Jon Thom wears his attitude on his sleeve, Moodie Tuesday
There seems to be a pattern emerging among our generation’s greatest innovators. Gates, Zuckerberg, Ellison, Dell, and even the late Steve Jobs all began their careers in a similar way. They were creative, passionate, and intellectual college dropouts, and they have all changed the way we see the world.
It seems as if 23 year old Dunedin-based entrepreneur and designer Jon Thom is set to follow in their footsteps.
Jon Thom is the founder of Moodie Tuesday, one of New Zealand’s most exclusive underground clothing labels, and he’s one of the founders of Motion Sickness Studios, an industry leader in creative use of film, art, web, and video.
Large paintings, some moody, others more vibrant and playful, lay strewn out around the foyer in the down stairs area of Moodie Tuesday’s South Dunedin studio. Jon sat on a worn leather couch in front of a hanging wall display filled with old cameras, lilies, and other vintage accessories. He had been up past midnight the previous night, but he still appeared vibrant, cheerful and alert when we discussed why he started Moodie Tuesday, how he did it, and where he wants to go with it.
Fashion and art have always defined Jon Thom, although his first year at the University of Otago was spent in lecture halls studying law. In hindsight, that first year may have served as a sharp reminder to Jon that art was his passion.
“I fucking hated it,” he said, “and for me, that creative start was a release.”
In pursuit of an education he might enjoy, Jon began a communications design degree with a little bit of graphics and product design included in his second year. But by the end of his third year, the young artist was getting “fed up” with stringent paper assignments, and decided to drop out.
[Tweet “Jon Thom left uni to work on his fashion label, Moodie Tuesday”]
“I went part-time in my fourth year and got a studio in town near the Octagon,” Jon said. “I then started going part-time to uni at the start of the year. Eventually it got to the point where every week, or every second week, I was up in Auckland working with our PR company to build our brand.
“It got to the point where I stopped going to uni.”
“All through that I was on the benefit, but I just had to take the risk and say, ‘I want this, I don’t want to do what I was doing at uni.’”
Jon began researching the T-shirt business online, studying what others had done right and what they had done wrong. He then developed a relationship with local printers, the same ones Nom’d use. It wasn’t until Chris Brun, now a managing director of Moodie Tuesday, got involved in early 2012 that the business began taking off.
Moodie Tuesday has been funded by $15,000 that Jon amassed by working and saving over his high school years. Reflecting on that, he says, “I did a lot of stupid shit when I started. I didn’t really know what I was doing, like I went and bought all of this product and I didn’t get quotes anywhere. For me, from the outset, quality was the key, so I wanted the best quality and I wasn’t going to compromise on that.”
[Tweet “Entrepreneur/designer Jon Thom had raised $15,000 in capital by working through high school.”]
That insistence on quality has paid off though. The first range of Moodie tees, featuring an enamouring juxtaposition of plain, high quality T-shirts and spirited art by Jon Thom, sold out almost instantly. I asked Jon about what marketing he does, and he said that the shirts pretty much sell themselves.
“The most popular T-shirt we ever did was a T-shirt of ‘Eating Isn’t Very Chanel,’” said Jon.
“They were all limited edition, there were only 20 of them, but we sold all 20 on that day and we still get people asking about them.”
Around the same time that Moodie Tuesday started becoming popular in the underground fashion scene here in southern New Zealand, Jon founded Motion Sickness Studios with Sam Stuchbury, one of Jon’s former university classmates.
“Motion Sickness started because Sam had seen the brand and contacted me because he wanted to film a fashion video,” Jon said, “so we just had coffee. We were doing a shoot with Emily Hlavac Green. Sam made a video for it for behind the scenes, and then we just got talking from there.”
Sam Stuchbury and the rest of the Motion Sickness crew share the Moodie Tuesday space, but the company has grown so quickly that they are rarely in Dunedin now. Most of their time is spent traveling the country to work on projects for clients.
Although Jon is solidly established now with two profitable businesses under his belt, he has had his fair share of difficulties. His greatest strength, his insistence on supreme quality, can sometimes also be his greatest weakness.
“Often I’ll want a product to be amazing, so I’ll pay for it rather than do it myself or find a cheaper way around it. Things like that, most of the time, is spending money on stupid shit.
