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
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
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.
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
Digger: Thatís all clever
stuff. You have to keep on the ball and keep up-to-date with
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Digger: Apart from the games, what are your other retro
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Printed media, Homeware, Accessories, Stickers,
Decals, Greetings Cards, Coasters, Badges, T-Shirts,
Hoodies, Clothing, Homewares
Our clothing is inspired by the world of gaming. We
also have awesome video-gaming stuff for the home,
video game art on stickers, cards and prints and
telephone: 01273 775522