo is completely different but still has the same recognizable cupcake.
JohnnyCupcakes3The company has done many collaborations with different artists and the shirts make a statement. One of the famous shirts that have come out from the brand have “Make Cupcakes, Not War” in bold letters. This shows that they are aware of the issues that are happening around us and try to make light of the situation by having a little fun with provocative statements.
What I love about the company is how true they have stayed to themselves. They don’t mass produce anything in China, which makes having an original Johnny Cupcakes shirt very exclusive. A lot of people that have bought his shirts know that the brand has a very unique style and they have grown to respect what the company stands for. He only uses selected illustrators to do all of his designing so that all of his shirt designs look like they have the same look. He admits that he doesn’t have very good illustrator skills but is only a “doodler.” You can tell that he has a lot of passion for his company because of all the details that he puts into everything. Even his shipping boxes have their own personality. Each of his stores look like a vintage bakery, they have custom made furniture and decorations. My visit to the Los Angeles store was very exciting. The clothing is inside giant fridges where customers may “order them” from the counter. The size chart is displayed as a giant nutrition facts sign which adds to the cleverness of the store.
The Johnny Cupcakes logo may not be as famous as Roxy or Volcom, but it sure is making a name for itself. Many people do know about the company and they have become loyal cupcake fanatics. People even get tattoos of the logo and attend meet-and-greet [events] with Johnny. His brand required a lot of hard work that any graphic designer could appreciate. I respect the way that he has treated his brand, especially how he has kept it exclusive.

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Questions/comments? Email the editor, Mani O’Brien at mo’brien@fidm.edu.

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Author: Mani

Mani O’Brien is the Online Editor for the FIDMDigitalArts Blog and the Social Media Marketing Manager for FIDM/Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in print journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communications at Arizona State University in 2006, and Associate of Arts degree in Graphic Design (Professional Designation) at FIDM in 2010. When she’s not brainstorming social media marketing ideas or writing about the graphic design and digital media, she enjoys practicing yoga, reading magazines, and hanging out with friends and family in Los Angeles.

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