The Joystick Junkies Gang Models sporting two of the latest range of t-shirts, Big Al's Video Arcade and the Arcade Asylum (with artwork from the Space Invaders cabinet). Joystick Junkies grey t-shirt sporting the artwork from the Defender cabinet. Two more of the latest range of shirts, red Gauntlet and cream True Playerz. Brown t-shirt inspired by the Atari VCS game 'Chopper Command'. The Joystick Junkies Gang Light green shirt featuring footballers from Sensible Soccer and Arcade Asylum for the ladies. The new Space Invaders designed called 'destroyed'. Guy and Girls Arcade Asylum, don't they make a lovely couple?

 

RETRO FOCUS - CHRIS BIRCH

In the first of this new series, Chris Birch from Joystick Junkies shares his gaming past and explains how he company came to become a premier clothing company with game-related designs. To find out more about their t-shirts, check out the 'Get It On' link above.

 

If you could start by giving me a summary of what Joystick Junkies is all about?

Joystick Junkies is essentially a fashion label which is rooted in video games pop culture. Over the years we've used events, gaming tournements, girl gamers and much more to promote our brand.

I’ve loved video games since I was a kid, who can forget first seeing Space Invaders – around the same time that opening scene of Star Wars blew us all away. As I was working with gaming companies I spotted an opportunity to make something I knew gamers would want but also to try to make clothing that was so cool that non-gamers would want to wear it as well. You see many of these games are cool but if you actually play them the reality is not as good as the memory. By being able to wear a slice of your past it helps bring back some great memories. They also appeal to a lot of people - people who walk in to a fashion store and think it's a cool t-shirt, people who remember the games and now younger people who are discovering the games again on their mobile phones.

The key thing has been to make really great quality t-shirts though - we sell in fashion stores and couldn't distribute rubbish merchandise quality shirts that you normally get given for free so we worked hard to develop a very cool shirt that is as good as any major designer t-shirt brand. Everyone who buys our shirts says they're well worth the extra cost - if you want a $20 t-shirt that will shrink in a few washes that's fine, our t-shirt, combined with the cool graphics are meant for people who want something special.

I believe video games is kind of like in the late 50's of rock music - the culture of rock n roll was just developing, the industry was young and no one really knew where it was going, groupies and stars were a new thing and no one really knew how to exploit them. Video Games are like a kid that's grown up too fast with out getting streetwise, we have all these multi million dollar games and not a single decent celebrity who is famous for being in a game - no wonder games never get front covers or gossiped about in the newspapers. I think the companies need to grow up and realise that no matter how amazing a digital character looks magazines and TV shows want real people to interview, real sex drugs and rock n roll stories to report on and every other mass market entertainment form - sports, tv, music, movies all have stars who help get coverage for those media so why not games? The truth is the average gamer is 28 years old - these people want sophisticated media not stuff aimed at kids so there's a real demand for a cultural identity for video games - art, music, movies, events, gossip, stars, etc. It's only a matter of time before someone realises this and gets the first cover of a major magazine or newspaper and everything will change over night.

Could you tell me a little bit about how the company started up, who was involved, and what was the main focus of its creation?

I was involved in organizing the giant Tribal Gathering dance music festivals in the UK back in the 90’s and signed up Sony Playstation as a sponsor for the chill out tent. Not long after I left and started a marketing agency working with games companies. I soon realised no one was making any decent games inspired clothing and I remember drawing the logo on a napkin over one too many drinks in a bar in Notting Hill . The next day I walked in to the office and announced we were going to start work on Joystick Junkies. We put together some clothing designs, a website and we started a monthly industry party with 30 arcade machines on free play, DJ’s etc. It was a couple of years before we realised what we wanted to be, essentially a fashion label, and since then we’ve worked towards this goal with events, and other activities helping to promote the clothing.

How has Joystick Junkies grown over the years, can you tell me about some of the achievements it has made?

We've gone from buying shirts of the shelf and printing them to having them produced to our own tailored designs in factories in Turkey. The company has grown - starting with a couple of partners to now a team of 5 and various freelancers, though it's still a tight knit group.

It took time to build relationships with the big games publishers, even though I'd worked with them in the past in the UK you had to talk to their Japanese or US Head offices to get the rights to produce clothing using their graphics. One deal took 3 years to negotiate but to be honest you can have too many licences. With so much great artwork related to the classic games you can constantly develop new designs from existing licenses and sometimes you can't produce enough designs in the range to do each licence justice so you have to be careful not to take too much on. There’s certain graphics I’d like to work with but we’re also developing our own in-house designs around vintage concepts like Big Al’s Video Arcade, the Arcade Asylum and Berkeley School Of Video Games so that we’re not too reliant on licenses.

We've always thrown cool parties for the games industry and we still do those occasionaly but we also do parties aimed at the public. I always thought it was a challenge to throw the coolest party in town that happened to be based on video games too. Our parties are probably 70% girls and we work hard to make sure they're one of the best nights you could go to. They feature arcade games, visuals, 80's dancers on rollerskates - we really tap in to the whole 80's video games pop culture scene. The parties help build up a connection with the brand - we want people to enjoy coming in to contact with Joystick Junkies and it spreads word of mouth about us too.

