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Retro GT - inspired by the world of gaming











Retro GT was inspired by founders Gary and Lawrence's passions for Retro Gaming. Retro GT sells Gaming-related T-shirts emblazoned with familiar Gaming imagery and text, as well as other products and merchandise with a Retro Gaming appeal.

Here Digger talks to Gary about the business and his love of Retro Gaming.










Digger: Hello Gary.

Gary: Hello David.

Digger: Please tell us your background and why youíre doing what youíre doing.

Gary: Primarily I am a web developer. I worked for many years in eĖcommerce and I left that to start my own business. What I wanted to do was sell T-shirts.

Digger: Why T-shirts?

Gary: It's hard to say really, I just felt like it was what I wanted to get into. They're a good product because the possibilities for customisation are endless, so it meant I could create something new that didn't exist - it's a product that is only sold based on the quality of the designs.

Digger: Put it down to some sort of divine inspiration!

Gary: Yes. I teamed up with a friend who was thinking along the same lines and we set about deciding what designs we were going to create. We were both working as designers at the time, and our main shared hobby was video games. So we got to thinking down that route. We wandered around Camden Market to see what was about and there wasnít really anybody doing video games at the time.

Digger: Itís great when you identify that thereís a gap in the market there (if youíll pardon the pun.)

Gary: Yes. So we set about selling it.

Digger: So, a bit like me, youíre a jack of all trades because youíre doing the web stuff, the design and I should imagine youíre cranking the machine thatís producing them as well?

Gary: Yes, we physically make each one by hand.

Digger: Wow.

Gary: Thatís how it started, with us both making everything. But over the years we've diversified into other product lines too, so while we still print the t-shirts we have other items manufactured like our cardholders. Gradually we each found our niche within the business, so these days I don't do much design work, Lawrence has a real talent, so he does most of the creative and I work on the technical stuff, the website and day to day running of the business.

Digger: Thatís all clever stuff. You have to keep on the ball and keep up-to-date with technical stuff.

Gary: Yes, when Iím not selling T-shirts I do still develop websites on a freelance basis. From that point of view, I have to keep up-to-date with latest developments, because things change an awful lot on The Internet.

Digger: A lot of people are doing several things and managing several businesses and I suppose thatís the way of the world these days Ė you have to have a bit of diversity.

Gary: I also do contracting.

Digger: What's Lawrence's background?

Gary: Lawrence used to work on one of the UK's first multiplayer gaming services, 'Wireplay'. He also spent some time working at CEX, who sell games and systems and for a while they specialised in retro stuff. Other than that, he's been a freelance designer for many years.

Digger: How old are you Gary?

Gary: Iím thirty-one.

Digger: Youíre still young and keen enough to learn new stuff.

Gary: Oh yes, I love it. Iím absolutely fascinated about it.

Digger: A lot of these T-shirts are based on classic games that could be defined as retro?

Gary: Oh, all of them. We donít do anything that would be considered up-to-date. We started on Camden Market and so we had to have a sales patter and my line was always ďYour childhood in T-shirt form.Ē Itís all the games that my partner Lawrence and I would play as kids and still do in fact really.

Digger: What are the best sellers Gary?

Gary: It varies depending on location. Different events seem to attract a different audience, and different audiences like different designs - it's quite surprising sometimes. Although one best seller across the board isn't actually isnít based on a game at all Ė itís just a pixelated penguin and following on from that we realised that people are into the whole kind of art as well as the games that theyíre based on. So weíve moved a lot more into pixel art as well. People seem to like that.

Digger: Do you have to be careful with copyright?





Gary: We have to be very careful. It is a bit of a grey area, to be honest. Weíre very wary never to use anybodyís graphics Ė itís all original artwork. We donít take screenshots of video games and stuff them on T-shirts Ė that kind of thing. Itís all original, but these are still intellectual property that people own and people are still making money from as well. So we do walk a fine line trying to make stuff thatís inspired by it and not copied from it.

Digger: So you wonít see Sonic or Super Mario or Leisure Suit Larry on them?

Gary: No, we do have a Leisure Suit Larry T-shirt inspired but it doesnít have Larry on it. If you know the games and know them well, weíve got a text slogan that just says ďKen sent me.Ē

Digger: I see!

Gary: If you played the original one, that was the password to get into the whorehouse on the right-hand side. We do a lot of stuff that alludes to games without actually directly representing them.

Digger: Thatís the way to do it.

Gary: Well, yes. Itís certainly the way we went with it and it does make it a little more difficult from our point of view to come up with designs. You canít just find something popular, find a nice take on it and slap it on a T-Shirt. You have to be a bit more clever with it. Some of our competition work on licences, there are people out there printing Marios and Sonics which are always going to be popular, but we have to find a different angle. So itís a different business model really. Licenses can be very expensive, and they restrict what you can put on a design. There's less creative freedom, which is important to us.

Digger: Is it worth it?

Gary: I imagine it is if youíve got distribution channels Ė if you can get your stuff into every gaming store in the UK then by all means thatís the way to go. But weíve always been grass roots. We make a living ourselves, if youíve bought a T-shirt from ourselves itís either been from my business partner or from me face-to-face. Because everything we do is us. Maybe not the best way of doing it.

Digger: But itís YOUR way of doing it.

Gary: It is yes.

Digger: Why do you think retro is so popular, even more so than in the last few years?

Gary: I think itís actually quite simple and itís something I get asked quite a lot. I always have the same response. Thinking about it lately, all thatís happened is when we were kids we had all these games and we played them and now weíve got to a time in our lives where weíre the people with all the money. We are the young adults and lower middle-aged Ė people of our generation who were playing the games. And so now the companies can re-market these games to us on a nostalgia basis. Whereas before weíd be begging our parents to buy us this, that or the other, now weíre spending our wages on the same franchises and the same game.

