Animal Instincts has been making garments blending the California vibe with a hint of humor since 2008.
The t-shirts, hoodies, onesies and more are sewn by San Francisco manufacturers and printed by local silk screeners, displaying designs hand-drawn by Jamai Lowell, artist and owner of the company.
In June 2018, after years of selling his great tees online and through pop-ups and fairs, Jamai opened his own shop, called Animal Instincts & Friends, in the Crocker Galleria – bottom floor suite #9, on the Sutter St side of the mall. Be sure to pay them a visit! They are open Mon-Fri 10am-6pm.
We got a chance to interview Jamai in August 2018.
Jamai, what’s your story, and how did you get to where you are today?
I’ve been doing art and drawing my whole life. When I was a teenager, I silk screened shirts in my high school art class to sell out of my backpack in my hometown of Fairfax [California]. At one point I even tried to buy the silk screening equipment from my art teacher.
I always had a drive to sell my art somehow. I went through a phase of doing a lot of graffiti, getting into trouble as a kid, until it became clear to me that I needed to focus on my art with t-shirt designs and stay out of trouble.
In 2005, when I was 18, I moved to San Francisco, trying to tap into the art scene. I did some commissioned drawings and cafe shows, but nothing really clicked. I started to notice local gift boutiques that carried local designers.
That’s when you started Animal Instincts?
A little later. I officially started Animal Instincts in 2008, when I was working at my uncle’s restaurant to pay my bills. I would hustle my t-shirts on the side. Wearing my designs while I waited tables, I could see if they got a good response from customers. People could also find me selling my designs out of an old beat up suitcase at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass or at the Divisadero Art Walk.
At the same time, I met another local designer, Nate of New Skool. He took me in as an intern while I learned the ropes to get my own brand off the ground. Two years later, I went full time with Animal Instincts.
What was your strategy to grow your business?
My business really grew when I started doing more events on the weekends. Being in the Bay Area you can really do as many events as you can handle. In 2015, I started doing multiple shows in one day which really helped grow sales.
Over the past years the booth fees have increased so I’ve been focusing more on other outlets like my brick and mortar, wholesale and online sales. My shop has been a great addition because I use it as an office to fulfill online and wholesale orders as well as being open for business Monday-Friday. This schedule also allows me the option to still do shows on the weekends. I currently have one multi-talented and hardworking employee but hope to continue growing and hire more in the future!
Who are your main customers, and what’s your best-selling design?
My main customers are young people, 30-40 years old, with families, living in San Francisco, wanting something to represent their love for the city. Although I’m known for my dinosaur crossing the Golden Gate Bridge design, I do a lot of designs showing my love for San Francisco.
Any fun facts?
My designs have been spotted on TV shows such as the Big Bang Theory and worn by Slash from Guns and Roses!
What’s one of the latest products you’re most proud of?
My latest design is the Hidden Bridge Pocket Tee. The shirt is sewn right here in SF, then sent to my silk screener to apply my graphics. Afterwards, it goes back to the cut and sew, to attach the pocket! This makes for a more unique style tee shirt and also very functional if you need somewhere to keep your sunnies when on the move.
What should we look forward to from you?
My whole strategy has been to grow a little every year and not take out huge loans in the process. So far that’s been working so I’ll stick to that plan most likely.
Since my shop is doing well, but is only open Monday-Friday, I’m toying with the idea of a second location that is open all week. Other than that, I continue doing the profitable weekend shows, selling online and selling wholesale with local shops.
Over the past few years, I’ve also been able to spend more time working on my drawings, which were often put aside while I started Animal Instincts. I’m currently doing a series of drawings, “Homes Away From Homes“: San Francisco Victorians, drawn in pen and ink, with coffee and sometimes watercolor added.
Why manufacture locally?
I make it a priority to work with local manufacturers and silk screeners. I manufacture locally because it connects my work with the San Francisco community which is important to me as a Bay Area native.
I also have much more control over my design, from start to finish. Honestly, it’s more work but I also feel more involved. It’s such a bonus to have a product that’s fully made here.
Why did you join SFMade?
I joined for so many reasons… but I’ll start with the incredible support SFMade has to offer. I’ve had to make a lot of decisions on my own and having this helpful, experienced resource is really incredible. I’ve learned a lot from the SFMade workshops I’ve taken and done great at some of the sales events you have put on.
Organizations like SFMade really aren’t to be taken for granted, whether you’re just starting out or already have an established business in San Francisco. To keep my business growing I have to wear a lot of hats and being able to reach out for help with any of them is huge. I plan to continue to be a part of this community as much as I can.
~An interview from Janet and Pierre @ SFMade