Photo Credit: Adam Block
Chances are, if you're in a student group on campus, you've ordered one of Adam Block Design's super cute (and super comfy!) tees. My sorority sisters and I love to rock our ABD gear on campus, so I knew I had to ask Adam what it takes to design apparel for students across the country.
Here, Adam tells us how designing shirts for his fraternity inspired him to start his own business, talks what it's like to be his own boss, and shares his best tips for becoming a graphic designer.
College Fashion: Where did you go to college? What did you study? What was your college experience like?
Adam Block: I attended UCLA and graduated with a BA in History. I also took 3 years worth of Pre-Business-Economics courses thinking I would become a Bus-Econ major, but let's just say that didn't really work out.
Switching to history gave me extra freedom to take some art and design classes, and also provided me with the time to take on an internship at a clothing company. So even though history isn't really a standard segue to get into graphic design and that sort of thing, I would definitely say it helped me on my path to starting ABD.
I also lived in an apartment with the same 10 guys for 3 years, so I wouldn't say having some extra time was a bad thing. College was amazing, I attended every football and basketball game I could (home and away), got involved with club sports, joined a fraternity, and met some amazing people - many of who would later really help get ABD off the ground, including a bunch of friends in sororities and fraternities and my business partner, Jesse.
CF: What was your sense of style in college like? How would you say it's changed?
AB: Oh man... less neon. Definitely less neon.
My senior year, I was working for a (now defunct) clothing company called Grn Apple Tree. We were making some really wild stuff. I was literally a walking black-light poster, with fuzzy printed ink on my shirts and everything. Grn Apple Tree was definitely pushing the envelope at the time--we were doing all-over neon printed on art shirts and sweatshirts made from fabric you would find on a '70s couch - and working there I got free stuff, so....yeah, there you have it.
I'm still happily rockin' my t-shirts, but nowadays my dresser has a lot more eye-friendly tones and only the softest of tri-blends. I also like to try out the blanks we offer our clients. If it's doesn't feel good to wear, then we're not going to offer it to our customers!
CF: Did you have internships or jobs in college? What were they like?
AB: I had that internship at Grn Apple Tree. It was a great experience where I learned about what it meant to put time and detail into designs and the importance of innovation. My boss there also gave me access to his screen-printing press and allowed me to use it in the mornings before everyone else would get in to work.
As a side-job, I started designing shirts for my fraternity and some of my friends in various sororities on campus. I would work on the designs with everyone, then wake up early and take the files with me to Grn Apple Tree, and then from there I would struggle to print one decent-quality shirt in a full day of work. I may have been the worst screen-printer in the history of screen-printing…
CF: How did you get your start working in the fashion industry?
AB: I grew up in Orange Country in the home of a lot of surf and skate companies. In high school, I got an internship working at Split (a surf company) and they showed me a few tricks, like using photographs of asphalt to make distress textures.
I took my experience there and attempted to teach myself Illustrator, then during my senior year of high school, some of my friends and I took some of the designs I made to a local screen printing shop and we sold t-shirts and hoodies to people at school. Not sure you would consider it fashion, but it was a start!
Photo Credit: Screenshot
CF: What's your favorite part of your job?
AB: My favorite part of my job is that I have the opportunity to make a lot of people happy. I have a group of employees (the ABD Family) that I can treat how I would like to be treated if I worked for someone, and to whom I can give awesome things like free coffee, gym memberships, days off, lots of clothing, and hugs! So many hugs.
On top of knowing that my employees are happy, we all work really hard to provide a great product to our clients, and when we hear back from someone telling how excited they are with their shirts, it can really make your day. Also, not having a boss is pretty cool.
CF: What's your least favorite part of your job?
AB: I think my least favorite part of my job is not having control over a lot of things. For instance, we can't watch to see how the shirts we order are constructed or put into boxes before they get to us, and we can't always control shipping issues.
We work extremely hard to make sure our designs are flawless and to guarantee that every single order that leaves our warehouse is complete and perfect: without damages, holes, stains, rips, and that sort of thing. We probably find a couple mistakes or missing pieces in every box we get, and we know the importance of this and what it can mean if there's even one shirt that can't be worn or is missing. So, to put all that time and effort and then to have a delayed shipment or something out of our control like that can be a huge bummer.
I'll also take this opportunity to say I really don't like when other companies steal our designs and advertise them as their own, but that's all I'm going to say about that.
CF: What's been a favorite/standout moment from your career? Is there a standout project you're particularly proud of?
AB: Last year, the whole ABD family took the day off of "real work" to go and volunteer at a homeless shelter in Downtown [Los Angeles]. To have grown ABD to the size where we could take our team and go and make a huge difference, with just our group, was definitely something that I'm particularly proud of.
Photo Credit: Screenshot
CF: What's your favorite piece in your closet?
AB: To go along with the last question and to answer this one: when I first started ABD, it was not with the idea to grow a company or anything, I was just looking to pick up some freelance work wherever I could find it. I bought the domain name www.adamblockdesign.com and had a fraternity brother help me build it so I could showcase some of my work - the majority of which was t-shirt designs that I had done for my friends on campus.
Luckily, our idea of combining the fashion world with the Greek world caught on and we continued to grow (and kept the domain name and made it our company name), and now we're to the level where we're doing things like making our own sweatshirts.
We recently went to production on a bunch of half-zips with custom-molded zipper-pulls with our logo and our own labels sewn into them. To see one of those half-zips hanging in my closet is a constant reminder of where we came from and the fortune we've had, so I'd probably say that's my favorite piece.
That, or my Dri Fit soccer warmup pants, but there's no story behind those except for the fact that I wear them all the time, which isn't much of a story at all.
CF: What's a typical day like for you?
AB: These days, I do a lot of managing and following up on things that I've delegated to make sure they're on the right track and on time. There's also a lot of solving random problems that pop up, and trying to make sure everything is running smoothly and that we're always ahead of anything that could possibly go wrong, so we never have to disappoint a single client.
When people think of "Greek apparel" they probably can't imagine all the stuff going on behind the scenes, but my days are definitely full from start to finish with every issue you could imagine.
Other than all that boring "business" stuff, I get to do a lot of fun things, like finding and sourcing new styles, designing our own exclusive products, and making sure we're always up to date on what's next. I've been working on a few of these things for a while now, so make sure you stay tuned for some big announcements coming very soon!
CF: What advice would you give to a College Fashion reader that wants your job?
AB: Get your own job! Just kidding...
If you are looking to start your own business, I think the best thing to do is to just jump right in and don't over-think things. Find good people that you can trust to surround yourself with and don't measure success in the short-term. If you're looking to be a graphic designer, practice a lot and never stop researching.
Whatever it is you're trying to do, just make sure you're enjoying what you doing. At times (in particular Mondays), going to work can be rough, but if you like what you're doing, then it won't feel like a job, and you'll probably be pretty good at it.
Are you inspired by Adam's story? Does your student group order shirts from ABD? Who do you want to hear from next? Let me know in the comments section!