As the Middle Ballroom of the Lory Student center filled with girls in fur-lined boots and boys in fluorescent snowboarder hoodies, Johnny Cupcakes bumped Ratatat’s track “Party and Bulls***” even louder as people sat themselves.
Cupcakes, whose real name is John Earle, wearing a candy cane cupcake shirt, spoke in his slight Boston accent while home pictures of him flashed across the huge projector.
The young entrepreneur told students his off-the-cuff story about how his bizarre clothing campaign, spurred by a play off the traditional skull and crossbones symbol of a pirate ship, made him one of the youngest millionaires in the country.
Cupcakes said that even from a young age he could never understand why people did anything they didn’t like. And true to his word, he has made his fortune creating shirts he started as a joke.
While working in a record store in Boston, he accumulated many nicknames, the most popular being Johnny Cupcakes. He liked the moniker, and the next time he printed shirts for his metalcore band, On Broken Wings, he decided to create a shirt that said Johnny Cupcakes.
“When I wore it to work, all these slightly miserable customers that used to be grumpy and kept to themselves would get a chuckle out of the shirt and ask where I got it,” he said.
The novelty of the shirts sparked enough interest that he started selling them out of the back of his 1989 grey beat up Camry.
“Girls thought it was cute, guys thought it was funny,” Johnny said about his one of-a-kind, limited-count cupcake shirts. “People like having what no one else has. If you go to prom, and some girl’s wearing the same dress, you want to rip her face right off her body. People want something unique.”
Cupcakes’ creative ideas have played a major role in creating the press his line has received.
Besides refusing to mass produce shirts — despite offers from big-name retailers like Urban Outfitters, Barney’s, Nordstroms and Hot Topic — Cupcakes surprises his loyal customers by rewarding them with random presents in shipping orders and, in last night’s case, under chairs.
He also has personally designed both of his trendy boutiques. In his Los Angeles, Calif. store, Cupcakes hired engineers from Disney Land to create giant oven doors that light up and expel vanilla scented smoke into the shop.
Celebrities such as Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Garnett, Little Wayne, and his personal friend from Gym Class Heroes who he went on tour with last year, Travis McCoy, have worn his clothing line.
Despite his celebrity connections, Cupcakes advises CSU students against partying. He’s never had a sip of beer in his life.
“Partying has never really appealed to me,” he said. “It just seems like a waste of time and money. When my friends go out and party, I’ll stay home and work on designs.”
Students like Heather Margin, a junior technical journalism major, said they have been inspired by his straight lifestyle and creative design.
“I heard about this straight-life T-shirt guy who sold shirts with cupcakes and crossbones on them,” she said. “I was really into pirates at the time because of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ and thought his shirts were awesome. He’s very inspirational to me”
Cupcakes said students looking to be successful entrepreneurs should create good first impressions, utilize their resources at school and online, shy away from annoying advertisements, delegate tasks and not worry when they go broke.
“I started this business with no investors, no loans, no education, no advertising and it turned into a multi-million dollar business. If I can do it with cupcakes, they can do it with anything.”
As a plug for his company, Cupcakes created a secret coupon code password for CSU students to use on his Web site, johnnycupcakes.com. If students enter the password “CSU” during the fourth step during checkout they will receive 20 percent off their entire purchase. This offer will only be available until Saturday.
The Association for Student Activities Program and CSU’s chapter of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars hosted the lecture.
Staff writer Shelley Woll can be reached at email@example.com.