Fashionwide we're already on sale in Belgium, Holland, France, Germany, Australia, Ibiza (Spain) as well as over 90 of the very best boutique fashion stores in the UK so I feel we've achieved a lot - mainly in the last couple of years - it took so long to really find the focus for the company. We also sell online from our site www.joystickjunkies.com and ship free worldwide. We seem to sell really well everywhere we go - generally our retail stores sell out every few weeks which is really great. It's so cool when you see someone walking down the street wearing one of our shirts and you think 'hey someone actually liked that enough to buy it!'

Then there is Trueplayerz - the gaming tournaments, think how Vans often organizes skate tours. As were focused on selling to the mainstream fashion market, I guess Trueplayerz is a way for us to have a presence within the gaming community in a way which fits what we like doing. Firstly I wanted to create a gaming event that my non-gaming mates would want to come to, that wasn’t so geeky. The UK lacks any real video games event scene unlike the US where there are tons of events each month so there was a great opportunity to build something here. Finally I genuinely believe the games industry needs some stars so Trueplayerz is all about focusing on the players and turning them in to champions for good causes. The winners get to donate the proceeds from each event to the charity of their choice.

And not forgetting the girls...We decided to recruit fashion models who actually had an interest in video games. We contacted 2000 models to become our gorgeous girl gamers and over 300 applied, all very hot and all loved video games. You see the industry has ignored women for so long and yet SO many of them love games but don't make a big thing of it. They're put off by the geeky nature of gaming but will quite happily play on their own or with girl friends. There must be hundreds of thousands of girls who play games out there that we have no idea exist and we have only scratched the surface. Also girls love all kinds of games not just fluffy pink platform games - mostly they love kicking boy's asses in Halo 2 or Burnout Revenge so watch out! Boys have got to realise the girls are going to share the gaming world whether they like it or not! Our Joystick Junkies girls are models of course because they have to promote our clothing but they all love games of different types from Space Invaders to Halo 2, Burnout Revenge to Tomb Raider. They have already had a celebrity party, hosted a video games tournament TV show in front of 20,000 people, then they're doing a massive photoshoot for the new range and running castings to find some boys to work with them, so they've got a lot of work on right now.

And lastly, can you tell me where you see the company in the next few years, are there any upcoming plans for expansion?

We'll be getting distributors in more countries around the world - the US and Japan/Korea are important next year, we'll be considering more licences, maybe more contemporary games graphics, television and events that fit our ethos.

Okay, now you've told me about the Joystick Junkies, I'd like to know a little bit about yourself. What is your role in the company?

I'm the creative director and the founder of the business - I started it in 2001 and now share the business with a great team of people. I oversee our design, marketing and PR efforts as well as any events or special projects.

Working in a company like Joystick Junkies suggests you were into games back in the 'old days'. What are you memories of gamings from your past?

I played Space Invaders in my brother's tennis club until i got my hands on my own Atari 2600 though my dad had a Tennis/Pong style console. I was a big arcade lover - would drag my family to any arcade in holidays to see what machines they had. Loved missile command, lunar lander, and then the 80's classics. From there I graduated to Sinclair Spectrum but had a break until the Amiga when i got back in to gaming with the likes of Cannon Fodder and then of course it was the Playstation.

Were there any particular machines or games that you were completely hooked on?

Has to be the Atari 2600 and maybe the Battlezone arcade machine.

I've always felt that retro gaming is about a wider experience, not just games but music and movies too. Do you have any favourite bands and movies from the 80's and early 90's?

Well the first album I got was Duran Duran Rio and I grew up on a diet of the Stones and Human League from my brother as well as all the 80's classics. Movies - well apart from Star Wars I really love the Last Starfighter as it embodies every arcade kids dream.

What are your views on the current retro gaming scene, is there anything that you particularly like or dislike?

It's a shame the events come and go - it would be great to see a bigger scene mixed with more contemporary gaming here that brings together more varied audiences - so many of today's gamers love the old school games - look at the appearance of retro games on Xbox Live Arcade so it would be great to bring the two scenes together.

Do you have any of the older machines, and if so do you still play on them? Do you have any favourites?

I've got the 2600 still but to be honest my new Xbox 360 is sucking what gaming time i have in to a host of games too many to mention - I just got it so I've got some catching up to do!

And lastly, is there anything else you would like to add?

You can meet our Joystick Junkies girls every month on Xbox Live when they play retro games against all comes to win prizes - have a look at www.joystickjunkies.com.

Also if you've got any ideas for t-shirts do send them in to My Email. Finally, I always like a good ending so as a thanks to the readers for getting this far here's a 10% discount if you fancy checking out some of our clothing - just use the code JJD when you check out.

 

A big thanks goes to Chris for taking the time to answer my questions.

 

Original article by Gary - December 2006 (revised July 2014)