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Articles on designing your own custom merch, growing your brand, and managing manufacturing as a small business.

Rebranding of The/Studio

Rebranding of The/Studio by Joseph Heller

About three years ago we launched a new website with a new logo. At The/Studio we are never satisfied and always striving to become better, so we decided to improve our logo more than a year ago.

Although our websites is definitely one of the better sites for custom products, we don’t judge ourselves based on other companies within the industry, but rather we judge ourselves against amazing brands that we aspire to one day be compared to such as Nike, or Starbucks. In early January we decided to redo our website and we decided to work with a designer that we had worked with in the past.


Redesign Disaster

However, the project was a complete disaster. The designer just couldn’t get a design together that would make it worth the effort of redoing the entire website again. We have been through website redesigns before, and it is an extremely involved process that requires an enormous amount of resources.

Our Epiphany

We decided to start looking for another design firm. My assistant and me literally emailed and spoke to over one hundred different design firms. What we realized was that not only did we need to redo our website, but we really needed to redo our entire branding. If we wanted our customers, other companies and the media to truly respect who we were and the ambitions of our company, we felt that it was important to refresh our entire branding.

We went through the same process of pouring over hundreds of branding and design firms, and we had another epiphany. It was also necessary that we actually work with all of the managers in the company and decide who we were, who we have become and what we want to be. We felt that without this document it would be very difficult for us to effectively work with a design company. This is what we came up with.


Our brand is our promise to our customers and also defines the expectations that we have for our staff and vendors. Our brand will not be strong unless the entire organization understands and embraces these principles.

In addition we see this initial document as an opportunity to remake ourselves and insist on perfection throughout the organization.

Mission Statement

We are focused on creating a complete platform that allows customers to produce fashion quality custom apparel and accessories. We put all of our resources into building a community of people with ideas, designers to design, factories to bring to life those ideas, our staff to ensure a frictionless process and the support of consumers that believe the world is made more interesting when ideas are turned into products.

Brand Vision

The/Studio is revolutionizing how people design, manufacture, and sell custom apparel and accessories. Fashion will no longer be dictated by large corporations in distant board rooms. We believe that fashion should represent the pure expression of the communities that you belong to. The/Studio will continuously build tools to empower communities to make custom apparel and accessories that inspire them.

We won‘t rest until individuals can create an entire line of apparel, fire departments can reinvent their uniforms, sports teams can create custom gifts for their fans, companies and organizations can communicate their image. All achievable through The/Studio’s ever-growing infrastructure of world-class designers, cutting edge production machines, and game-changing community sales platforms.

Problems and Opportunities

Currently if someone wants to make a truly custom product there are numerous barriers to doing this.

One option is to go to a site such as CafePress or Zazzle. But they don’t offer true customization, and the quality is inferior. They only offer printing on already manufactured products.

Another option is to use Alibaba, but Alibaba is notorious for having a very poor user interface, and even if you can get an answer from the factory its almost impossible to produce small quantities, and good communication is lacking at best.

Also when dealing with factories from abroad there are true risks of poor quality and sometimes outright fraud.

The other option is to find smaller US companies that produce particular products such as custom caps. They also tend to have higher minimum order requirements, their user experience is not good, and they only offer one or a few products instead of an entire platform to produce apparel and accessories.

If the customer is not a designer or doesn’t have access to a designer, then they can’t even participate in the ability to make a product.

Our solution is to gain a loyal and expanding group of customers that want to make custom products and provide them with a user friendly platform to create these products. The manufacturers we work with generally won’t agree to do small orders, but because our platform is efficient and we can provide them with consistent business, they are able to profitably build out production lines to produce highly customized orders.

Because of technology the trends in both China and the US point towards factories becoming smaller and more nimble which benefits our model.

There is a trend towards consumers moving away from mass manufactured products made by large brands. We will create a community that helps individuals and businesses easily make products, while at the same time creating an online space for consumers interested in these products.

