I once read that branding is the art of aligning what you want people to think with what people actually think and vice-versa.
That’s a pretty simple way to sum up the laws of marketing, don’t you think? Where it gets complex is successfully articulating the visuals of such an alignment. If it has been done correctly, every visual component, the letters in a logo, stitch, snap, pixel, tee shirt design, etc. becomes a piece of said art and therefore carries the purpose of conveying the message or telling the story set forth by the brand. Success happens when the messages in the visuals are realized and result in the purchase of a bottle of sauce or in the form of a hat, truck, golf club, tee shirt, or menu item because of the branding. And when you’ve created a really great brand, success equates repeat purchases and loyal customers forever more!
The longer I spend time in the brand-building industry, the more I appreciate having coffee with a guy like Justin Collins, founder of the apparel company, Low Tide Thread Co. I didn’t just learn about his brand while sipping my latte at Way Station, I learned something from it, too.
Justin grew up in Richmond Hill, after graduation he attended Savannah College of Art and Design where he earned a degree in Communications in 2011. He cut his marketing teeth on student-based campaign design teams for titans like Pepsi Max, Barnes and Noble, Taylor Made, Crocs and Smart Car who partnered with SCAD for projects, even having the distinct honor of writing and producing a Pepsi Max Super Bowl commercial. “I really paid attention to what worked and what didn’t for these large companies I was so fortunate to assist,” Justin elaborates, “Who was doing a good job, who wasn’t…I was in a constant state of analysis during those years. I took it all in. I fell in love with the art of branding. I wanted the challenge of creating a solid brand.”
Armed with a renowned education from one of the most well-known art schools in the world, as well as a deep desire to build a brand of his own some day, Justin set out to “Justin set out to hone his skills, gain experience in the world of marketing, and learn to embrace a phrase that would be the recurring theme on his journey to building his own brand…”Figure it out.” He credits the talents of several individuals who helped him “figure it out,” but especially Thomas Carlson, who taught him how to use a camera. “Photography is my strongest creative asset,” he says. “Thomas put a camera in my hand out of necessity upon his announcement to leave the company we worked for, sending me off to Sun Valley, Idaho a week later on my first photo shoot.” After a short period of time having to learn this new skill by pure chance, Justin was flying all over the country to shoot photography, soon seeing his work on massive tradeshow walls, catalogues; he even earned the opportunity to shoot a special line of sunshades for Oakley. “I’m so grateful for the fateful 10-minute crash photography course Thomas gave me before sending me off to Sun Valley. It was then that I began honing my art in creating what they see through the lens.”
Justin launched Low Tide Thread Co. just ten weeks ago, humbly admitting that he feels really good about the traction his “Craft Threads” are gaining by the day. “The written objective of the brand is to create products with intention and designs with a soul,” Justin says. He explains that his designs are inspired by various things, whether it’s music, a quote, a place, a situation, past experiences, or even a song title. “The brand is a vessel for [my] creativity and is fulfilling the desire to produce something my way and not someone else’s.”
This is not the first company Justin has built, but he says he hopes it is his last. The name of this one derived from the symbolism found in figuring out life and its obstacles like a boater finding their way through uncharted waters. “If you are from here, you know that the best time to learn the river is when he tide is low and the obstacles are in plain sight,” Justin explains. “But sometimes, the obstacles have moved and can ground your vessel in a split second.” The tagline, Live Comfortably Uncharted, is a call to action for “anyone to be okay with where their path leads them. We never know what’s on the other side of the unknown and often enough, it’s an even better path than the one we had in mind originally.”
Yes, life’s lessons— like the sandbars that sometimes appear out of nowhere causing us to change our original plans— help us discover who we really are and what we really think. Justin says that his designs are a reflection of exactly this, but he leaves the full interpretation loose enough at the end to capture his consumer and do exactly what the song, quote, place, or experience that inspired it does for them. “All of our threads have a place and reason for existing. The designs are hand drawn and the spawn from something that has inspired me.” From the underside of a trucker hat where vintage snaps hold the custom embroidered ribbon that lines the seams of the recycled plastic of the netting to an exact shade of orange that elicits a feeling like that felt from the sunshine, everything was carefully thought through. Take a peek at the ’73 Vintage Wash Tees series on the website. Those who hear lyrics from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album as you scroll the page are the ones for which this particular series was designed. Justin can tell you what he wants you to think or feel when you wear his designs, but he has created this brand to let you own those feelings and thoughts!
While Justin’s photography silently tells the story behind every design he has released into the market since March, he’s been playing with videography to embellish and engage his consumers as well. He allowed me to watch the unedited cut of a new product launch video, Killer Threads, co-produced with his very talented friend, Kyle Maddux. “I want to make sure that I keep the content fresh and the audience engaged in what story I’m trying to tell,” he adds. “Kyle and I have a passion for telling stories and that’s our goal when we work together.” In this video, they subliminally use Greek Mythology to tell the story of two mystical sirens on the hunt to lure the sailors (who are wearing the brand) in and take their belongings. Justin sets just enough intention to make you consider feeling a certain way… either way leaving you wanting to wear the brand, too. Smart!
““I wouldn’t say I’m smart necessarily, but rather someone who has embraced the phrase ‘Figure it out’ through years of working in and around very talented individuals that helped shape me and my vision for what a great brand should be.”
Your brand is everything in a successful business. That is a fact. When you start with a solid, well-thought-out mission, figuring it out may be a daily chore, but it’s also a challenge that leaves you feeling accomplished. Every purchase, every renewal, every like on Instagram, a feather in a brand’s cap. The authenticity hidden in or clearly shown in the visuals should be intentionally set by the brand if they have it figured out.
I left that coffee with a sense of empowerment to figure out how to do what this brand did for me with my own company. Justin’s intent to empower people to live comfortably in the uncharted path of their lives is a double entendre that works incredibly well in his up and coming apparel brand. The clothing is comfortable, only the best threads chosen, but the person wearing them should also feel comfortable in the life they are living— charting the waters with just enough uncertain certainty to enjoy the entire ride, be it what you thought it would be or not. Justin’s designs are meant to leave you finding your own interpretation inspiring.
In the short amount of time since the brands inception, Justin has found himself in a constant state of humbleness seeing his products worn by locals while out and about, even now being called by some, ‘The Low Tide guy.’
“So much of this company has been produced in private, but now that the designs are launched, I’m learning how to take in the compliments for my art; it’s a learning process, being the face and voice behind these creations and I’m learning to embrace it and enjoy the ride into the unknown.” Justin says he hopes to see Low Tide Thread Co. as a nationally respected brand worn by some of his favorite artists or in collaboration with some of the brands that inspired him, such as Imogene+Willie or Howler Bros. With many goals set for Low Tide Thread Co., Justin says he is focused on turning the page of each day with the same excitement and intent as the day before, while remembering to heed his own tagline, Live Comfortably Uncharted…