Ryan Abegglen is the brains behind the apparel company Dead Ace Co He believes in the art of handmade and quality production. His new pieces will be available to the public on Saturday, April 1st at City Moto for the Spring Launch Party. PATTERN chatted with Abegglen to discuss the launch event, the history of his company, and running a small business.
Maggie Voss: Tell me about yourself!
Ryan Abegglen: I am the creative director at Pivot Marketing. I got into the motorcycle scene about five years ago. Once I got my first motorcycle, it’s been all downhill from there. I own several bikes, and I’ve made a lot of friends in the local scene. When I first I got into motorcycle racing, I couldn’t find any shirts that I liked. The shirts I saw were either way over the top sporty, poorly made, low quality, or had bad designs.
MV: When did you start Dead Ace Co?
RA: I started Dead Ace Co about two and a half years ago with my friend Joe Otter. He is also one of the owners of City Moto, which is a high-end apparel store. I told him that I needed a creative outlet and was thinking about designing a few shirts. He has a professional print setup in his basement. I asked him what he thought about me designing, him printing, and then selling the shirts at City Moto and other shops. He was like ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ We started off focused on vintage motorcycle racing. It turned out to be way too niche for a lot of people. Those shirts reached the end of the market quickly. We sold one branded shirt and it sold better than everything else. In the next collection, we focused more on the branded pieces. People really responded to the Indianapolis thing, which is cool because we have a racing heritage. We started pushing the brand a little more. We have tried to focus on making everything locally, hand-made, and in small batches, then slowly scale up.
MV: How did you come up with the name Dead Ace Co?
RA: With any ‘naming’ process, getting a URL is probably the hardest part. I wanted something that sounded cool and would stick in people’s heads. I was looking at British slang because a lot of my favorite motorcycle racers come from England. Dead means ‘very’ or ‘more than the rest by comparison’. Ace means ‘good’. Essentially, Dead Ace is slang for ‘very good’, except it sounds really cool by itself.
MV: You have a launch party on Saturday April, 1st. What can attendees expect?
RA: It is going to be at City Moto. We will be introducing six new shirts and a reprint of one that we haven’t reprinted for a couple of years. We have three new hats and a couple new patch designs. City Moto will be the second place you can buy the shirts. This will be the big introduction before they are placed on the website. It will be a bunch of people on motorcycles riding up to the shop. We will have free beer, and it will be a chill event where you can talk about motorcycles and buy some shirts.
MV: What are some of your inspirations for your spring collection?
RA: It has always been about classic race graphics from old racing uniforms and old speed shop graphics from the ‘50s and ‘60s.
MV: What are some of the themes viewers can expect to see in the spring collection?
RA: The tee that has the ‘35’ on it is called the ‘Munro’. 35 is the number that New Zealand motorcycle racer Burt Munro had on his bike. Munro set several land speed records in his lifetime at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Another thing that we reference is ‘lost causes and hopeless cases’. It’s this idea that when you get into motorcycle racing, that is all you do. There is also a visual reference to Saint Philomena who is the Patron Saint of hopeless cases. So there is sort of a religious tie-in.
MV: What made you stick with motorcycles as a hobby?
RA: I’ve always rapidly cycled through hobbies my whole life. I’ll pick something up and learn as much as I can about it and then be done with it after a few months, or a year if it’s interesting. With motorcycles, there is no end to what you can learn. There are many different types of motorcycles just within the racing aspect. You can also learn about building the bikes. With motorcycles, you can never reach the end of learning. You’re always at the beginning. It’s like a relationship — the beginning is the most exciting part.
MV: What inspired you to start an apparel brand in Indianapolis?
RA: The nice thing about being able to start in Indianapolis is if you’re out at cool gatherings or even PATTERN parties it’s easy to get to know people that are doing cool stuff. The tight-knit community combined with being in the world capital of racing made it fairly easy to get my brand out. If you decide to start something and are willing to stick with it, you can make it a success in Indy.
MV: What challenges do you face being an entrepreneur?
RA: Mainly taxes. I’ve had to learn quite a bit about corporate taxes and how they differ in filing. I needed to get an accountant, and now I track every single purchase and figure out sales tax on a monthly basis. There is a lot of bureaucracy that goes into owning a small business. It’s definitely interesting.
MV: What do you like and dislike about running a small business?
RA: I like the fact that I get to make every decision. Since the business is small, we don’t worry too much about where the market is going because our focus is so specific. We are not too affected by that. The downside is all the hand packing, addressing, and having to ship every order by myself. But I’m happy to do it. It can get a little old if I’m on my fourth trip to the post office in one week. Keeping up with inventory is the absolute worst.
MV: Describe the type of person that would wear your product.
RA: The specific answer within motorcycle racing would be Valentino Rossi who is the best Motorcycle Grand Prix rider of all time. Then it would be Brad Pitt, Jason Lee, and Keanu Reeves, or any celebrity who’s known for their love of motorcycles.
MV: Tell me about an accomplishment that you are most proud of since you started this business.
RA: My favorite thing is being out somewhere and seeing people I don’t know wearing my designs. It’s rewarding to see that Dead Ace Co has extended beyond my circle of friends.
Photography by Edrece Stansberry.