London-based graphic designer Dan Barkle is well versed in multi-faceted storytelling, with his artwork and merch for bands and brands often going beyond the visuals to paint a wider picture. Now, he’s telling his own post-apocalyptic story in the streetwear space with his new brand, postdigital. We caught up with him to find out more about it.
The Brand Identity: For those that don’t know, how would you describe postdigital?
Dan Barkle: It’s a utility brand that exists solely on the darkweb, in a future where the world has really gone to shit and it’s every man for himself. If you need supplies, you go to this brand. Post-apocalypse streetwear and goods.
TBI: What drew you towards that subject matter?
DB: I personally don’t feel there’s enough outgoing storytelling in the streetwear space. Majority of brands don’t go beyond a minimalistic wordmark and a fairly straight forward conceptual collection to match – which is totally fine, but I’m personally more likely to invest in a brand if there’s an interesting narrative behind the products. I felt there was a gap in the market.
I’m mostly interested in pop-culture that centres around an end of the world narrative, most recently engaging with The Last Of Us 2, Mr. Robot and Death Stranding. I felt it would be an interesting experiment to marry my two main interests and that ultimately created the concept of ‘postdigital’.
“I’ve always had an unhealthy obsession with streetwear.”
TBI: How did your process of finding the right graphic and typographic language go?
DB: It took me quite a while to actually find the right balance. I’d been toying with making it feel overly digital and cyberpunk for months and eventually scrapped months of developments because I felt it looked too cliche and gimmicky.
I’ve always been one for simple utilitarian graphics: stuff you’d see at an MOT station or on the side of a cargo train carriage. I took a step back and spent a couple of weeks collecting photos and scans of some of my favourite findings from out and about in London. From there I began to experiment with typographic layouts that combined that industrial aesthetic with a hint of digital. For example, the back print of Unit–002 was inspired by a graphic I liked on a pair of hardware scaffolding gloves.
TBI: What inspired you to start making apparel?
DB: I’ve always had an unhealthy obsession with streetwear. It started when I was in school and cared more about the skate shoes I wore, than actually being able to skate. I then started a small brand during uni when I entered the design world called PZZL – it was super low budget: Gildan tees, tye-dye and acid wash treatments, you know the drill. I stopped it when final year came around, but since then I’ve craved to give it a go again, but this time as high-end as possible. Foundation presented me with the opportunity to platform it and here we are.
“The more people that buy, the price goes up.”
TBI: So through Foundation, the products are available to trade with cryptocurrency, but also purchase regularly. How does that work exactly, and why did you decide to do it that way?
DB: Foundation approached me with their business model and their entire setup and roll out felt so fresh and unique that I didn’t want to do it any other way. Essentially your products are live on a dynamic stock market. Consumers have the option to either buy it outright and get the product when it’s released or buy a token of the product in crypto (essentially a certificate of one unit) and then have the choice to either trade it back to the market to make a profit or loss, or eventually redeem it and obtain the product. The more people that buy, the price goes up. People who get in early that bought the first few units via a token could then make a bigger profit later on and cash in. Each transaction, regardless of what it is on market, makes me money. At first glance, it’s a tad extra for a payment process, but if you can get past the crypto confusion, it’s quite fun to monitor the value like you would stocks. I feel it translates well with the darknet vibe I’m going for, so it’s a win-win.
TBI: We all know you can handle the graphic side, but how did you find sourcing materials, sizing, building an online store, shipping and the multitude of other things that come with running a clothing brand?
DB: There’s so much groundwork and planning to this stuff that people don’t really see. The concept of the brand itself has taken months to get right – I wanted to essentially world-build and then everything else after would make sense. I’m a stiffler for high-quality clothing, print finishes and packaging so I did a lot of primary research into brands that I felt did it well and then built on my findings to try a better output. As this first stage is small-scale in quantity and numbers, my options were slightly limited (no custom factory work) but I’ve sourced some incredibly good cotton blanks from the US, worked with the samples to practice garment distressing and landed on two products I was stoked with. The online store was designed by myself when putting the brand together, fortunately, Foundation’s dev team built the website for me to link up with their system seamlessly – I’ve had a great remote team working on front-end and back-end at all times, which I’m super grateful to have. Shipping this out in the most environmentally friendly way possible has always been a priority too, so I’ve dissolved the shipping costs into the overall production, produced biodegradable mailers and organised a postage system that will guarantee ethical, conscious worldwide delivery. Working in the merchandising design sector for over three years has massively helped with being able to navigate the right people to talk to and trade knowledge with. I’ve essentially been working as a project manager in industry terms. Being a freelancer you have to depend on those skills on the daily, so I’ve found it to be a comfortable experience (so far).
“It’s a utility brand that exists solely on the darkweb.”
TBI: There are several 3D objects on the postdigital Instagram and website, which you’ve mentioned that you made yourself with no prior experience of 3D software. How did you find that process?
DB: I’ve been projecting for years that I’m going to have a go at 3D and incorporate it into my portfolio of work, but I’ve always been so daunted by it and kept putting it off. The concepts I had for the promo and website all required some serious 3D work so to reduce costs I knuckled down and learnt how to operate Blender. I found the process challenging for the first couple of days, as I had no idea what nodes were or why the amount of frame samples was essential for the final render but I took to it and feel like I somewhat know what I’m doing when I open up the software now. What I’ve created isn’t perfect, but it works well to get across the aesthetic of the brand.
The garment renders were slightly out of reach for my limited skillset, so I hired Dan Linthwaite (BestServedBold) to deliver these and damn did he nail them. A lot of work went into making sure the cut and fit of the fabric were mirroring the product I was producing – the moody lighting rig, the raised screenprint and detailed cotton textures all bringing it to life. I wouldn’t hire anyone else to do this bespoke type of work, he’s the best.
“I’d like to keep it fairly limited and maintain a solid level of hype around each release.”
TBI: How does the future of the brand tie in with your client work and other projects?
DB: I have fairly big plans for this brand, especially after seeing the reactive nature of my fans of the first 24 hours of the drop – was incredibly overwhelming. I don’t necessarily plan for it to reign in gargantuan units of stock and have factories of people working on it as I’d like to keep it fairly limited and maintain a solid level of hype around each release.
I’m probably at a crossroads where I can either put all my focus into this and retire my client work to see if it’s financially viable or maintain a balance of rotating between this and external projects for selected clients. One of my main drives with this was that people would buy band merch I’ve designed and then report back with disappointment in the overall garment quality. I don’t think there’s a better feeling than people wanting to buy your art, so this brand is partly me wanting to provide my fans with products that aren’t going to disappoint. There are definitely plans for this to be operating as my full-time design focus, so only time will tell.