Our Dream

Our dream is for anyone in the world to be able to produce and design fashion quality custom apparel and accessories and eventually other products using their computer, or phone. If someone has an idea and the desire to be successful we will have the resources in place to make their project successful. Currently we are only able to manufacture products that are simple, but we will expand our offerings to be able to support complex products. We want to also build out online and offline communities that will give our customers the ability to sell their products as soon as they are produced, and to also open channels to larger retailers and boutiques where our customers can also sell their products.

Where we want to be in 5 years

  • An extensive custom product line that covers virtually all apparel and accessory products.
  • A group of high quality 3rd party designers that can make a living on our site.
  • Pop up stores or perhaps even permanent stores in the US or Asia that showcase products made within our community.
  • A household name amongst fashion designers.
  • Our shopping site will become a destination for people to find unique products.
  • World class ERP and CRM system that handles every aspect of the production process.
  • The creation of a truly robust community where everyone from designers, fashion brands, small businesses and the consumer can interact and truly benefit from the community


Value proposition

-We have a dedicated technical team updating our T/S system on a weekly basis. Our ultimate goal is to make a seamless process for custom manufacturing.

-The goal is to make custom manufacturing as easy as an Amazon transaction. However, when we fall short of that expectation we have a knowledgeable and helpful sales and customer service team which our customers can rely on when there are issues. We realize that no matter how optimized our systems are, sometimes there are problems with manufacturing and we are always there to help.

-We are constantly bringing new factories and products into our network. By adding factories to our network our customers can trust the transaction they make, and trust that the product will be high quality and arrive on time

-One of the pillars of our community is creating a market for our customer’s products whether it be through crowd sourcing tools to help them better distribute their products, or through online shopping portals, pop up stores and permanent stores that we will use to help them promote their products.

-We stand behind our products. We will do unlimited design and sample revisions free of charge until the customer is satisfied. Furthermore, if the product does not match the quality of the original sample that was approved we will redo the order free of charge or offer a full refund.

-We truly care about small businesses, entrepreneurs and small organizations. We go out of our way to think of ways to benefit our customers, even if we don’t make money on the project or even lose money on the project. At our heart we are also a small business, and come form very humble roots and we will never forget that.

 Brand essence

Partner + Fashion

Partner: To all people with great ideas, we are here to help you create your own identity. We solve every barrier to making a successful custom product, from helping our customer with the design, manufacturing and distribution of the product. If there are ever any issues we have a dedicated team to solve any issue during the process. In fact every customer will receive an email from the CEO, President, Senior Project Manager and Operations Director ensuring that their order is going smoothly.

Fashion: Fashion is rooted in our very DNA. The design of our site and the experience we create is inspired by fashion and all of our products must be “Fashion Quality”

Brand personality

Efficient, Entrepreneurial, Trustworthy, Revolutionary, Fashionable, “Make the impossible possible”, American



Efficient: The/Studio system can make your purchasing experience easy and efficient.
Trustworthy: We promise that all our products meet the “fashion quality” standards. If customers are not 100% satisfied, we redo it for free and offer a full refund if needed.

Revolutionary: We want to change the world of custom manufacturing. We want to take the power away from large corporations and completely change how individuals and organizations design, produce and sell apparel and accessories.

Fashionable: Everything that we do whether it be the design of our website, our email signature or the quality of our product, we try to maintain an awareness of design and fashion. We are that weird person sitting at a restaurant, that captivates everyone through their expressions and dress.

Entrepreneurial: we encourage individuals to establish their own brand by offering them necessary resources in custom manufacturing.

Make the impossible possible: This is the spirit that we admire and we hope everyone in our organization develop this trait.

American: Most people associate manufacturing with Asia. Although we do a lot of our manufacturing in Asia, we also do some in the United States. Furthermore, we infuse our systems, processes and partners with American values of transparency, reliability, honesty, good quality, at an affordable price.

Brand voice

Partner Conversational+Congratulatory

We want the conversation with our customer to create the feeling that we are having a conversation with a long term partner. Always extremely helpful and supportive, professional but not too formal.

