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New Orleans’ Dirty Coast – An Interview with Blake Haney

May 2nd, 2007 by shawn · No Comments

You realize what you love most when you begin to miss it. Sometimes it’s a person, but it can also be a place. That might sound foreign or weird to many of you, but if you were from New Orleans you’d understand perfectly. Back on Sept. 1 of 2005 I ended up leaving my home in New Orleans, Louisiana for Minneapolis, Minnesota because of a little thing called Katrina; I didn’t see any way I could continue operating my business with the conditions in the New Orleans area being what they were.

New Orleans probably isn’t as polished, professional, or progressive as Minneapolis. But it’s in my blood. I miss it.

This summer we are returning home, and since New Orleans has been on our minds (and in our plans) lately, I sought out an entrepreneur from the area to share some business advice with us.This week we have an interview with Blake Haney, the owner of Dirty Coast Press. Dirty Coast makes some of the coolest New Orleans shirts I’ve ever seen. Growing up in New Orleans, I saw a lot of just-plain-awful “Nawlins” tourist tee shirts in the French Quarter shops: these are not those kinda shirts. The closest comparison I can make to Dirty Coast is possibly Threadless shirts, except Dirty Coast t-shirts have local flavor and speak to the people from NOLA directly. (If you’re a Louisianian, you’ll possibly think they’re cooler than the Threadless stuff. Even though Threadless has some spectacular shirts.)

Be a New Orleanian Wherever You Are

Blake has created a company that makes some super cool shirts, and it looks like it keeps getting better. Sure, some of the t-shirts might not mean much to someone from another part of the world…but that’s part of the appeal. And he’s using American Apparel tees (made in the U.S.A.!) , local New Orleans designers, and a local New Orleans screenprinter (La Chiva) to create everything Dirty Coast sells.

Name of Business: I have a few but the one in question is Dirty Coast Press.

Owner(s) Names & Ages: Blake Haney, 31

Location: Down in the dirty of course. New Orleans.

Website: http://dirtycoast.com

Type of Business: Apparel and Stickers

Start Date: April 2005

Startup Costs: 20k

Annual Income: Everything goes back into the company now.

Number of Employees: 1 full time, 2 part time.

Why did you start this business?
The initial idea was rather simple. I had a design studio in New Orleans and therefore access to the talent and capability to produce nice shirts completely local. Then when Katrina happened, it took upon a greater significance and has become a call to action to help spread the local pride and support around the country and locally.

What lessons have come from your experience running The Dirty Coast?
Surround yourself with the right people and have clear priorities. With capacity humming along, things get done and move forward. Whether they move as fast as they should or could – I never can tell, really. I am just happy with progress and creation.

What’s the most fun part of what you do?
The reactions we get from fans of what we are trying to do for the city and area; it is very rewarding.

What’s been your biggest success with this business, so far?
200,000 “Be a New Orleanian” stickers around the country.

Where do you see this business going in the future?
Expand the line to bags, dresses and then open a retail physical store in the next year. From there, we shall see.

What advice can you offer to young entrepreneurs?
Set small goals. Work with smart people (as smart or more skilled then you). Build a network of mutually beneficial creative and active entrepreneurs. If you have a collective you can depend on to float ideas and bring them into fruition, the mutual support will help everyone involved. Push your work, their work and build a community around it: Then you can’t lose.

Who have been your main role models, mentors, or sources of inspiration in starting and running your business?
There are those who have achieved success on their own who I ask for advice and try to collaborate with. There is not one person in my life as a mentor but anyone who is self-reliant and could care less what the critics say is a role model and inspiration to me. That is the hardest part: getting work out there and pushing through the nay-sayers.

What’s been the biggest surprise (or obstacle) you’ve encountered in your work?
How easy it is when it is supported by a community. They give you the ideas and energy to keep expanding and going at it. Without the community support in a retail business you are finished.

Which forms of advertising do you recommend for entrepreneurs and why?

Stickers, because folks love them, share them and wear them as a badge of identity. But of course, make the sticker cool – I would never put a Nike swoosh on my car.

Be very creative with copy writing. Use it to create a “meme”: a concept that can spread and be linked to your brand.

What are your favorite books (business related or otherwise)?
I read non-fiction but less than I would like. I am too busy. It is sad actually; I used to read all the time.

Read The War of Art. Read Emerson’s Self Reliance. Read Vonnegut short stories. Read The Tao Te Ching.

What is the single biggest factor that has made you successful?
I stay busy and get excited about creating reality.

How would you describe the business climate in New Orleans right now – for entrepreneurs specifically?
New Orleans has always been the type of place where if you do anything, it will be successful and embraced by the community. We love our neighbors and creative endeavors. You won’t make millions, but you will have an enriched life and be able to live off a lot less then elsewhere. (Although, since the storm things have gotten tighter in the housing market and more expensive.)

How has Katrina affected what you do?
Everything I do matters more than anyone could ever realize. You have to live here to understand it. We are trying to save a good friend, mother, cultural hero and historic icon while living our small lives. It is a struggle – but one that makes everything more important.

What do you want people to know about New Orleans’ current condition?
Like I said, if you have an idea and want to get it out there, New Orleans is a great place to give it a shot. That is, unless it is a server farm – keep that on dry ground!

If the idea is one that engages people, the city will embrace you – but only if it does not aggressively advertise or shove itself in folks’ faces. We don’t react well to that type of marketing. It is more organic here, word of mouth.

What are your favorite things about New Orleans?
The people, when they are happy to be with each other (Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, second lines, crawfish boils, etc.)

What are your hopes for New Orleans in the next few years?
Green Architecture. A stronger more progressive school system. Political leaders that give a shit.

What do you want to tell our readers that can help them, inspire them, or instruct them?
Ride your bicycle in gangs and rediscover where you live. Don’t like it? Move.

So there you have it – a very interesting profile of Dirty Coast and advice from the man behind the shirts, Blake Haney. If you haven’t already, check out their website – help keep New Orleans on people’s minds by buying a shirt!

If you want to read more about Dirty Coast, click here and here.

If you enjoyed the interview or want to know more, please leave a comment!

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    Tags: Advice & Inspiration · Business Profiles · Running a Business

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