Vardagen, a graphic t-shirt brand inspired by the Midwest, has been a staple in the Indianapolis fashion community over the past several years. The brand has been operating out of their stand-alone retail store in Fishers since the brand was founded in 2008, but they just recently opened a new location in the Castleton Square Mall. Jared Ingold, owner and co-founder of VDGN, gives us insight into how he’s managed his brand’s continued success and growth.
Bridget Barbara: In your past PATTERN interview about two years ago, you discussed how you designed the Fishers location and how you like how transparent VDGN is with its customers. How have things changed or developed since?
Jared Ingold: Back then, we were exploring a lot of different things with what the brand could be and do. I think that was right when we made a deal and sold some stuff to Hot Topic, I think that was January 2015. We were just throwing things out there and seeing what it would be like to sell wholesale, which is a whole other beast to tackle.[laughs] Since then, we’ve focused on working directly with our customers and building experiences. So we feel like we have a lot of growing to do before we want to be in too big of a retailer if it’s not exactly the right fit.
BB: I know you’re originally from Ohio, so what made you relocate to Indianapolis in the first place?
JI: I moved here right after high school and I wasn’t really sure what I was gonna get into. I had a friend, he was from Ohio, and he relocated here to work at a church as a youth pastor and he wanted help growing his ministry. So, I ended up staying and starting a business here.
BB: OK, nice, I’m from Ohio so I was really wondering.
JI: Oh really? Where?
JI: Oh nice, I’m from Zanesfield area, it’s like the halfway point between Columbus and Cleveland.
BB: Oh OK, so way up north. I also read once that you wanted to find a location downtown. Is this still something you want to do? What other next steps are you looking forward to?
JI: We’re just trying to get the brand in front of more and more people. There’s still so many people who have never heard of it. We’ve been doing VDGN for a while and I think downtown would be great, but we’d have to know that we’d get enough foot traffic wherever we would go. We’re also interested in seeing how the brand can do in other cities. We’re not really sure what the next step would be, but we’re kinda just taking it one step at a time with what we can do and launch.
BB: Who or what has been your main support throughout this journey of VDGN?
JI: I think a lot of our support has been internal. We’re a really tight-knit team with diversity and ideas, but we’re unified in what we do. We set out big goals and chip away at them, so I think we all hold each other up and keep pressing on. A lot of that support is internally pushing ourselves to do the best we can. We’re highly critical of ourselves too. Even after years of doing this, we’re just starting to feel more confident about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and how the brand is shaping up.
BB: You’ve mentioned before that a lot of people don’t see the Midwest as a popular influence on fashion, but you do. What about the Midwest or Indiana speaks to you specifically?
JI: I think there’s a little bit of toughness to being in the Midwest, like dealing with the weather and the work ethic. I think the brand isn’t so exact on being always this way or that way. It kind of ebbs and flows with what we’re dealing with or into.
Then just a little bit of the struggle of paving new paths for fashion in a way because we don’t really have people to pull us along. In the Midwest, it’s not like if we get this in the hands of this person, then everyone’s gonna be like ‘we’re so into that now!’ because we don’t really have an example of that happening.
BB: So outside of the Midwest influence, what else inspires you?
JI: I think something what pushes us along and inspires us is the importance of a brand coming out a city and being a part of that area. Specific brands and companies are tied to certain places in the country and it makes those places more important to me, personally. If I know where brands come from, I think it means more.
When we go to trade shows it’s inspiring to see other brands that are really doing well. We’re inspired by smaller brands and I really like new things, upcoming things… just something that’s different. So anything’s that’s on that train [laughs] is what I gravitate towards.
BB: Are there any specific brands or people at trade shows that stand out that you can remember?
JI: Recently I just came across RIPNDIP and now they’re getting really big. I didn’t even really know much about them. But I liked how they had a smaller team of people. How they operate and what they put out was great to see. It seems like they have a lot of fun with their brand. Looking at what they do, I felt like it was really inspiring.
BB: I know you just opened up this location in Castleton Mall, so what have you seen so far as advantages and disadvantages of being in a mall setting compared to the stand-alone store in Fishers?
JI: We really fought the mall thing because I don’t shop at the mall very much and I felt disconnected from it. But then they reached out to us, asked if we could do something creative with the space, and working with them has been phenomenal so that changed my perspective. They do care about local stuff and want to see us succeed. So in one sense, our Fishers store is like the most ridiculous place probably we could be [laughs] it’s not retail and somehow we’ve made it there for years.