Target Market

  • Our target market is anyone that believes they have an idea for a product that other people would enjoy receiving or buying.
  • The above target market is obviously very broad, but when doing demographic research on our customers we found that there was not one customer category that made up more than 10% of our customers. They ranged from government, companies, sports teams, fashion brands, etc…
  • Based on this we made a decision that we would subtly focus on Indie fashion brands. First we believe that if our branding is good enough for a fashion designer, and our product good enough for a fashion brand, then it will be good enough for everyone. Secondly we believe that whether they are a fashion brand or not, they are still making a fashion item. A police officer ordering a patch for her police department is not ordering a patch, she is ordering something for her entire unit to wear with pride; this is fashion.
  • Another market that we target are small businesses and entrepreneurs. We hope that our platform inspires them to create and enables their success.


  • A full 61% of our current customers are between the age of 18 to 34, which is the most connected and tech savvy group of consumers. The next largest segment is 35 to 44 which makes up another 15.5% of our customer base. Totally 76.5% of our customers are from highly technically savvy generations. We believe that our emphasis on simplicity and efficiency will play well with this demographic.
  • 45% of our customers are women and 55% are men. Therefore we believe its in our best interests to remain gender neutral in our voice.


Possible Tag Lines

  • You Imagine. We Create
  • Custom is beautiful
  • Democratizing customization
  • Fashion quality custom manufacturing solution


Country Of Origin

  • We are an American owned and registered S Corporation. Although we have offices in Asia, and Europe we derive most of our corporate culture from our American roots.
  • This includes a balance between design and efficiency.
  • A focus on hard work and measuring staff based on performance.
  • Having an extremely customer focused culture to a fault.
  • A celebration of the entrepreneur and the person that wants to be individualistic and do something different.
  • American values of transparency, trust, and commitment.


Corporate Values

  • The/Studio operates in the United States, Philippines, China and Romania. We truly believe that all people and cultures can contribute amazing things to our company and to the world. Anyone in the company can become an executive manager regardless of nationality, gender or religion. Their ability to work with others, perform and execute the companies vision will define their success in our organization.
  • Over 80% of our staff members are of Asian descent. We don’t look at Asia as a place for cheap labor. We look at Asia as the most vibrant and dynamic economy in the world today, and we are honored to be a part of this transformation. Our goal is to develop leaders of all nationalities to unify around the goal of democratizing custom manufacturing.
  • We also have not forgotten our American roots. The US is still our largest market and in terms of dollars spent we spend the most amount of money with American suppliers. We will also be strengthening our Made in America product offerings.
  • The/Studio is a global company. We will go anywhere where there is a market, or production infrastructure, and we will set up offices anywhere where we think we can hire talent that will help us pursue our mission statement.
  • At The/Studio we truly want to change the way fashion is manufactured.
  • We believe in the doctrine of 1% better everyday. We are constantly having discussions about how we can improve.
  • We try to do everything with perfection.


How we implement our corporate values

  • We truly believe in a true meritocracy. All managers including the CEO , Operations Director, President and CTO sit with the entire team in an open space. This may seem superficial but the idea is that everyone in the organization is equal, just with different roles and levels of responsibility.
  • Literally 50% of our managers are women and our management team is mixed amongst people from different countries, and religions. We don’t do this deliberately. We just try to hire the best people, and let them succeed and that just means we naturally have a very diverse office.
  • Most of our staff has the opportunity to earn bonuses which incentivizes them to make the correct and quick decisions for our clients.
  • We are working on a pilot program in our Shenzhen office to share some of the profit with the production manager. We feel that eventually this pilot program will help us to rapidly scale our company by giving more control to managers.
  • We have discussed launching a program to allow staff that has been with the company for 5 or more years to present a business plan to upper management, work with them on improving their business plan, and even offering funding if the business model is solid.
  • We are also having discussions amongst upper managers to at least think about moving outside of big city centers to provide a more relaxed environment for our team and lower real estate prices will allow home ownership to be easier.
  • All staff in the company is encouraged to question its leaders. The only thing that is sacred is trying to make custom design and manufacturing simple. Anything that gets in the way of this should be challenged.
  • We have flexible working environments. Around 10% of our workforce works remotely from home, and the emphasis is less on punctuality rather than on accomplishing goals.
  • In the future we would also like to be more active in planning team building events.


