Through trial and error, late night struggles, and many boba runs, Bandage Brigade was created.
Hubtaku introduces our first interview for our series, Nimbus Narrative, a collection of conversations that we’ve had with members of the community. This is an in-depth look into some of your favorite content creators, companies, and fans of the culture alike. In today’s story, we chat with Bandage Brigade, a clothing brand founded by a pair of illustrators, Richard Chang and Julie Nguyen, who met at Artcenter College of Design as freshmen in 2014. Soon after graduating, they began tabling together at local anime conventions selling their artwork independently. Deciding that it was better for them to work together, they used the skills they gathered in college from screen printing class and took the time to research and learn how to print on clothing.
How did the two of you end up meeting? And from there, how did it lead to a relationship?
We both met during orientation while attending our first year at art college. We didn’t really talk to each other much, but we actually became friends when we ended up in the same classes together! We were close friends for the first 3 years, but didn’t get into a relationship until the last year of college. Apparently both of us liked each other from the start but didn’t say anything until much later!
What was the transition like for the both of you to become business partners?
We initially had very different career goals. Julie wanted to have her own brand after majoring in illustration design and taking classes on screen printing. Richard wanted to get into the animation industry. He studied to make backgrounds for animated TV shows, but after going through an internship, decided that it wasn’t for him.
We started doing anime conventions while attending school just as a hobby and for the extra cash. It was mainly fanart with a couple of screen printed shirts that Julie taught Richard how to make in a cramped apartment bedroom. We soon realized this would definitely be something we could do full-time. Looking back, it wasn’t much but we were over the moon that people liked our work enough to buy from us. After we both graduated, we continued to go to conventions as separate artists, but quickly decided to became a duo under one name.
When did it hit the both of you that Bandage Brigade is something that could become as successful as it has been?
It hit us towards the later half of our first year of going to cons that we realized this was something that could support us if we kept at it. Even though there were definitely struggles, we wanted to make it work so badly. We had to keep applying to as many cons as possible to get our name and work out there. Though, we didn’t have our first big hit until our Animal Crossing line went semi-viral. We almost doubled our followers from that and received a huge influx of orders! At that point, we decided we bit off more than we can chew and needed the extra help apart from just us. But it was a really nice problem to have!
What were some of the roadblocks that you have faced together up until this point?
There was a time during the early stages of our first year starting Bandage Brigade that we didn’t know if it would actually be as sustainable as we thought. When we used to be a mix of fanart illustration and clothing, we would often get discouraged since we weren’t doing as well as we’d hoped.
Our first year alone we traveled to 25+ conventions and it put a strain in our relationship along with a mental and physical toll.
We were trying as hard as we could, making new illustrations, traveling long hours, and sweating our butts off learning the nuances of screen printing. It was tough not to get exhausted and depressed. We needed to figure out a way to lighten the load and eventually we had to make a decision: keep making both fanart and clothing or only focus on clothing. It was a hard decision because we both loved making fanart but there are so many talented fanart illustrators out there that we just couldn’t compete by focusing on two different things.
Our designs didn’t have a following yet and we were still new to this line of work in the convention scene.
We didn’t want to make your typical generic “anime inspired” merch, we wanted to put more heart into it with hopes that people would eventually come to love our brand not for the fanart, but for our own designs.
The decision to focus on clothing was probably the best decision we made. We didn’t need to split our attention anymore and being able to physically print the clothes ourselves that people would actually wear was an amazing feeling. Eventually, we started gaining a following and people would look forward to what we would make next, allowing our online store to grow and we were able to cut back on traveling! Honestly, we don’t think we would have gotten through the roadblocks without each other. It’s nice to have a support system and we would try to encourage each other that things will get better. Eventually it did, and we’re happy to say that we’re doing well in no small part thanks to the wonderful people who helped and encouraged us along the way. We know that there will be more roadblocks in the future, but we’ll figure it out!
What are some of your favorite anime of all time? And if you could have your merch featured in any anime, which would it be?
Richard’s favorite shows are Ranking of Kings, Samurai Champloo, and K-on. Julie’s are Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Ouran High School Host Club. We would love to see our merch featured in Naruto (lol).
Since you do a lot of conventions, what are some traditions that you both follow for each con?
We always make sure to bring enough food, water, and coffee for the day! But other than that, we always look for merch of Bob from Animal Crossing. We’ve collected almost 20 different pieces ranging from keychains, stickers, prints, and enamel pins from different artists.
What advice would you give to couples that enter the business world together?
Working with money as a couple can be tricky. Make sure to have A LOT of trust and open communication. Keep an eye out for anything that may cause resentment towards each other and nip it in the bud when it starts—this may come in the form of inequality in the amount of work each person does, the [payout] and how much appreciation each person gives to each other.