Jo Malfitano created IYKYK Merch during the pandemic and out of passion for wanting different merch for a band she had just discovered, Greta Van Fleet. She explains she started making her own merch to wear of the band since there wasn't a ton out at the time she loved. Since then, she's created tons of merch as she currently has the following collections - The Master Class, Strange Horizons, No Way Home, The Upside Down and The Summer Solstice. We spoke to Jo about her passion, how she stays motivated to create designs and what other artists she'd love to start having collections for.
SONG & FURY: Hi Jo, thank you so much for interviewing with us. How are you and how were your holidays?
Jo: Hi! I'm so excited to interview with you guys, and really appreciate you thinking of me. I'm doing well, my holidays were super fun and relaxed and just spent with the fam.
S&F: So you have an amazing clothing brand “IYKYK Merch” that’s very popular across multiple fandoms. Can you tell us how you got started with all of that?
Jo: It all started during the pandemic, I was home all the time like the rest of us but I also work from home full time so I was REALLY home all the time. It really started when I found Greta Van Fleet. I noticed that there wasn't much merch out there that I was really in love with, so I just decided to learn how to screen print t-shirts and make my own. After learning that, I decided to make a few Tik Toks showing the process and the finished product, and that's where I got the idea to start the shop!
S&F: How do you stay motivated with creating new designs and just keeping up with everything?
Jo: Personally, it’s hard sometimes to stay in that creative zone, life can get busy and I can get burnt out, but I try to stay as positive as I can. Creative ruts happen to everyone, so I just try to use that time to brainstorm new ideas and go from there. I also offer custom orders, so those keep me pretty busy when I can't think of any new design ideas, but overall just continuing to find more artists and shows that I love, as well as learning new design techniques is what really helps keep me motivated.
S&F: We just went through the holiday season, I imagine you were pretty busy for a couple of months with all of that. How are you able to keep up with the demand during crazy spurts like that?
Jo: The holidays are super crazy, but they're also fun! I focus mainly on custom orders during that time, so I don't release many new designs or collections, but it's so fun to see new and repeat customers bringing in these really cool custom ideas that I get to bring to life for them. Typically I will only release a certain amount of customs orders at a time so that I don't get overloaded, and I just try to stay as organized as I can. My main focus when it's busy and what really helps me stay on top of things is communication. I try to communicate as best as I can with my customers on any issues that they might encounter or have encountered. Whether it's me running behind on something, or shipping delays, I try to be as quick to respond as possible so that they know their items are being taken care of. I never want to leave anyone with questions or concerns, so just being on top of my communication is what's really important to me.
S&F: I think our favorite collection is the Strange Horizons collection. Do you have a favorite collection you’ve created so far?
Jo: Ooooo that's a tough one…I love all of my collections equally, but I think the one I'm most proud of so far is the Upside Down collection. Stranger Things is such a huge show, and I've loved it since day one, and I just had so many ideas to work with and it was a really exciting time creatively for me. I was also pretty nervous to release it, as it was my first major collection drop outside of GVF, but the response was super positive and just inspired me to keep creating more designs for it. I initially started with just a few character designs, like Eddie and Steve but once I saw the positive reaction I kept creating more characters and different character duos, like Eddie and Dustin, and it was just so much fun.
S&F: Do you have a favorite piece you’ve created?
Jo: Again, this question is so tough, it's like asking me to pick my favorite child! But if I absolutely had to pick, I think I'd go with either Steve Harrington or Eleven. Both of those designs were so fun, because of the colors that I got to play around with while editing the photos. They were just different from anything that I had done before, and also those designs kind of showed a little more intensity rather than the fun side to those characters and I thought that was cool too. But I do have to give an honorable mention to my GVF polaroid design. That design was out of my comfort zone as it's clearly different from my other designs, so again it was a little scary to release. For that one, though I got to work with my friend Audee to try and recreate the boy’s handwriting to match each of their pictures, and I just think that one's really special because of that touch.
S&F: So since we’re a music blog, we obviously have to talk a little music with you. We’re huge Greta Van Fleet fans on the blog and I’ve personally been a fan of them for five years this year. When and how did you come across GVF?
Jo: I came across Greta during the pandemic when that infamous SNL clip was going around. I wasn't hooked right away, but of course, they filled up my FYP after that and so I obviously fell in love with their music from there. I think their sound and talent are just so different from a lot of other groups that we see nowadays, and of course, I love that their main goal is to spread love and positivity through their music and what they stand for. They've also cultivated such a warm and loving community, and I'm proud to be a part of that!
S&F: What inspired you to start designing GVF collections?
Jo: When I first found them, there just wasn't a ton of merch out there at the time that I really liked, so I just decided to make my own. From there the inspiration has simply come from a love and appreciation for their music. They have inspired so many people to tap into their creative sides, and I'm one of those people, so I really appreciate them for unknowingly introducing me to this whole new world of creativity that I'm really passionate about.
S&F: Are there any other bands or artists that you think would inspire you to have a collection dedicated entirely to them?
Jo: Yes - Harry Styles. I've been a fan of his since the days of One Direction, and I've always wanted to do an entire collection dedicated to him. The thing with Harry though is that there are so many ideas I have that it's a little overwhelming. I do have one harry design out already, but I would love to do an entire collection as well. Some other artists that I would love to do collections for are The Velveteers and The Criticals. Earlier this year I did a design for each of them, and the bands themselves responded so positively and were so encouraging, and it was just a really cool moment for me. So I would love to be able to work on a collection for them!
S&F: Who are some of your favorite bands/artists?
Jo: Currently, my favorite artist is Lizzy Mcalpine. Her songwriting and performance of each of her songs is so beautiful I literally can't stop listening to her. I would also say Marcus King, I got to see him for the first time this year at the BottleRock Festival in Napa and I was just amazed by his talent. Some other honorable mentions are Greta Van Fleet (obviously), The Criticals, The Veleveteers, and my favorite artist of all time is James Taylor.
S&F: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to open an online shop for fandom merch or in general, but isn’t sure where or how to get started?
Jo: I would just say to have fun with it. Don't take it too seriously and don't compare yourself to other shops, just make stuff that you love and other people will love it too. I would also say don't be afraid to reach out to shops that you already know and love, I did that a lot when I was first starting out because of course I had a million questions, and everyone I talked to was so sweet and supportive and they were SUPER helpful. Just figure out what you love to make, do your research on the different shop platforms, and find the one that works best for you!
S&F: Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers and your shoppers?
Jo: I guess I'd just like to thank you again for even thinking of me for this article, and thank you to everyone who has supported me and my shop thus far. I've definitely made some mistakes and have learned a lot along the way, and I just can't thank everyone who has been kind, understanding, and supportive of me enough. The support has been amazing, and I can't wait to add a ton of new stuff to the shop in 2023!
S&F: Thank you so much again for interviewing with us. We really appreciate it and we can’t wait to see what’s next from you!
JO: No, thank you! This was so fun and I can't wait for the new year!
Check out Jo's collection and keep up with her below!