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Taking your idea out of the oven

Johnny Cupcakes is not your average t-shirt brand (Press photo)
Johnny Cupcakes is not your average t-shirt brand (Press photo)

Johnny Earle, best known by his eponymous company moniker, Johnny Cupcakes, spoke to Dalhousie students about his multimillion dollar T-shirt brand last week.

“Even if you don’t have the best product, if you have an experience, people will know about you, people will talk about you,” Johnny said.

As a 19-year-old, Johnny printed T-shirts with the words “Johnny Cupcakes” on them as a joke. The T-shirts constantly got compliments from the customers at the record store he worked at, so he decided to start selling them out of his car, with cupcakes inserted into culturally iconic images. His logo, for example, replaces the skull in the skull-and-crossbones image with a cupcake.

After running a successful online and retail store in Hull, Mass., he took the risk of opening a store on Boston’s chic Newbury Street. He outfitted the store like an old-fashioned bakery, with steaming ovens on the walls, vanilla-scented car freshener to make the store smell like cupcakes, and packaged the T-shirts in what looked like cans of frosting.

On his opening day, he had to stay until midnight because of the huge number of people waiting to get into the store.

Johnny Cupcakes has become incredibly successful, opening stores in L.A. and London, as well as having run a series of pop-up shops in Australia. Johnny credits the brand’s success to the experience that comes along with buying a Johnny Cupcakes T-shirt.

When Johnny Cupcakes released a breakfast shirt, it was only purchasable during breakfast hours, just like restaurants and their breakfast items. Each purchased shirt came with a free breakfast. These shirts sold out in 24 hours.

At the Dalhousie talk, Johnny handed out a story booklet and a Ziploc bag filled with a Johnny Cupcakes mint, trading card (with a different design for each card, such as the Backstreet Boys) and button to each attendee.

“By paying attention to these little, often overlooked details, this is why a business is going to succeed or fail,” Johnny said. “At the end of the day, people have to know why they want to spend their money on you, why they want to take that risk.”

To “foster entrepreneurship with [his] T-shirt brand,” Johnny is creating the Johnny Cupcakes Entrepreneurship Program, which will allow 20 to 30 people to host Johnny Cupcake pop-up shops in their city. It costs $500 to get the business kit, which includes 10 sample T-shirts (a $300 to $400 value), menus and an iPad, which works as a cash register. For an extra $300, Johnny will teach the pop-up shop owner how to run the shop, provide him or her with a stack of business cards, and share all meals with the chosen entrepreneur. Each brand ambassador will keep 20 percent of what he or she earns.

“Everything in the world has been done before—it’s all about how you reinvent yourself,” Johnny said. “It’s really scary because so many people are starting businesses every day. But it’s exciting, too. You should be motivated by it to step outside and do something crazy.”

Sabina Wex
Sabina Wex
Sabina is the Gazette's Managing Editor. Email Sabina at

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