Inspirational Brands

  • – We appreciate how Harry’s has turned a very mundane product (shaving) into a lifestyle brand.
  • – We admire how AirBnB has curated a diverse group of listings into a global community.
  • – We respect the ease in which Uber can be used.
  • Apple – Clean and Simplistic design, Revolutionary spirit
  • Ikea – A new, faster way to better life at home
    -I think we are doing similar things as Ikea does, they offer “affordable designer furniture”, we offer “Affordable stylish custom apparel and accessories.
    -Ikea concept: Doing it a different way.
  • DJI in terms of branding (brand msg, community, DJI University)


The/Studio story

The/Studio was founded in 2006 by Joseph Heller in his loft apartment, in Shenzhen, China.  He would work at night to interface with customers in the United States, and sleep upstairs during the day, while his secretary would work downstairs during the day to deal with factories.  Joseph graduated from UC Berkeley and came to China in 2005 to teach English.  He stumbled across the opportunity to sell embroidered patches and started The/Studio.


Joseph Heller_CEO_of_TheStudio

The/Studio’s competitors treated the embroidered patch market as a commodity and their bland websites reflected this approach.  Joseph saw each embroidered patch as an expression, and a tapestry of modern day history.  The/Studio became a rebel in this sleepy industry by taking an approach of making demands on the factory based on customer requirements rather than accepting the rigid industry standards that were put in place for decades.


Previously minimum orders were as high as 1,000 pieces, and there were a lot of other rules in place for how a patch had to be produced and the materials used to produce a patch.  Joseph only had 20 orders per month in the beginning, and he demanded that any factory that wanted to work with The/Studio had to accept orders as low as 1 piece, and had to produce the patch exactly the way the customer wanted it, with the material the customer wanted.  Joseph was even kicked out of one factory for his audacious demands.  Dozens of factories told Joseph that they wouldn’t produce one patch, but Joseph was convinced that if the customer wanted it the factories should produce it.

The factories said they could only offer a few different options for patches.  The/Studio launched dozens of new special options to decorate our patches, and promised our customers, that if they imagined something, The/Studio would figure out a way to create it.Everyone was managing orders through emails, spreadsheets and other rudimentary and outdated technology.  The/Studio was the first company in our industry to create a CRM/ERP system that would manage the entire process.  When we entered the industry the standard turnaround time for a patch was 6 to 8 weeks.  We have now reduced that turnaround time to 4 to 21 days.

The/Studio eventually became the largest supplier of custom embroidered patches, and finally we decided that we wanted to take our methodology of low minimums, quick turnaround time, unlimited special options and an optimized ordering process to other custom products.We first built a new and improved CRM/ERP system that we affectionately call The/Studio Factory Cloud.

This would allow us to scale the business and maintain the same level of consistency and speed across all of our product categories.  Even after we launched The/Studio Factory Cloud, which is superior to what any of our competitors have, we continued to get customer and employee feedback on how to improve the system, and we make weekly updates.


In 2014 we launched our second product which was custom woven labels, and we later launched custom challenge coins.  Starting in 2015 The/Studio will launch a total of 18 new products, and we will launch a total of 72 different custom products in 2016.



Heritage of The/Studio

The first and only product that we produced for the first 8 years of our existence was custom embroidered patches. It is significant that The/Studio’s first product was not printed promotional products or custom printed t-shirts, because these products are not truly manufactured products.  Embroidered patches are products that are manufactured from scratch.

Our roots are in manufacturing, which means that instead of looking at limitations, we only see an opportunity to create something truly unique and beautiful.




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