Good merch balances eye-catching and low-profile, and Los Angeles-based electronic label Body High seems to have figured out the perfect formula. Label boss Samo Sound Boy and designer Max Martin, childhood friends since they were twelve, have tapped into that magical category of promo gear you can actually wear day-to-day. In tandem with WeDidIt, their Kings99 e-storefront consistently hosts some of the most interesting, well-made tees, sweatshirts, and jerseys we've seen. As Body High expands, moving from EPs and singles to full length albums and global tours, their approach to clothing has grown too. A minimalist line of travelwear called Body High Priority will launch in the next couple months and their first hat, an embroidered six-panel, nearly shut down Kings99 when it went up a couple weeks ago. Below, Max and Samo talk about their approach to design, and how to produce legit merch on a shoestring budget.
1. Before You Outsource, Try Local
Max Martin: From the beginning the whole ethos was to use the computer only as a last step. We're always trying to find ways to work physically, using shops in Los Angeles. That's actually how the Body High logo came about. There was a letterpress store called Colby's on the outskirts of downtown LA that a lot of artists used. It was run by one guy who set everything by hand—no font books or anything—you'd just give him the text and he would do his thing. So our logo was just scanned from the poster he printed. All the symbols and record covers we use are scanned from physical images.
Samo Sound Boy: Getting our stuff made in LA definitely connects us with the city and takes us to some funny places. When we made these "RIP Tribute" jerseys a few years back we got them made at a high school uniform shop out in the Valley. Max and I would be out there in line with these high school coaches asking us if Body High was a charter school.
2. Be Patient And Don't Settle
Max Martin: It's definitely a pain in the butt to do merch. We have done some simpler things in the past, but we're both interested in finding ways to tweak our merch to stand out a bit, to keep it interesting. It's been a huge learning experience, and getting things made right is such a slow, slow process. For a lot of artists merch is an afterthought, a way for them to make a bit of extra cash, [but] for us it plays a much more serious role, and we're trying to do these things without any money. We're both perfectionists and probably drive each other a bit crazy. But what you learn from producing clothes on a budget is it's all about finding quality items that aren't high end, and realizing that takes a long, long time. The first go is not going to be right [so] get lots of samples and be really patient. For this, it was hard to find the right blank and getting a custom hat was way out of our budget. So we ended up sourcing fifty hats from all over the place, and finally found one we liked and could afford.
Samo Sound Boy: Finding good people to work with is really key when you're working on a budget. It makes you build things really internally just with close friends who wanted to be a part of it. I'm so grateful for that because after almost four years we have an operation that's totally undiluted.
3. Make It Your Own
Max Martin: We always knew we didn't want to do a basic snapback.
Samo Sound Boy: My rule for hats is go with what your favorite movie director would wear on set.
Max Martin: After we found our base we focused on the details. We both decided we didn't want it to say Body High on it except on the little tag at the back. That was actually based off this vintage M&M's hat Sam has. Each artist on the label has an individual iconography, so that's what the embroidery on the hat represents. The embroidery was a process too, we had to take it to a bunch of different places and a lot said they wouldn't do it because the panels wouldn't match up, finally we found someone. This was definitely the most challenging piece of merch for us in terms of production, but it's also the piece we're proudest of. It's a good representation of what we're trying to do: put flips on traditional gear. It represents the Body High aesthetic fully.