Gamers are never shy about shelling out cash on game-related merchandise. Not unlike other gaming conventions, BlizzCon 2016 was swarming with people waiting in line to purchase goods from their favorite franchises. Inven was lucky enough to get a hold of Cullen Sweet, Head of Public Relations at J!NX, to hear the company’s secret behind what makes a beloved brand for gaming enthusiasts.
Can you tell us a little bit about J!NX?
J!NX has been around for almost 17 years now. We manufacture clothes, toys, and accessories for most of the AAA gaming licenses in US, Europe, and Asia. Some of primary clients are Blizzard, MS, and Valve.
Can you tell us about the scale of the company?
We have two buildings in San Diego, California and 110 employees, with some global employees in Europe who work with distributors. Manufacturers are scattered throughout the world, including China, India, Mexico, and the US. We operate on such a large scale because we service many retail stores.
What are some of the most popular product lines?
We have a large fan base through Blizzard games such as Overwatch and WoW. We also manufacture majority of products for Minecraft, which is huge everywhere.
How were you able to obtain license rights from big names like Blizzard?
One of the things that sets us apart from other entities is that we live and breathe video games. You have to play video games to get hired here and keep your job. When we design products for our licensors such as Blizzard, we often go for artwork with a subtle joke that only people who play the game understand. We constantly play video games, challenge each other, and work closely with licensors. In doing so, we’ve built up a good community as well. Most companies will take some key art that gaming licenses provide and just slap it on a shirt or a backpack. To be honest, that doesn’t really sell. Here at J!NX, we have full-time illustrators who constantly try to come up with new styles and ways of expressing fandom for the games that they love.
What’s the most important element in product design?
When we design products, they have to be products we ourselves want to wear. Let’s say I like to play Hanzo from Overwatch and I want a Hanzo shirt. So, we’ll design a shirt that looks really cool with an angle we like. It could represent something we did in the game or something about the character that we find funny and other people can relate to. We always try to create products based on what we want because we’re our own target audience.
Can you tell us about the design team and its process?
Internally, we have about 25 designers, including everything from art to cut and sew. All the designers start working on a given project. We usually assign some games to certain people, but we try to collaborate as much as possible. Any time we do a design, it goes through a couple of revisions. Once it’s as polished as possible, we submit it to the licensors. Sometimes, it goes back and forth until we nail it.
How did you decide to collaborate with Team Liquid?
eSports is a growing field. Last year, I think it was over $680 million in revenues, so it’ll probably be over $1 billion in the coming year. Many of the licenses that we make products for like Overwatch are already a huge eSport, so it made sense for us to take the next step by servicing the teams as well. All other traditional sports like football and baseball have professional-looking jerseys and full wardrobe from head to toe. We saw that eSports is not serviced in the same fashion, so we decided to work with Liquid to test the waters. And it turned out, eSports fans did want to wear jerseys, hats, and hoodies to show support for their favorite teams.
What other teams do you plan to work with?
We’re currently working with Elevate and Method, and we’ll announce a couple more teams at the end of this year. We’ve also launched our own lifestyle brand, J!NX Pro. Just as you wear gym clothes to the gym, we’re creating clothes for gamers. It’s made with comfortable fabric that breathes. We designed a hybrid clothing line that gamers want to wear inside and outside so it doesn’t look like you’re wearing pajamas when you go to a grocery store.
What sets J!NX apart from competitors?
The biggest difference is that we create our own art instead of relying on key art from licensors. We’re so much larger than our competitors, so they’re usually the ones that try to catch up to us. We set the gold standard for what gamers want to wear.
Were there any products that you thought were sure hits but ended up being disappointments?
I think all companies at some point make products that do poorly. We made a murloc hat for BlizzCon which didn’t do very well. By the end, we were just giving them away because store owners didn’t want to see them anymore. Even when we make mistakes, we’re able to move on because of our good sense of humor. We make fun of ourselves so much that when we do make a mistake, sometimes no one notices. It just works out. We rarely make mistakes because we work so closely with communities and game companies that I can only think of two or three items which were not great. We were fortunate enough to have done really well.
Additionally, we care deeply about the perception of the company and our fans, and if we find a defect, we’ll immediately go back to the factories and get it fixed as soon as possible. When printing hundreds and thousands of hoodies, there’s going to be one or two that have loose threads. If that’s the case, customer service will just send another one out with no questions asked. Our customer service team gets great feedback, which makes my job easier.
Among the products out on this year’s BlizzCon floor, what portion of them are from J!NX?
BlizzCon only has a handful of license partners they work with. There are about four or five partners this BlizzCon, and we’re one of them. There’s a good amount of our products on the floor as well as from other partners. We don’t make as many vinyl toys because they cost more money to make, and we don’t have a toy category for Blizzard. We can make toys for other licenses like Microsoft and Valve, but we can only do apparel for Blizzard.
I think apparel does really well for us because it offers people the means of expressing their fandom for a particular game. You can’t walk around with a toy all the time or people are going to think you’re a little weird.
Since J!NX sizing is based on US standards, how will international customers find the right fit?
We have something called the true-to-size program that takes your weight, height, and body type to figure out a proper size. For example, given your body information, it’ll say 80 percent of the people bought large. Then you can make a decision based on that. Since the calculation is based on weight and height, it’s very precise. If you find out later it’s not the right size, you can contact customer support for an easy exchange.
Customers in certain countries have a difficult time buying your products. Any thoughts?
We offer free worldwide shipping five to six times a year, which also covers most of VAT. If you have a product you want, then you’ll get a chance to purchase them at some point without worrying too much about other costs. Ideally, we’d like to form partnerships with national stores where you can just walk into a shop. That’s slowly what we’ve been doing in Europe, and we’re hoping to do the same in Asian markets as well.
Any final words to fans and potential customers?
As a company, if you show that you care about the customers, people will keep coming back. Fans understand that we want to give them the best products and customer service. We’ve had customers who have been with us all 17 years. They still message us and send us emails and pictures of their kids wearing our stuff. We consider them almost like an extension of family.