I popped my con-cherry at Eastercon 2013, in Bradford, and true to my style, I couldn’t have just joined the madness as a ‘con-goer’ – oh no – I had to volunteer: volunteer for the programme, volunteer for the dealers’ room, etc. I was anxious, I must say, but lo and behold, the dealers’ room was full of fantastically charming and kind people, just like Genki Gear’s Lydia and Phil!
When dealers arrive at a convention, they are normally camel-laden with boxes and banners, balancing a cup of coffee on their forehead while trying to identify their table in the midst of several others (at least I’m one of these creatures); to say that it’s a frantic entrance is an understatement. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, someone smiling at you, welcoming and warm. The Genki Gear table shines with inner light, setting your world right and making you forget the hours of driving you’ve just endured.
It’s Lydia and her husband Phil’s positive and bubbly attitude which have turned their custom t-shirt business into the success that is Genki Gear. Now, if you are new to the SF & Fantasy con world, you may be forgiven for not knowing what I am talking about, so let me set this right: thousands of Fantasy and SF fans have worn Genki’s geeky, humorous and original t-shirts around the world, from UK conventions to the international stage of the Worldcons.
This year, Genki Gear celebrates its tenth anniversary and I caught up with Lydia to talk about business, life and geekdom.
FB: T-shirt stalls are not a new phenomenon at conventions and festivals. How and where did Genki first see the light of day?
L: We started out of a desire to create something unique and original based on everything we love which covers classic sci-fi, anime, Gaming and also used Phil’s art. Our aim was to create geeky designs that you could wear without having to explain which tv series or film the design referenced but was also different and had a sense of humour.
FB: In ten years of building a business, has there ever been a time when you thought, ‘That’s it – I’m burning the shop down!’? How hard as it been building Genki?
L: We have definitely had those moments, when we first started we were doing full-time jobs and then going to shows and trading all weekend. Sometimes it seemed like a lot of work but despite the hard work it has also been a passion of ours and that has taken us past the growing pains.
Every day brings a new challenge even 10 years on and we keep pushing onto new areas which can be scary at times.
FB: It’s clear from some of the Genki designs that you have a passion for Japan. As a Japan-o-phile (I don’t actually know if that’s a word, but sod it) myself, I wholeheartedly approve. Where did this relationship with all things Nippon start?
L: Phil has had a love of all things Japanese from an early age as he had a childhood Japanese friend who introduced him to Anime, Sushi and Japanese Manga before any of those things were readily available anywhere in the west. He introduced me to Anime with Studio Ghibli films and we would love to go and experience Japan for ourselves.
FB: As proof of your success, you have provided, and still do, official t-shirts for big events, from Nine World Geekfest to MCM Comic Con. Where were you the moment you found out that Genki had been selected for this role for the first time, and what did you do in the twenty seconds straight afterwards?
L: The first official t-shirt we were asked to provide was the MCM official London Comic Con t-shirt and I was at a convention at the time and I was delighted and then being me instantly started thinking about all the things we needed to do and what design we could create to make it a success. I am always thrilled to see attendees wearing their previous Genki Gear convention t-shirts across the shows.
FB: Over the course of ten years, you must have seen many designs. Do you have a favourite t-shirt?
L: My favourite Genki Gear t-shirt is a design called “Wombat Roar” which features a cute wombat doing its best “Yip” and then being really happy with itself. It is a quite subtle design but makes me smile every time.
Phil always says that it is always the last design he has done, as he is always striving to improve his designs and so the last design he has completed is the one he is the most happy with.
FB: Any new projects in the pipeline?
L: We have a lot of new products in the pipeline as we are hoping to expand out gift range and expand our new Direct to Garment limited edition range even more. Coming up in 2016 we are hoping to launch a new range featuring Guest artists so we are really excited about that and we also have a new range of t-shirts being launched at the end of May .
You can follow Genki Gear on their Official Website.