A new era for Artworktee, a standout fandom merchandise brand with new owners
by Patch O'Furr
Establishing a brand across many convention dealer dens is a big deal for the personalized, self-creating furry fandom. Artworktee has grown an impressive presence for serving furries with merchandise made within and representing them. It hasn’t always been smooth, but things are looking up.
“We’re not a 7-figure company”, laughs the new owner Raphael when I ask about the size and how many staff they have. “Well actually it was at one point when Neil ran it, but we’re reorganizing.”
Raphael is attentive on the phone, with an easy laugh and straightforward answers about business structure. He’s based in California and took over Artworktee in mid-2021, since the company went bankrupt after running for several years under original founder Neil Wacaster.
The 2020 bankruptcy followed losses from Midwest Furfest plans that went badly (that’s no surprise with the Covid-19 pandemic); and a “Kickstarter debacle”. Readers who follow the turbulence of social media may be familiar with controversy about Wacaster’s practices that had coverage here — (with some charitable understanding for staff and artists invested in using Artworktee) — but the bankruptcy and reorganization took Wacaster out of ownership.
- ArtworkTee issues and the heart of the furry economy (2018)
- A Tale of Two Kickstarter Campaigns, and the Selling of Identity by Artworktee (2019)
Previous partnering practices had involved blitzing generic appeals to anyone with over 3K followers on social media, but that’s ended now. Paying artists was an issue, and the new ownership is committed to paying fairly.
I questioned Raphael more about company ownership in case Wacaster still had input on the board, profit sharing, or other ties. It satisfied me that there weren’t any, just cooperation for handing things over. That takes time (such as when old services are under old names), and not everyone is aware, but it sounds like the company is firmly in the care of Raphael and his small team.
Programs and relationships had to be dropped and restarted. The website is getting renovation. New organization has finances back in order with new investors. It was accomplished with some cuts to staff, and Artworktee was re-incorporated in California in 2021. The team includes:
- 1 warehouse helper
- 1 full time operations staffer
- 1 social media manager
- 1 supply relationships broker (Asia and Pacific)
- 1 co-manager who also does supply relationships for Europe
- A web developer and 5-6 regular con booth helpers.
“We have some great new plans coming up”, Raphael told me. One of them will be a new feature for uploading art to create your own products. Many people do it with services like Redbubble, but Raphael intends this to come with more personal service, representation at cons and quality at similar price point.
There will more con vending, and potentially helping to run an official con store. Other plans include expanding merch lines, a better located warehouse, and an optional website version for NSFW goods. There could even be partnership with retailers like Hot Topic if the stars align. (Some of these are in early stages, so allow for development.)
“We’re trying to be good to our artists and the fandom”, says Raphael. Service by fans, for fans is definitely what a lot of people want.
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