Mean Folk Is All About Pins, Patches, and Punk Panache
Before national restaurant chains deemed pins and patches "flair," mandating that employees adorn themselves to gussy up their outfits, they were cool. You'd find them garnishing lapels of jackets or on the hats of veterans and bikers. They were the stuff of legend and were often accompanied by stories of how they were obtained, found, or made from scratch. They were traded amongst friends, or sold in the deepest and darkest nooks of flea markets, and cherished for their ability to offer folks a cool way to "nerd out" about some of their favorite things.
Green Label even got in on the fun with the Pin Trill trading post down in Austin. Brands of all sizes are emerging and getting in on the pin and patch game. One of them is Mean Folk, out of Vermont. The small northeastern company is run out of the basement of founder Jon Testa. The company only offers a handful of products in limited runs, but for Jon it's all about "quality over quantity." If you check their Instagram account, you'll find images of products with likes in the hundreds.
We decided to hit Jon Testa of Mean Folk up to get the story behind the brand and find out what all the hubbub was about.
There's an overall vibe of dissent or nonconformity with a lot of the goods you put out. Is it safe to assume that this is an example of art imitating life?
Sure, without taking anything too seriously. I was always told that I had a bad attitude growing up, but that doesn't mean you can't have a sense of humor about it. The stuff I make is supposed to be fun over anything else.
Where did the tagline "goods for people with bad attitudes" come from? Was this the original concept behind your brand Mean Folk?
Mean Folk didn't really have a concept at first. It started as a small project with my friend Forrest Brandt, where we would print a few shirts and zines under the name. We sorta took a break from it after we graduated. I started making patches about a year ago for fun without any real direction, and they got a response I didn't expect. The tagline was an afterthought. It just seemed to fit with the kind of products I was making.
Do you find that Instagram is your best means of interacting with and staying connected to your fan base?
Absolutely. It's pretty much the only reason the brand has expanded as much as it did. It's an awesome feeling to see someone post something you made and be proud to own it. Mean Folk is based in Vermont, but I can count all of the orders I've actually gotten from Vermont on one hand. If someone has a product, they most likely found it on Instagram.
Buttons, pins, and patches seem to be making a comeback. Would you say it's just a style trend or are people trying to hark back to an old aesthetic?
I think it's a combination of both. Even if it just a trend, most things come in and out of style. As long as denim/leather jackets are popular, pins and patches probably will be, too. I think a lot of designers and artists are just starting to realize how much fun it is to make them.
I noticed that you've done some collaborative work. What is that process like and how do you select the artists or other brands that you might work with?
The process isn't the same every time. Michael Shantz is an artist who collaborated with me to release a version of his Bartfield bootleg, which I was very stoked about. I just made sure it fit with the rest of the brand. My friend Keenan Bouchard, who designed our Son of Shame patch, is a local artist and tattooer at Magnetic North in Burlington, Vermont. I knew I wanted to work with him for a while, so I gave him free range to do whatever he wanted. The whole process is pretty informal.
Are most of the pieces you produce one-offs?
Most of the earlier releases were super limited. They started out as an edition of 50, then blew up from there. Collaborative pieces are always one-offs though. As Mean Folk got more popular, I started producing things in larger quantities. Some products will stick around, some won't.
Will we see a return of the Bartfield patch?
Nope, but you can check out Michael Shantz for all your Bartfield needs.
What can we look forward to coming down the pipeline from Mean Folk? Will we see a larger range of tees to go with the accessories? What kind of brand expansion is coming?
I've been getting a lot more emails about wholesale orders, so you might start to see Mean Folk in a bunch of other places worldwide. I'd like to keep working with people that want to put out cool stuff. A collaboration is in the works with rapper Big Breakfast of Smoker's Cough. I'm planning to release more shirts, pins, and maybe a hat or two. I'm in no rush, I just want to keep putting out quality items that I enjoy making!
Images: Mean Folk