Graphic communication junior Josh Birnbaum created the clothing line B.I.R.D.S. | Paige Cross/Mustang News

WORDS: Kelly Trom, GRAPHIC: Paige Cross
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B.I.R.D.S Apparel may be represented by a parrot logo, but the idea behind the company is much bigger. Much like the popular “I heart New York” T-shirts, the idea for the company sprang from a love of a hometown.

The man behind the online clothing store, graphic communication junior Josh Birnbaum, grew up in Marin County before attending Cal Poly.

“The concept is basically that the people and the places of where you come from really shape who you are,” Birnbaum said. “I am from Marin Country area, so a lot of my designs are influenced by the Bay Area.”

Birnbaum came up with the idea his freshman year, in 2012, when he started learning the computer programs that would allow him to complete his designs. B.I.R.D.S is an acronym for “Born in Rich Districts,” meaning anyone can find value in the place where they grew up.

“I want people to find riches from their district, whether it is their friends or the places,” Birnbaum said. “Whatever their area has to offer, it is about accepting that and the fact that has made you who you are.”

His designs are graphic and linear.

“I try to keep it as simplistic as possible, really trying to go for a refined look,” he said. “I am kind of a perfectionist, and I like the symmetrical look.”

His early designs feature a graphic representation of the Golden Gate Bridge, Warrior and Giants colors, the phrase “Left Siders” and other traditional Bay Area elements. His current and future lines focus on his logo.

Many people from Northern California have bought his designs, as well as his friends from other college campuses, such as San Diego State University and Oregon State University.

“That isn’t necessarily the target audience that I am going for, but a lot of them have grown up in similar areas and similar environments with similar people, so they are into the same designs that I am,” Birnbaum said.

Birnbaum started designing with some initial input from friends in his residence hall, such as business administration junior Dustin Dolby.

“He showed me some designs he made on (Adobe) Illustrator and I thought they were dope and wanted to buy them,” Dolby said. “Everyone in the dorm wanted to buy one, so he said he would look into it.”

Birnbaum then looked into getting price quotes on printing costs and ended up selecting a company in Orange County called Merchwide.

“I didn’t know much about clothing lines, but I was just purely excited about it,” Birnbaum said. “I knew I wanted to do this and take the plunge. I kind of just jumped into it with a few designs in mind and went ahead and got them printed.”

Birnbaum printed those first few designs with the support of friends who said they’d buy one.

“I never thought it would get this big,” Dolby said. “He came up with some clothes that my friends from back home are buying, people from other colleges are buying. He has really grown his market, while using the Bay Area as a launching pad.”

Many of his friends in the residence halls were from the Bay Area and appreciated his sense of style.

“He lets people see his roots through his clothing,” Dolby said. “That’s one of the big things he prides himself on, is where he is from. Even though he will expand his designs, he will stay true to that.”

His current designs focus mainly on his logo. The first tank tops and T-shirts sported designs that were floating around in Birnbaum’s head but didn’t have a common thread, except that they were inspired by the Bay Area.

“All of my concepts are now built off of the emblem, because I want to build the brand identity rather than just put out random designs,” Birnbaum said.

Birnbaum mainly designs at his desk at home or in the sketchbook he has with him at most times — just in case inspiration strikes.

Oftentimes, it takes precedence over homework.

“A lot of the time, a design will come to me late at night,” Birnbaum said. “There are some nights where I get so hooked onto a design and I don’t want to do my homework. I am finding a balance.”

Birnbaum has been growing as a designer and a businessman. One of his business goals is to get his designs into a brick-and-mortar store. He has started talking to three stores in Marin County about carrying his designs: two surf shops and a high-end skate boutique.

“My goal for summer is to get it into all three of the stores,” he said. “That is my hometown, and I want my base to be out of there.”

The advantage to having his designs in a physical store vs. an online store is that customers have the potential to see what the clothes would look like on them.

“I think being able to actually try on something is huge,” he said. “The hardest thing right now is trying to convey the sizing.”

For now, he is focusing on creating buzz for his products on the Internet. Much like his initial lack of strategy for cohesive designs, Birnbaum also didn’t have a marketing strategy to generate interest.

“As excited as I was and as much as I want to do this, you really have to be smart about it,” Birnbaum said. “You have to create the want for it vs. putting it out there and hoping people want it.”

This is something he wants to work on for his spring line, which will consist of two designs on different colored T-shirts and tank tops. One design will feature a variation of his current logo, and the other one is a surprise, but is titled “Feathered Faithful.”

“Once I get the designs for spring, I am going to start posting pictures before I release them,” Birnbaum said. “I think it is a smart marketing strategy, and it is a strategy which I didn’t have in the beginning.”

But Birnbaum isn’t the only one creating buzz for his products. He heartily encourages customers to post fan pictures of them wearing their favorite piece of B.I.R.D.S Apparel.

“I really want it to be a community feel,” Birnbaum said. “I want people taking their Bird shirts and going to a sick view or going to their buddies. I want them to emulate what my motto is, and not just wear (it).”

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