My name is Mari and I am the founder of IGJunky.
A few weeks ago I attended the “Amplify Your Brand” workshop on how to promote brands. There were about 30 of us young entrepreneurs hungry for wisdom, jotting down every single word of invaluable advice shared by the experts, and we kept hearing “you need to have a story,” “tell us your story”, “what’s your story”… And so I started thinking: Do I have a story?
I didn’t like being in school. I had a lot of friends and got decent grades but nothing really excited me and I got bored easily, so studying was a drag… I couldn’t wait to get out into the world and begin looking for the “thing” that would make me happy. I had a feeling that my happiness had something to do with me being my own boss, running my own business. I could just imagine waking up with a smile on my face every morning, ready to take on new projects, decorating my office, and writing my own paychecks. The part of being your own boss that has to do with discipline, reliability, occasional setbacks and huge bills didn’t occur to me at that time. I was a child, a dreamer who didn’t want to grow up, not just yet.
My first paying job was at a pizzeria as a cashier. A good friend of mine worked there so I joined him and we would just have fun and eat pizza all day. I remember getting paid for the first time – it was a Sunday, I got $76, went straight to Lulu’s boutique on Austin Street in Queens and spent my first paycheck on a pair of sweatpants with SOLO written across the butt! That felt good!
After the pizza gig I had a few other jobs but nothing lasted longer than just a few weeks or months. As I was dreaming of an ideal job, my family kept insisting that I’d get up off my you-know-what and do something more substantial! So, one day I see an ad on Craigslist – a showroom in Manhattan is looking for an assistant. I shoot an email with “Open If You Dare” in the subject line (what was I thinking?!) and, shockingly, in 15 minutes I got an invitation to an interview on the same day. Now what? I quickly ran to the UPS store, printed my resume, hopped on the R train, lost my resume, stormed into another UPS store, re-printed the resume and I still made it to my interview with only a 15-minute delay. Great start! I looked around the showroom filled with button downs and ties scattered in disarray… “There is nothing more I enjoy than cleaning up messes and sorting through huge piles of shirts,” I must have said to the business owner, because he hired me right away. And that’s how I got my foot into the garment industry. I started working in the showroom with Moshe Bouskila of Brio Milano, a man who, all by himself, designs and manufactures men’s shirts with amazing details and that’s where my dream of becoming the Queen of t-shirts was born.
Change is something that I came to realize happens when you least expect it. Throughout my life, I learned to adapt to changes, even the ones that seem to be unwelcome at the time – moving to America with my family, switching schools and houses, watching my parents get divorced… Now I feel that change is healthy. As the saying goes, I learned to make pretty good lemonade out of lemons, and I gotta say, some of my lemons were exceptionally sour…
I heard a buzz about this new app called Instagram and I got right on it. I was snapping pictures left and right, constantly screenshotting inspirational content that I couldn’t wait to share with everyone. My friends were teasing me that I post way too much, they thought I was addicted, and they were right – I was becoming an IG junky. And at some point I thought to myself: “here is a business idea – with all these cool filters I can put together beautiful collages and print my page images on t-shirts. And I’ll call my business IGJunky”.
I was excited at the idea and ready to roll but it was much more complicated than what I imagined. For starters, for months I couldn’t find anyone who would agree to produce less than a few dozen samples of each style – I had too many styles and printing them all would have cost me a fortune. Frustrated, I decided to go a different way – I researched the DIY options, bought a bunch of plain t-shirts and a pack of heat press paper, printed 15 images, and started looking for a heat press studio where I could print the shirts myself. I probably annoyed a lot of people during this frantic process (raise your hand if you are one of them!), but I also made many friends along the way, like the girl at the mall who was so sweet and patient, who really took her time to recommend colors of which image on which shirt would look better (shoutout to Valentina!). After trying many different processes, I eventually settled on the one I am currently using. This required an investment into a printer (my savings + my Grandma’s savings = Direct To Garment Printer. Thanks, Bebo!), but it made a huge difference and I hope it will pay off. The main challenges I seem to be facing these days are low funds and lack of extra hands. Although I know I can count on my cousins to come to the rescue if I ever need help, it’s basically a one woman show for now.
On the creative side, I am constantly evolving. Even though my personal IG library has more than 2000 pics by now, I realize that there is a demand for personalized product and to accommodate that, I started offering custom t-shirts – all you have to do is email your own screenshots to me with your own “likes” and tweets and I can turn these images into personalized t-shirts in just a matter of minutes. Look me up at Instagram – IGJunky.
When I heard about “Amplify Your Brand” workshop, I thought: “Okay, this sounds like a good learning opportunity but it wouldn’t really make a huge difference for my business.” More importantly, I was invited to my cousin’s birthday brunch on that same weekend and I so didn’t want to miss out on the famous ricotta pancakes of NoMo Kitchen!
But I registered with Amplify, and I am glad I did. This dynamic 2-day program was packed with panels of media and industry pros. It was a great feeling to be personally coached by such experts as Janine Just of Janine Just Inc, and the creator of the TechStyle NYC Experience along with Sabina Hitchen of TinShingle and SabinaKnows. We got tons of valuable advice (and a few secret clean tricks) on how to amplify and elevate visibility of our businesses and create buzz around our products. The most important outtakes, no surprise, are that you need to love what you are doing; connect with your customer; don’t be discouraged by failure; and, the biggest one for me personally – you can’t let the non-believers bring you down. Be kind (not fake) and persistent (not annoying) with those you reach out for help to. Stay true to yourself and keep your mind and heart open to any new opportunities that may come your way. And, have a good story to tell, your own story.
Mari, the IGJunky
PS Forget ricotta pancakes! They fed us well, the Amplify folks – the potato salad was to die for!!