The mall is nice because people really are here ready to buy clothes and our response has been really great. I’m really happy with what people have been saying about the space and the brand, so that’s been really encouraging. One of our biggest struggles is how narrow the space is. When the mall’s busy, there will always be someone standing outside looking inside like, ‘um, should I go in there?’ We’ve even been more aggressive and just come out and say to them, ‘hey we saw you checking out the store, you’re welcome to come in!’
So it’s been cool getting to tell the story of the brand, what we do, how we do it. People seem to attach to it very quickly. People will come in and buy several items and they’ve never heard of us before and they’re into it. For us, that means a lot because they can get on board with us really quickly. We really still view this as something that’s not just about us; we’re doing this because we want to create something that’s special for a lot of people around us. So when they connect to it, it feels like we’re doing what we set out to do.
BB: Your location is now alongside a ton of nationally-recognized clothing brands, so what’s been your strategy for VDGN to be successful here?
JI: We wanted to be in the mall, but not of the mall [laughs]. We have a lot of people come in and say this is so different, this is so fresh. Our store is really bright and white. We’re trying to communicate that this is something new and we’re trying to attract people who want to come alongside of us and be a part of something new and different. So our strategy is to communicate and push forward.
We had done a kiosk at Keystone Mall before and it had done well, but we didn’t really communicate the brand very well. So now, we’re really trying to make sure that everyone who comes in, we’re talking to them about who we are and what we’re about. So the more people feel connected with it, the barriers come down and it’s not so much, what specifically does this shirt mean? Or what’s this all about? It’s more like, they understand VDGN as a brand and that it was built here in Indianapolis and it’s a part of this community. So using the space as a way to get in front of more people and get the word out is really what we have been focusing on.
BB: How has all of this growth affected your in-house operations? If at all? Did being in a new place change anything?
JI: We’ve definitely had challenges, the inventory is really tricky because our inventory syncing between one store and online is one thing, but when it’s multiple stores and online, it’s really tricky. So we’re still sorting through that because we have products that are available in store, and people are wanting them online, but they’re not always there so that’s been chaotic. We do have a plan in place to address that.
The mall store has also given a lot of stockroom space which has created the opportunity to better our online fulfillment so we’re gonna start fulfilling a lot of our orders here because it’s a really nice set up.
BB: How important has it been establishing your brand through social media?
JI: I think it’s been really important. That’s one area that we still have so far to go. What’s really tricky about our brand is creating very unique products that we’re not even sure who wants them. And with digital marketing you need to know exactly who your audience is. There’s been different times where we’ve created a product and we have in our head, ‘this is exactly the person who’s gonna want this,’ and then we’ll have this total different connection to someone we never expected. So that is always challenging. A lot of people say ‘you guys do so great on your social media,’ but I feel like we have such a long ways to go.
BB: What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur trying to make it in the fashion industry?
JI: I would say keep things simple and stay really, really, really focused. It’s so easy to get distracted in this industry because there’s a lot of options and a lot of variables and there’s so many ways to do things. I had no fashion background or any of that so I’m learning as I go, but I just make up for it by working extra hard. I think you should set a direction and stay really focused in that direction for a while to see if you can keep that traction going.
BB: Thank you so much, anything else that you’re itching to say?
JI: Yeah! I would like to talk about one thing, and this may go back to your first question. What we started doing with the brand is developing a set of collections. So one of the things that’s been our downfall is keeping a lot of creative freedom in the brand. We’ve kinda been all over the map in our designs in some sense. A lot of things connect, but we haven’t done a good job of bringing related pieces together visually so our customers can see that. So over the course of this next year, we’ll start to do that and you’ll start to see specific collections. For instance, our Rush Junkies collection is focused on motorcycles, action sports, stuff like that. So we’ll have other collections that are named and grouped together, that’s a big part of what we’re working on right now.
BB: How many designers do you guys have?
JI: Daniel’s our only designer, and we are working on collaborating with other artists. That takes a lot of work, but we’ve had so many people reach out to us and wanting to do that. If we get all of our stuff into nice collections, then that gives us opportunities to add people in and add to the collections or make special collections.
A lot of people view t-shirts as a stepping stone for their brand. You start a brand and you make t shirts and you put your logo all over, then you get into all the other stuff that you really want to do. With us, graphic tees is all that we want to do. I know that might sound kinda funny, but we just think that there should be graphic t shirt brands that do nothing else.
Check out VDGN on Instagram!