Zealous Johnny Cupcakes fans are waking from the dead to raid t-shirt filled coffins and meet the man behind the brand. On Friday, Johnny Cupcakes will be setting up shop at downtown Phoenix’s The Lab 137 as part of its national Coffin Tour: “Cupcakes from the Crypt.”
The event will combine treats and tour-exclusive merchandise, national names and local businesses. In each of the 21 cities included in the tour, Johnny Cupcakes will be partnering with local art spaces and organizations.
“I’ve always believed in collaborating, especially with smaller local businesses, because they’re the ones that need it most,” said Johnny Earle, founder and CEO of Johnny Cupcakes. In Phoenix, this includes The Sweetness and local breakdance crew 5FootaThrillaz, as well as many community-members and volunteers.
In 2001, a 19-year-old Earle began selling pins and buttons out of the trunk of his ’89 Camry at local concerts. Eventually, he developed an entire brand of exclusive and limited-edition merchandise, including the iconic Johnny Cupcake’s t-shirts. Today, he owns stores in Boston, Los Angeles and London modeled after vintage bakeries, complete with refrigerators stocked not with cupcakes, to the confusion of some, but with t-shirts.
The Coffin Tour and other cross-country suitcase tours are an homage to Earle’s humble beginnings. This platform is a way to “do it the old-fashioned way and travel around and meet all of my customers face to face,” he said.
With its unique business model, charming story and iconic products, Johnny Cupcakes has developed a sort of cult following. Earle said devoted fans camped outside one of his storefronts for 14 days in anticipation of a new design.
“He has his own little culture community around his brand, and I think that a lot of people in the downtown community resonate with it,” said Jesse Robinson, owner of local ice cream shop The Sweetness.
Originally, the event was to be held at The Sweetness, but after relocating from Fair Trade Café, a new venue was proposed. Robinson will still be selling his homemade ice cream at the show though, and lauds The Lab 137 and its appropriateness for the Coffin Tour.
The Lab 137, Ruben Gonzales’ entrepreneurial startup echoes that of Earle’s Johnny Cupcakes. As the designer of a local clothing brand featured at The Lab 137, 11th Monk3y Apparel and Designs, he drew inspiration from Earle’s origins. “Johnny Cupcakes is actually a huge reason as to why I started my own clothing company,” Gonzales said.
“I would even go as far to say that Ruben is the closest thing to a Johnny Cupcakes Phoenix has,” Robinson said.
After a show two years ago at Phoenix toyshop Red Hot Robot, Earle and his team are looking forward to seeing some familiar faces as well as new Johnny Cupcakes enthusiasts.
“The idea is for him to not only sell his products that he is offering exclusively through the tour, but also to give him a chance to connect with his customers,” Robinson said.
Gonzales also emphasized Earle’s accessibility, noting his own goals to remain connected to customers and rooted in the community.
“How many times do you meet the designer of the clothes you’re buying? Never,” Gonzales said.
Earle provides more than merchandise, though. He lectures to students about how to start a business, one of which was given at ASU, offer inspiration to young entrepreneurs.
“We’ve seen a lot of customers get inspired and open up their own stores,” Earle said.
The event begins at 7 p.m. at The Lab 137 at Roosevelt and Seventh streets. Costumes are encouraged.
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Correction: Oct. 18, 2012
A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Ruben Gonzales as Ruben Mercado.
Correction: Oct. 22, 2012
A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the band 5FootaThrillaz as 5footgorillas.