May 29, 2009
By Moustapha Camara
After his Japanese Literature professor refused to aid him in improving his writing skills and assisting him in finding Japanese Literature graduate programs, David Murray decided to pursue a different (and better) career path: t-shirt entrepreneurship. Murray created the brand in 2005, and since then, he has exhibited at numerous arts and crafts fairs and has even quit is “real job” in March 2009 and now runs Seibei full time.
MC: I read that you started Seibei as just a hobby. How did you make that shift from turning your hobby into a business?
DM: It was a weird process, but it was basically a matter of taking it more seriously, being more invested in the quality of my product, and continually trying to do better. You need to have the right mindset and make a serious commitment, but it’s important to still have fun with it.
MC: How did you come up with the name Seibei? How does the dinosaur-looking-character represent Seibei?
DM: Seibei is the main character from a story by Shiga Naoya entitled “Seibei and his gourds” (Seibei to hyoutan). He’s a young boy who’s very dedicated to his craft, to the point of being distracted from everything else, and is kind of a weirdo. When I read this story back in college it really struck a chord with me, so I eventually decided that I’d want to work under that name as an artist in an effort to bring that same dedication and childlike wonder to my craft. For the record, for those of you that have read it, my dad is actually a really funny guy who is very supportive and a huge inspiration to me, unlike Seibei’s dad in the story.
I still love that name and secretly like it when people call me Seibei, but it can get tiresome explaining that story over and over.
I created the dinosaur character as a goof, literally just to test a screen printing press that I’d built. I’m not even sure where it came from. The dinosaur character ended up becoming sort of a mascot not only because of it’s inexplicable success (it’s been one of my top sellers for years), but because it’s something weird that people like to project themselves onto. It’s very simple and maybe a bit childish, but ultimately it’s something people can somehow relate to, and it’s put a lot of smiles on a lot of faces. All I want to do is make people happy, and somehow that little guy does it better than I ever could have hoped.
MC: How effective has the blog on your site been in terms of your company’s success?
DM: I think it helps to make myself a little more transparent. I like to bridge the gap between myself and my fans. Not all of my customers read the blog, or even know that I’m just one guy, but for those that do, they seem to appreciate it. I need to blog more, but don’t want to blog too much about nothing – I try to go for quality over quantity.
MC: From reading your blog, it seems that you get to hang out with a lot of cool folks. Who’s the coolest person from the t-shirt industry that you got to hang out with? Why?
DM: That’s a tough one. With most of the cool people I’ve met, we haven’t had a chance to hang out – usually one or both of us is working, so there are lots of people I’d consider my friends who I only see out at shows and e-mail with occasionally. Jon Kruse of SHRED is one of the few tee people I’ve actually been able to hang out with, and he’s a blast. Mark Capicotto from Glamour Kills is a really good guy – I actually used to work for the shop that does the bulk of his printing (and now, all of mine). Also, one time Ray Frenden and I talked on the phone for literally three hours, and I can’t stand to talk to most people on the phone for more than five minutes.
I’m so happy that I’ve been able to befriend a lot of awesome people who work in tees and other fields, even a few people whose work I’ve looked up to for years. Too many shout outs for one interview.
MC: As the brand gets bigger, are you looking to hire people who will run Seibei for you, from management to packaging, or do you still want to continue to contribute to your brand on a day-to-day basis?
DM: I’m getting to the point where I need a bit of help, but it will probably be a while before I actually break down and hire someone. My girlfriend and I are planning on being in New York for only another year or so, and I actually work out of a huge home office, so right now hiring someone doesn’t make sense. I’m hoping that once that time rolls around, one or two of my friends are conveniently unemployed. SEIBEI has been my baby since day one – I will always be the captain of this pirate ship.
MC: That design you have with the two headed Cyclops (or pair of conjoined Cyclops twins) sharing an ice pop is really funny. Tell me more about the concept behind the design.
DM: Some of my monster drawings are just for fun, but I’d like to think that some of them also portray elements of the human condition. Best Friends Forever isn’t particularly deep, but it’s about being good to yourself and those closest to you, depending on whether you want to see the monster as two separate (albeit close) entities, or facets of one personality.
MC: Do you plan on doing anything with your degree in Japanese Literature, sometime in the future?
DM: I plan on doing what I’ve always used it to do: read comic books and laugh at Hiro and Ando’s banter on Heroes a half second before my girlfriend does (though I usually need the subtitles because I never learned important terms like “time space continuum”). I do want to try and make my brand more known in Japan, and I’m really itching to get back there – I lived there for nearly a year and haven’t been back since – so I’d like to go sell at something like Design Festa in Tokyo one of these days. I’m just so busy with everything else right now.
MC: What’s the most important thing to keep in mind when starting a t-shirt brand?
DM: There’s always going to be someone out there who’s more talented or who has more money, so you’ve got to work harder. Good luck!