It’s the end of a warm spring day, as the birds’ chirping begins to slow, as the hum of traffic on the nearby street begins to grow quiet. The sun slowly begins to sink beneath the Raleigh skyline, casting long shadows upon the city. For some, it’s the harbinger of an early summer. For the folks at Boomslank, though, it’s time for action.
Three Brothers, One Vision
Justin Anyanwu, along with his brothers David and Kevin, have been building Boomslank since 2010. Through the company, the three aim to change the way that fans look at anime merchandise, by breaking away from the big brands and telling their own stories one shirt at a time. Justin handles the business aspects: the marketing, the publicity, and the general day-to-day operations. David, also known by handle “P-Shinobi” is the artist. He’s crafted every design featured in the company’s product line. Kevin is the face on the front lines, traveling to conventions and events to build the company with the public.
“The one thing that we have in common”, comments David, “is a very, very strong like for anime. And even while we have different tastes in animes, we do have certain things that are like ‘we are all in on this!’” He gushes for a moment, explaining his love for all things mecha, from Gundam to Vision of Escaflowne. It’s there, he notes, that the three will always find common ground.
“Interesting enough,” Justin adds, “it actually felt fairly natural to us. Part of it’s because I think it’s closer than we realize, as brothers.” He reveals that, when he and David founded the company, Kevin had asked to join the organization. Without hesitation, he gave a warm “welcome aboard.” Justin paused for a moment, before recalling that he hadn’t even thought of Kevin’s role in the organization. He just knew it was a wise decision to make. “There’s this established trust that comes with having your own brothers walk with you.”
The three were united by a simple, unifying vision: to share their passion, their love of the anime world with the world. “I’ve always wanted to start a business,” muses Justin as he explained that David “was able to create these really amazing anime-styled Flash wallpapers.” With these two concepts in mind, the gears of the entrepreneurial machine had begun to turn as he pitched the idea to David. “I figured, hey, you know what would be cool? If we could use your flash wallpaper to spruce up peoples’ desktop backgrounds and get paid to do that.”
The name “Boomslank” is short, catchy, and playful. It’s also born from the genius that’s often spurred by necessity. “We came up with that name because we were actually trying to find a domain name that wasn’t taken,” Justin noted. “It gets really crazy after a while, because if it’s a short word with a meaning, chances are someone’s sitting on it.” This drove the creative engine into overdrive, testing words and ideas until something was catchy, but not quite taken.”We kept playing around with a combination of words,” Justin noted, “originally we came to Boomslang, which turned out to be a deadly snake.” A few tweaks later, though, and a brand was born.
Justin noted that these initial sparks were almost snuffed, due to the startup culture of the time. In the days before companies like Square, Stripe, and Amazon Payments, which offer a low-cost way to process a sale, businesses often had to pay what is known as a payment gateway to process credit cards. Their fees can range anywhere from $25 to thousands of dollars per month, on top of a 2.9% charge per transaction. The two were forced to give up early, thanks to the setup. Though the two were able to open a website, “we kind of gave up on that idea because, at the time, e-commerce platforms weren’t as ubiquitous as they are not. And, in order to get a working e-commerce platform, we actually had to pay someone a ton of money to do it.”
Flash forward to 2010, when the idea floated across the three brothers once again. “In 2010, I told my brother ‘your art is so good, and it’s very original, not like the fan art stuff out there. I think people are going to love it if we actually made T-shirts that are based on original anime artwork, that’s not on Dragon Ball Z, or Bleach, or the latest, hottest show out there.’”
Sensing a desire in the market for something different from the usual licensed goods, the two began the hard work of building the business. Learning to produce merchandise, maintaining a business, these were all lessons learned by the three as reality hit. “We actually made a lot of mistakes along the way,” admitted Justin, “like choosing the wrong printers, using the wrong art style, or whatever.” They remain upbeat, though, admitting that they’re still learning as they continue to grow.
The most important of these lessons was to adhere to the golden rule. “Treat your customer with respect,” Justin noted. “When you release something if this is something you, yourself would buy. Don’t pull punches, and focus on a quality experience for your customer. If you, yourself, are not impressed by what you’re releasing, chances are, the people out there aren’t going to care either.”
Justin paused for a moment, after discussing more difficult decisions taken by the company. After a moment of thought, he doubles down on that lesson. “More or less, just respect the customer, provide them a good experience, and they will show you a lot of gratitude in return.”
A change of tone
“Ironically, before I started drawing anime, all I drew were animals,” David lets out a small laugh, before continuing “So that’s a very random transition, from animals to anime. Long story short, the biggest challenge that I have had to sort of grapple with and learn is how to design for T-shirts.”
As Boomslank’s resident artist, David is given a healthy degree of creative freedom. “Obviously,” he adds, “when I create something, we do all have to all agree on it, like okay, this is something that we’re happy creating.”