“We spent a lot of time last year doing gigs. We ran lots of shows, and it wasn’t as such to make money – it cost a lot of money to do – but it was more about brand building and awareness. But looking at that now, that’s something we need to scale back on because it has sort of achieved the goal that we wanted.
“You need to know when to pull the pin on something.”
[Tweet “”You need to know when to pull the pin on something.” – Jon Thom”]
Another obstacle has been a lack of industry contacts. The whole fashion business relies heavily on the idea that “it’s not what you know but who you know.”
“I had no contacts when I started in the industry,” said Jon. “It’s all about building those contacts because it is an industry based on your network.”
Jon still considers Moodie Tuesday to be in the startup phase, and he says that he will expand the business by providing services as the company’s backbone.
Selling services, rather than products, has given Moodie Tuesday a faster and better return on investment. In an attempt to cut costs and maximise efficiency, the company noticed that outsourcing their screen printing was causing it to hemorrhage funds; they also realised it was an area that was being under-served in Dunedin.
A large upcoming project that the boys at Moodie are excited about is the kids’ line.
“I think there’s a big gap in the market for creating cool kids’ clothes,” Jon remarked. “The fashion industry, at times, can be a bit pretentious and serious, and we’re not really about that. We just do it to have fun. It started out to be a hobby and it’s getting more and more serious now, but you’ve still got to enjoy what you’re doing, otherwise why are you doing it?
“I’m looking forward to doing the kids’ stuff. We’re going to have a whole heap of kids in here with their Moodie tees on and do a photo shoot with kids drawing on a graffiti wall.
[Tweet “Moodie Tuesday bringing out a kids’ clothing line.”]
“We’ve got a few friends’ kids that won’t take their Moodie tees off, and all it is is a T-shirt that says, ‘Moodie’ on it, but I think that goes really well with kids, because they can be grumpy little shits.”
The company’s original goal was to dress the body from head to toe. They’re now focusing on establishing the screen printing aspect of the business first and will develop bigger product lines later.
All this takes an incredible amount of hard work, and Jon has said that the average work week consists of over 80 hours, but I couldn’t have anticipated Jon’s answer when he told me what his average work day is like.
“I have my next show on the 9th of April, and then we’ve had a lot of screen printing orders and work with Motion Sickness, so it has been pretty crazy,” he said.
“Generally I roll out of bed at five minutes to nine, get a ride to work, and then if I am cooking dinner I will go home for dinner around 7:30, but otherwise I’ll just stay right through until 10 or 11 at night. We have a microwave so I just cook food here.
“During the day from 9-5 I’ll work on Motion Sickness, and then the evenings will be Moodie Tuesday or print-room work.
“If we have a job to pump out, you’re working until three in the morning. To me it seems normal, but to other people it’s a bit weird. It’s just what you gotta do. I think some people have a need to just work. If I have a day off I just get bored. I can’t watch TV because it just fucking bores me to be honest.”
Jon warns that doing this constantly can make anyone feel burnt out, and admits that he’s ready for a holiday soon.
“You’ve got to look after yourself as well, because if you’re not working properly, you’re not being as productive as you could be, and that’s detrimental really. I’m definitely trying to strike that balance, but I’m hanging out for a holiday!”
Sometimes it’s difficult for Jon Thom, and he does look back and wonder where he’d be if he had stayed in university.
“All of my mates are getting jobs now,” he says, “and a lot of them are getting mean jobs. It’s not gonna be an easy ride, but when people talk to you, everyone’s kind of impressed with what you do if you have built something from nothing.
“I think there’s a lot of integrity in that, but at the end of the day, it’s pretty hard and you’ve got to be able to put food on the table. I’ve been living like this for two and a half years, and it’s pretty draining. But I think at the end of the day, it’s still worth it, and I’d probably do it all over again. I’d just need to not make so many expensive mistakes.”
That’s entrepreneurship. It’s hard work, late nights, early mornings, big risks, and decent returns. It’s being creative after you’ve slept six hours in two days. It’s following your passion, even though you see your friends graduating with paper degrees and landing glamorous jobs.
That’s Jon Thom.Clothing, Dunedin, Fashion, Jon Thom, Moodie Tuesday, Motion Sickness Studios