Digger: Stuff that we threw away.

Gary: Yes, and it all coincides with the rise of The Internet and easy access to information and all that kind of thing. What youíve got is your Xbox and Playstation and Wii Ė theyíve all got Internet access. Which means theyíve all got distribution networks to distribute low price games so they can re-distribute the old games that you used to play. Where you used to buy a game for £2.99 on a tape, you can now buy the same game for £2.50 on Microsoft Points and have it delivered straight to your console. All of these things come together at exactly the right time.

Digger: Itís amazing that people from the new generation are interested in Space Invaders and Pong and Pac man.

Gary: Games like that are completely timeless. Back in the old days, you didnít have really good graphics processing capabilities and that kind of thing Ė games that had a $40 million budget which were directed in the same way as big movies are, directed by studios. What you had was a guy in his bedroom coming up with a successful game.

Digger: I can remember loading tapes into a machine waiting for the program to load or from a floppy disk.

Gary: Yes, absolutely, so when youíre limited by the capabilities of the machine the only thing you can focus on is the game and to make it addictive. Which means that if you play it now itís exactly the same as it was then. Sonic only has one button on it, as do a lot of games really.

Digger: Apart from the games, what are your other retro passions?

Gary: It's mostly the games and old TV and movies I used to watch as a kid. I donít really think about it too much, because Iím so much into the games side of things. I know a lot of our customers are into other aspects Ė thereís quite a board games market out there Ė retro board games seem to be getting quite popular but I donít know too much about it. Retro is popular to everyone for different reasons and itís all about nostalgia. So if what you were into as a kid was trainers, then you see a resurgence of eighties and nineties trainer designs in recent years. Old Bands that were really popular when we were kids have reformed and are having comeback tours. I suppose this goes in a kind of cycle and itís probably the same for everybody. But because weíve got things like The Internet itís possible for this to be a lot more prevalent and communities are built around these interests.

Digger: There are huge forties, rock and roll and Mod communities and theyíre all very strong on The Internet.

Gary: Thatís quite a new thing relatively. It's a great time to be alive.

Digger: Yes. And a very positive way of looking at it Gary.





Gary: Indeed, well Iím a very Internet-based person and have a lot of good things to say about The Internet.

Digger: The Net's like any invention or tool Ė as good as the use people put it to.

Gary: All The Internet is, is a collection of uncensored information, even though the politicians are trying to put a stop to the uncensored part of it. Itís only as good as the parts of it that you can find.

Digger: Have you got a typical customer?

Gary: I wouldnít necessarily say we have a typical customer. We do appeal to people who arenít into gaming as well, we find. We have some typical gaming customers Ė there are plenty of people who collect retro games and theyíre into the scene. They are on the forums and they read Retro Gamer magazine and they know who we are, they like our stuff and they buy it. Thatís all well and good but we find on those occasions where weíre trading somewhere that wouldn't necessarily attract gamers, we do quite well with people who've never heard of us, and aren't into gaming, they still get nostalgic when they see something that reminds them of the games they used to play.

Digger: Where are you based?

Gary: Iím in Brighton and my partnerís up in Leighton Buzzard.

Digger: Thatís good so youíve got both sides of the M25 covered really?

Gary: By and large we only trade in London markets.

Digger: Iím near Milton Keynes and I thought Iíd come over and see one of your events.

Gary: We do events all around the country, including Collectormania in Milton Keynes. It used to be in the shopping centre but is now at the MK Dons stadium. We do most of the shows around the UK.

Digger: What are the best and most enjoyable aspects of what you do?

Gary: I love launching new products and that always makes me very happy. We donít just do T-shirts, weíve got a lot of card holders now that are very popular and we do Christmas cards, prints, coasters, telephone cases.

Digger: Badges, T-shirts, Hoodies, Homewares too?

Gary: Yes, weíve got mugs as well. We are trying to diversify and itís not just about T-Shirts, itís more about the designs that we put on them. We realise that we can make lovely other products as well so one of the best things for me is when we have a new design or product that we get to launch and I get quite excited making the first version.

Digger: Not fixing a bug in the code?

Gary: I love all that as well, but that's just me being geeky... We put a lot of time and effort into the new website and I got to try out lots of new techniques and build some very complicated stuff. The site has a fantastic design with lots of pixel art, but what you see on the front end is only a very small part of it, there's a huge bespoke system running things behind the scenes that I got to spend an inordinate amount of time creating, that was loads of fun for me.

Digger: So what about the future Gary?

Gary: Well, more products. Weíre putting as much effort as we can this year into making as many new products as we can with cool stuff.  And weĎre hoping to get a bit more into wholesale to get them out a little bit more into shops and various other different places. So those are the main things weíre focusing on. Last year it was all about the new website, but thatís mainly done. There are still lots of new features that we want for the website. We want a community feel to it where people can upload images and interact with each other regarding items.

Digger: Is that not possible pro-tem via Facebook?

Gary: Iím not one for cheating. (Laughs) We do have a bit of Facebook integration and we put effort into that as well. Social media is becoming really important and weíre dealing with that as well.

Digger: I have a new business that Iím setting-up which is selling a product so I will bear you in mind if and when I need a website and someone with a technical bent.

Gary: Please do, let me know . I do build some pretty complex systems and Iím very passionate and very full of ideas.

Digger: Thanks for letting us know all about Retro GT Gary.

Gary: Thank you David.







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