This blog article is based on an interview with Aydian Dowling on Printful’s Instagram Live. Follow us, and stay updated for more content about Printful and amazing store owners like Aydian.
In 2012, Aydian Dowling began designing and printing apparel with positive messages for transgender people in order to raise money for his gender-affirming surgery. He raised the funds he needed in about six months and prepared to close shop, but because of the positive feedback he got from customers, he decided to stay open.
Aydian says that back then, it was difficult to come by any trans-positive messages on apparel, so they were in high demand.
“People said things like, ‘Oh, this is the only thing out there,’ and ‘These clothes really fit me,’ and ‘I love putting on these shirts. They make me feel positive,’” Aydian says. “I didn’t want to take those positive feelings away from people, which is why I started giving away the proceeds.”
Because Aydian had a full-time job he loved, he began donating proceeds from his store, Point 5cc, to LGBTQIA+ organizations and did so until his friend Jeff suggested he start his own nonprofit organization.
Aydian took his friend’s advice and founded Point of Pride. Its goal is to give back to the community Aydian says saved his life during his process of coming out.
“Community is what I wanted,” he remembers. “I wanted to feel love, I wanted to give love, I wanted to receive love, and that’s why I really wanted to start this and give back to the community,” he says. “This community gave so much to me. They made me feel alive and like I deserved to be happy in life and validated my experience.”
To date, Point 5cc has raised more than $250,000, which Aydian says has “helped trans people live a more authentic life in their bodies.”
With the shift to a more serious nonprofit model, Aydian also shifted to using Printful to print and fulfill his products on-demand.
“I started printing stuff by hand, and as the company grew, I knew I couldn’t do that anymore, and I needed to find help. I honestly just stumbled upon Printful, got some samples, and loved them.”
Above all, Aydian considers himself an activist for trans rights.
“I take every opportunity I can to speak out against the injustices for trans people.” he says.
Aydian hopes his passion for the trans community comes through in his designs.
“I don’t identify as an artist, I identify as an activist, and so my clothes ring true to me,” he says.
Despite not being an artist or a designer, Aydian still pays attention to the kinds of styles and colors people are wearing to get a sense for which products will perform well in his store.
Let’s take a look at a few of his designs:
Aydian created this design with his friend Jeff, who encouraged him to start the nonprofit and now serves on its board.
“We felt like so many people didn’t feel good enough,” Aydian explains. “They didn’t feel smart enough. They didn’t feel thin enough or pretty enough or strong enough or good-looking enough or trans enough or gay enough or Black enough or Latino enough like whatever enough.”
The design was inspired by a Maya Angelou quote, “You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody.”
“You don’t necessarily have to be super artsy fartsy in order to create cool stuff, which is definitely the best part,” he says.
Aydian keeps activism at the front of his mind, and likes bold statements like this one.
“Our clothing really represents who we are and how we see the world,” he explains. “I think it’s especially important for all of us to speak up on behalf of our intersectional trans people like Black trans women who are murdered at a disproportionate rate than any other community in the US.”
He says that wearing a shirt like this one can teach other people something about what’s important to you before you even talk to them.
“If you wear a shirt like this, you’re really just putting it out there, right?” he says. “At the end of the day, this is an important message, and there’s no sugarcoating it.”
Aydian says designs for allies are just as important as designs for the trans community because not all trans people feel comfortable wearing bold designs. They may live in unaccepting communities or interact in spaces where their identities aren’t valued.
“But people like myself who have the privileges I have and the ability to walk around, I want people to know,” he says. “I want to change that narrative for trans people and for people who don’t know what trans is.”
Aydian’s more personal line of merch comes from his YouTube channel, originally named ‘A Lion’s Fears,” where he posts videos chronicling his transition and discussing trans issues.
“I might make these clothes more for me than for other people,” he admits jokingly. “But they like it, so I’m not going to complain about it.”
To create more illustrative designs like the lion and special edition Christmas designs he’s used in the past, Aydian sometimes hires a designer. He says it’s easy to find great artists online through sites like Etsy.
Running Point 5cc has been a learning experience for Aydian. He says that before he started, he wished he’d known more about accounting and profit margins.
“I think I could have started the nonprofit sooner with more money,” he says. “Learning to price products is really important.”
In order to do this well, Aydian has learned that it’s important to understand your audience. He loves the Champion products Printful offers, but he also offers options at a lower price point.
“Everyone’s got their thing,” he says, “So that’s something I wish I had a little more knowledge in at the beginning, but you’ll learn it when you start your store no matter what, because you either make the sale or you don’t. It’s pretty clear-cut.”
Aydian says choosing a print-on-demand supplier with excellent customer service was also a smart move for his business, and he especially appreciates the personalized experience at Printful.
“It’s great to be able to check in on a big order and actually talk to a human,” he says. “Once Printful even reached out to me about a mistake in my embroidery designs. They helped me make sure the final product came out really well.”
He also appreciates the flexibility and versatility of the print-on-demand platform.
“Once a customer asked me if they could have an ‘I am enough’ t-shirt in purple because it was their favorite color,” he explains. “And I said, ‘Yeah, literally, give me seven minutes, and I’ll have it up for you.’ When I emailed them the link they were so impressed.”
Aydian is excited to continue serving the community he loves by offering products with positive messages and supporting organizations that make a difference in the lives of trans people. Does your shop support a cause? Tell us about it in the comments below.
Caroline is a former journalist turned marketer. She is a content marketing specialist at Printful and is becoming increasingly obsessed with social proof.
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