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Interwoven: David Butler is honoring disposable mediums by bucking digital norms

His 'Analogue Luxury' brand produces fine art, home goods, and merchandise inspired by old photography practices.

The millennial generation has proven the power of the internet which has opened up a world of opportunity for creatives to thrive. The plethora of new tools allow people to connect on a global scale whether they are in the Big Apple or from a small town in Charlotte. However, the human experience demands interaction. David Butler is a prime example of how the internet and the real world meet.

In 2013, Butler, a recent college grad, had noticed a shift in the spirit of his hometown. Shortly after his return home, his curiosity toward the creative community surrounding him. He began to attend events and photograph moments that quickly lead into planning events of his own. He used his broad skill set, creativity, and business knowledge to craft a following that exists both on and off the internet. REVOLT picked his brain on how he used gorilla marketing tactics through fashion to build a clientele and fanbase.

What are some of the most useful tools in marketing for small business owners? Content scheduling apps like Later, Hootsuite, etc. For content creation, if you consider yourself design-challenged or too busy to pick up any formal graphic design tools, I would check out something like Canva to assist.

How is retail adjusting to the e-commerce clientele? A trend I’m noticing, specifically from some larger retailers and luxury retailers, is much more of a showroom model. Clients are able to come in, try on specific items or experience different items in person, but it's then ordered and delivered to your home directly as opposed to you leaving the brand’s space with it in-hand. I’ll have a similar set-up for the space I'm looking to open for Analogue Luxury. It’s beneficial for a number of reasons, but it’s mainly a cost-saving measure and helps with the logistics of moving goods.

Who are some of the first people that reached out to commission your work and services? Initially, I had the same clientele everyone starts with: events/shows, professional headshots, stuff for bloggers, engagement photos, etc. I was shooting with whoever was willing to pay.

When did you decide the specific type of work you were willing to do to build your brand? Around the end of 2014 and early 2015. I decided to focus on trying to work with brands, freelancing with agency clients, etc.

When did you realize you needed to learn more to grow your business? I’ve always known there is more to learn. Everyone knows the famous Einstein quote, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” That’s truly a life principle. I’m learning all the time from friends, family, business associates, strangers. All experiences contribute to a knowledge base that helps you navigate the world if you’re awake to it.

At what stage did your personal brand begin to grow into a space where it held value in the market you serve? After about a year and a half of consistently putting out work and meeting with people. But my profile is still growing. There’s around 800,000 people in Charlotte so, needless to say, a good bit of the creative community knows me but there’s a lot of work to be done.

Where and why did you see the most success for your brand? Toward the beginning to be honest. People love to experience something fresh and new. That’s why it's important to link up and get with homies in other markets to help you grow. Either that, or you have to keep reinventing yourself at home. I think I’ve been blessed to do a little bit of both in all mediums: photography, design, and merchandise.

What are some of the tactics you used to create excitement & engagement for your brand? I always try to give people something tangible and meet people in person. We’re jaded digitally; we take in a lot of information all the time, yet we’re taught that’s where the value is. I’ve noticed [that] if you pull in the other direction and deliver something amazing to someone in person, you can create more Ws than Ls. It takes longer to scale, sure, but when I can I meet people before following them on social media and I try and get people to interact and experience the brand in some way to create a lasting impact.

What void does your business fill in the marketplace? The business of Analogue Luxury is based on the thought process that our people--who have a certain perspective because they participate or participated in streetwear and its affiliated youth dominated sub-cultures--want those design sensibilities of those sub-cultures applied to art, merch, and decor for their home. Often because they don’t participate how they used to, they may not wear as many t-shirts or hats or buy as many sneakers as they used to, but they still enjoy that energy and would like to have it integrated in their space in new and interesting ways.

What made you switch gears from photography to fashion? They’ve always been intertwined. My first experience was creating merchandise for a media company one of my professors owned in undergrad. So through that work, I learned how important it is to be authentically integrated into people’s environments. A great way to communicate within that environment is through what people wear. The first hats designed were because I wanted to market my photography and I always wore hats, so I finally decided if I'm going to wear something all the time it should have my name on it. If it’s well-designed or catches peoples attention, it can cause conversations which generates leads.

I’ve never deliberately wanted to scale a fashion brand because of how fickle the industry is and how small the margins tend to be. So I’ve much more approached it from that merchandising perspective and over time it's evolved into what I do with the merch for Analogue Luxury. If you can create something people don’t mind wearing and they can talk about what they’re wearing, then I know I’m going in the right direction.

When did you experience problems in your business model? How did you overcome them? 2015-2016 caused me to re-evaluate how I was moving. I was throwing pop-up shops and when I looked at the numbers, the business just didn’t make sense. It was good exposure and the brand was making an impact culturally, but I was always breaking even or losing money. You rent out a space, pay for entertainment (DJs, beatmakers, emcees, etc.), you have to charge people at the door to try and recoup the venue, then you have to hope they buy something and it just wasn’t making sense.

So I took some time off, went and worked some jobs, learned about e-commerce, and met with people to learn more about how agencies and event companies operate. I haven’t thrown a pop-up in over two years and I’ve been focused on the services and sales arm of the business because they are what was truly generating revenue. During that time, I also created Analogue Luxury which we’re working on securing a more permanent brand experience for, in terms of physical space, so we can avoid some of the earlier pitfalls of providing experiences for people.

Are you against taking investment money to expand? If so why or why not? It depends on the project or business. A lot of times when you take on investments, you need to make sure you at least have an idea on how you can recoup that and provide an ROI (return on investment). So if there is profitability built into your model or it's considered high-growth, then you could probably stomach investment a bit more than a service-based business. I tend to lean toward slow organic growth, good relationships, and growing at the right pace so these things occur naturally--at least in what I’m doing now with consulting and Analogue Luxury. I have some other ideas where I think investment would be more appropriate and I’d be willing to give up some ownership for the capital that's needed.

How did you establish an edge over your competitors? For Analogue Luxury specifically, I haven’t seen too many brands focused on home decor and fine art from this perspective. Hopefully I can reach people with an authentic story and they enjoy a bit of the nostalgia provided from the analogue mediums we’re working in. On the consulting side, it’s extremely relationship- and value-driven. I try and solve problems for other people, [and] drive as much value as possible which isn’t always monetary, but it helps when the problems you solve can generate revenue as well. Being able to do that, having my own perspective through previous experiences and being able to communicate it in tangible examples for the client, tends to work well. From there, it’s all about execution.

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