Ardon Lukas wore a shirt to this interview from his online apparel store, Shirtwascash. It was a velvet tank top with a photo of Elon Musk smoking marijuana during a podcast.
“I see my role as broadening people’s perspectives,” he told me. “Our products trigger someone to be controversial.”
Lukas launched Shirtwascash in 2014, having spent several years in corporate finance. He sells t-shirts, hoodies, shorts, sweatshirts, you name it — all printed with cultural memes or images. Some are edgy; all are interesting. He’s the “godfather of memewear,” according to his LinkedIn profile.
Our discussion addressed the business, design selection, consumer subcultures, and more. The entire audio version is embedded below. The transcript that follows is edited for length and clarity.
Eric Bandholz: Shirtwascash sells apparel with printed memes — slogans and images.
Ardon Lukas: I see my role as broadening people’s perspectives. Our products trigger someone to be controversial. We used to have a bravery section, which was apparel items that took courage to wear.
Bandholz: Sitting across from me, you’re wearing a velveteen tank with an image of Elon Musk smoking a doobie. Do you wear this stuff all the time?
Lukas: Yes, I do. This one holds some additional value. I appreciate Elon Musk’s expression of freedom and spirit. This picture was once hanging in Joe Rogan’s green room. It’s a cool piece. I like the statement that it makes, especially with the velvet.
Plus it’s super soft on the inside. I definitely go for comfort. You can’t really be yourself if you’re uncomfortable.
Bandholz: I appreciate your willingness to take on unpopular topics. I have many thoughts that I keep to myself because I have concerns about how I’ll appear or lose customers.
Lukas: A lot of people want to speak up and express themselves. We’ve been a form-based company from day one. That’s how I’ve always picked our designs. People will answer every question you throw at them. I send our customers a form to solicit their views and opinions. The form that has humanity behind its approach and its questions. It’s one of the secret reasons Shirtwascash has been able to exist for seven years.
I still send forms. A form can ask the questions that matter most to customers. Businesses tend to make a lot of assumptions. I even question my own contrarian nature. Am I right? Am I wrong? So our forms ask direct personal questions of our customers. What are your dreams? What issues are you facing now? Who’s your arch-nemesis? Who’s your best friend?
Earlier this week, I texted every repeat buyer. I said, “I’m collecting pictures and stories from customers. If you wear our clothes this weekend, send me pictures to this number.”
And the number was a Google Voice text number. Probably 10% of those customers replied. I have 20, 25 threads with people I’ve just been texting back and forth. I can ask more questions — whatever is on my mind.
It goes back to knowing our audience, where they’re at in life. What sort of clothes do they want?
Bandholz: It’s amazing that, as a founder, you take the time to get to know your fans and customers.
Lukas: I prefer the creative side. But I spend most of my week on ecommerce and marketing — looking at our funnels and traffic generators and understanding our customers.
Bandholz: How can listeners learn more about you and connect?