“Before you draw on paper,” notes David, “even if it’s going to end up as a poster, you have all the freedom. You have no color limitations, and it’s just a rectangle. So you can draw whatever you want without having to worry about the scale, the proportions, or any of that stuff.”
At the same time, though, there are countless factors at play which will force the direction of the idea train. “Transitioning to T-shirts,” David states,”We learned that, with the printing style that we take, there are color limitations.” He notes that this suddenly makes that open canvas grows a bit less open, “now I have to be mindful of the amount of colors I could use. I don’t have an infinite palette like I was drawing just, like a poster or just for whatever.”
Granted, these changes all take a toll on the overall creative process. “So now, I have to be creative to create a compelling piece of art while using a very limited color palette,” he notes adding that “making art that’s on the T-shirts had to work with the canvas. The canvas is not a flat canvas. Now it’s a T-shirt, so it has to look good when it’s printed on the T-shirt.” David chuckles a bit, as he explains that he draws a T-shirt outline as a guide when crafting new designs.
A Story In An Instant
Without a brand to capitalize on, the stakes are high. A work has to speak to a person and entice them to part with that hard-earned cash.
“I usually like to draw things that are compelling enough that when someone views it, they can’t help but wonder if there’s a story behind it,” muses David.
Indeed, the numerous pieces offered by Boomslank, from the kinetic Tournament to the grandiose Olympus, are packed with personality. They tease and hint at a world far beyond that of the confines of the canvas, inviting the viewer to explore further. Each work tells a tale in mere moments, allowing the viewer’s imagination to truly run wild.
In some cases, Boomslank offer a peek beyond the work. For example, to commemorate the releases of Reflection, the company published a short animated work, which reveals the few moments leading up to the scene in the shirt.
The attention to detail hasn’t gone unnoticed. According to David, they’re often asked that their work are taken from specific shows. “I take that as the whole idea of telling a story through the art has worked on some level.”
More Than A Clothing Company
The three brothers are clearly happy to be trusting the fates with their destinies, at this point. “We’re actually still trying to figure out where we are right now,” admits Justin. “The journey’s still trying to get to a point where more people know about us.”
“We’re not just a T-shirt company,” notes Justin, “we have all of these ideas for all the things that we could do in the future.” To make those things happen, though, the company needs to grow. “In three to five years, we see ourselves still doing what we’re doing just to grow, because we’re still fairly small. We don’t make any pretense about that.”
David chimed in, agreeing with his brother’s assessment. “It’s definitely not a very defined business,” he adds, “so it’s mostly just motivated by the fact that we like anime, and I love to draw in that style.”
Though the company deals in apparel, they don’t intend to make this the end-all, be-all of their operation. David elaborated a bit on the company’s plans for the future “What we do now, with making T-shirts and posters, even though it can definitely define what our brand is in terms of the products that we offer, it’s not what we’re just limiting ourselves to.” The two brothers both expressed interest in building out further, to produce a possible Original English Manga series, or even their own anime series à la RWBY. But, for the most part, the sky seems to be the limit at this point. According to David, “whatever that we can do that’s new and exciting in regards to anime, it definitely would be a dream come true. “
With this attitude, this philosophy, Boomslank’s certainly turned a few heads. In 2014, the company partnered with Crunchyroll to produce an exclusive shirt. It was an instant hit, and quickly earned a permanent place on the Crunchyroll marketplace.
“We kind of reached out to them, and sold them on the idea of a kind of a brand that would make both our brands look really cool,” boasts Justin. “I kind of sold them on the idea that a fusion between our brands would be a pretty cool effect for anime fans alike.” At the time, though, it was far from a sure thing. Justin continued his anecdote, revealing that it was “literally a shot in the dark” when he made the pitch. “We actually managed to get their brand manager to buy into it, went ahead and ran a couple of hundred shirts, they sold out literally the day they went live on it.”
It was a moment that floored him. Justin admitted that, for the most part, he was playing the pitchman while setting up the deal, and following his gut instincts. Fortune paid off, and the two companies were closer than ever from that day forward.
Though Boomslank is a word that has no meaning on its own, it’s clear that the company’s founders want to carve out their own definition. The two mulled over how they’d like to see their baby’s identity evolve. “Cool is definitely number one,” exclaims Justin. “Cool, original, unique, innovative…” He’s cut off by his brother, who butts in with an emphatic “anime!” The two share a laugh, before Justin explains where he’s going. “I’m looking for those emotional reactions that people used to get from Apple before they just became like everyone else.”
To control that same raw excitement and energy, to be able to create genuine excitement from their products, much like the iPhone and the iPod back in the day. It’s an awesome goal to have, for sure, but if anybody can pull it off, it would certainly be Boomslank. Their road will be long, and they will face countless trials in the years ahead. But, with their raw passion and love of the brand, these three brothers in Raleigh have more than what it takes to create something special.