I crazily under-dressed myself for the Internet and went over to the Northern Grade pop up here in Los Angeles, donning a Topman T and a pair of cheap jeans. And I might have been cynical walking through the doors. But I will admit: It was a hell of a good time, and I met a lot of really swell folks.
One of said swell people was Justin Kerr, founder and craftsman behind Black Sheep Postal Service. The bright colors of his postcards caught my eye and drew me to his table, but it was the conversation that followed that got me interested and eventually led to a sale for him. Anyone can make a postcard. Well, not everyone. But it takes the added bonus of the postcard being pre-stamped that really rules and sets Black Sheep apart. No more needing to remember stamps or hoping HR doesn’t catch on that you’re using the office stamp machine to send personal notes. And that’s good.
I chatted with Justin about his project and life and future and music and drinking habits. Very interesting guy.
So, meet Justin.
The Momentum: First off: Can you tell me where you are from and a little bit about yourself.
Justin Kerr: My name is Justin Kerr. I’m from Newport Beach, California, I’ve lived in Edinburgh, Tokyo, and now San Francisco. I’ve published 11 books, ridden my bicycle across the United States, toured the country in a rock band (The Blacks – see video here http://jdkjdk.com/2010/07/18/the-blacks-san-francisco-values-tour-video-1-of-3/). Most recently, before starting Black Sheep Postal Service I was Global Vice President of Levis Womens – responsible for every pair of women’s jeans sold anywhere in the world.
TM: What was the inspiration behind actually creating something? Have you always been crafty and into just making something when you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for somewhere?
JK: My inspiration for making things comes directly from Ian MacKaye and the band Minor Threat by way of Michael Azerrod’s “Our Band Could be your life.” I read that book when I was 22, just graduated from college, and the punk ethos of DIY (do it yourself) that Minor Threat embodied so completely, inspired me and changed my life for ever. (editor’s note: I know few people who have read this book. But every single person who has walked away inspired. Myself included.) Growing up my Dad always told us why we couldn’t do something – not tall enough to play basketball – we don’t know a publisher so don’t bother writing – etc… This book and that chapter on Minor Threat told me that you can just do it yourself, you don’t need anyone else to make it happen and from that day forward I have never worn a t-shirt that I didn’t screen print myself.
TM: Tell me something interesting that has happened to you in 2013.
JK: Well, good and bad, I nearly had a mental breakdown. But on the other hand, I have started my own BSPS skate team, so it just about evens out so far, 100 days into 2013.
TM: You’re making custom cards that are pretty rad. We spoke some at Northern Grade about the process but if you wouldn’t mind reiterating how this venture came about, that’d be aces.
JK: I have been sending postcards with my original art to friends and family for years now, I’ve probably sent over 1000 cards to people – and I think I can count on 2 hands the number of cards I’ve received in return. I used to do postcard battles with other artists, I used to sell subscriptions to postcard bombings – such as 25 Days of Winter where I would get people to pay me $25 and then I’d send them a piece of original art in the mail for 25 days in a row. It was a creative outlet that didn’t need to be money-making since I had a very good job with Old Navy and later Levis. From there, enough was enough and I struck out on my own not knowing what was next, but when I looked in the mirror and thought about what made me happy, it was screenprinting, sending postcards, and sending and receiving stuff in the mail.
TM: Where do you source your paper from?
JK: I walk down the block to Blick Art Supplies and buy uncut large sheets of Matte board. I hand cut everything myself
TM: How long have you been at this and where does the inspiration come from?
JK: Black Sheep Postal Service started in January. The original inspiration was my 90 year old Nana who saved all the postcards I sent her over the past year and when I visited her and saw them all on the wall I realized how much it meant to her to hear from me, and I thought – Gosh, there must be other lonely old people who want to hear from their kids and grandkids – maybe I can help fill a void, build a bridge between people’s good intentions and bad follow through…
TM: What has been the biggest challenge in starting this venture?
JK: Read my interview here: http://www.blacksheeppostal.com/blogs/news/7259412-justin-interviews-justin (editor’s note: read the whole thing.)
TM: Have any success stories yet?
JK: Every card that goes out is a mini-success story. I’m stoked to be helping people send real mail and I truly feel lucky to be a part of a process and project that I know is bringing a smile to people’s faces when they receive the cards. That feels good.
TM: What do you see the future of this being?
JK: The future – We’re sending 1000s of postcards everyday to people all around the world – each delivering a hello, a thank you, and of course a smile on the receiving end.
TM: What’s next? You going to branch into more products? Want to be carried in retail outlets?
JK: I’m still debating wholesale, but after this weekend at NothernGrade and the positive reaction to being able to buy cards with the stamps already included, I think there is a market for BSPS cards everywhere. People want the convenience, and not having stamps on the stationary is a hurdle to actually mailing stuff, so i think we’re on to something by curating awesome USPS first class forever stamps already on the cards. If anyone wants to carry us, give me a shout!
TM: Who’s your favorite band right now?
JK: The Drums or The Dum Dum Girls
TM: What are you drinking?
JK: Large Early Gray Tea with milk – every morning.
Justin isn’t a one-trick pony, though. Navigate your way over to www.jdkjdk.com for some of his other projects.
Also, he has bees. http://beesomebody.wordpress.com. That’s just cool.
Check out Black Sheep Postal Service.
And stay tuned for a nice Mother’s Day giveaway. Gonna be fun. And thank you, Justin for chatting with me and The Momentum crowd.