How Bedford Slims Started
The story behind how Bedford Slims came to be and how we got our name is almost as good as the product. Almost.
Williamsburg, Brooklyn - a mecca for the artistically inclined - or what the rest of America may refer to as "dirty hipsters" - each year the population grows with more and more tattoo-drenched, mustachioed, forever-young types in fashionable garb vying for a spot at the top in their respective creative field. My partner Lisa and I, like most people, also came here to become Masters of our Universe. For me, my world was writing, for her it was industrial design.
In late 2009, my stint as a creative director at a tech start-up was beginning to take its toll on me. I generally don't comment on negative employment experiences, but I will say the office climate was conducive to a mismanaged slaughterhouse - the business was messy and the life was perpetually getting sucked out of the room. The only thing missing was a conveyor belt and ominous hole with fire and chomping steel teeth. I felt doomed. I was let go shortly thereafter.
Lucky for me, I'd been freelance writing for a pet-themed gifts company where I met Lisa, my soon-to-be partner. Realizing we were squandering our talents, we began to gather ideas about what ELSE we could do with our skill sets as a team (ideas ranged from traditional branding agency to slutty clothes for dogs). But none of them we found had impact or could change lives.
The First Drag
Around the same time, a good friend had given me a gift. A disposable e-cigarette. I looked at it oddly. Scratching my head I peered at the device in my hand and asked, "Uhhh, how does it work?"
"Just put your mouth on it and take a drag you dummy," My friend responded.
So I did. And I coughed, like the first inhale ever of a cigarette. What was this thing? Why did I feel like I had just smoked a cigarette? Three puffs later my only question was how could I make this thing in my hands more awesome. Although the disposable e-cig looked generic and tasted like utter crap, I did know there was something to this. Something that could cause impact.
My partner Lisa, however, did not share the same vision for the electronic cigarette. My first pitches to her about making e-cigs OUR business fell on somewhat deaf ears. In fact, many of my colleagues I had contacted to help me said things like, "Why that?" or "It's such a niche product, no one has even heard of it," or "I am too busy right now, go away."
I knew that I could use my talents to genuinely help people, lots of them, if only I could recruit the right team.
I am a terrible listener. I am stubborn as a mule. I don't really care what others are doing, because I'm not much for following people. Fortunately, it's these very attributes that proved to be the most powerful when developing Bedford Slims.
I dropped out of Corporate America that year. Even though I had been let go at my job as a CD, there were a few offers from other more attractive companies. I turned them all down. I was broke. I began working 14-hour days taking on odd jobs, one of which included doing an 8-month stretch for the US Census. I took a job at the wine shop down the street from my apartment. I was on the writing team for two FOX animated series pitches. I waited tables again, briefly.
During the entire year of 2010, I learned as much as I could about our battery-operated buddy while working and saving as much as I could. I would go days without sleep. I bought a big jug of USP vegetable glycerin and began whipping up batches of all sorts of flavours. I researched batteries and began constructing what I thought could be a more efficient product than the disposable I had originally encountered. I read, and I read, and I read, and I read, and I read.
All this time, mind you, I was still being told I should do something else by my friends and family, something "more positive" they'd say. Lisa was still telling me, that I could do better. I was chided by some of my artist friends for promoting nicotine use. Naturally I found all these things ridiculous and persevered. To me, there was very little question, this was the most positive thing I had ever done and could do with my time. I wasn't helping one friend quit smoking, I was setting out to help the world quit smoking. I was literally picking a fight with Big Tobacco.
By the fall of 2010, I was beginning to feel like it was either put up or shut up. I was as prepared as prepared could ever be. Thanks to all my odd jobs I managed to squirrel away over 13,000 dollars. And with that, the real fun began. I filed for a NY state corporation and set up a business bank account. I began to brainstorm how the brand should feel.
How We Got Our Name
Originally, I wanted to call this brand ZERO. It came to me vividly in a dream after seeing a terrible ad from a rival competitor. I imagined an illustrated rain forest on the packaging. ZERO: SMOKE - TAR - ODOR, it was so easy to brand! Unfortunately, a Japanese company had already started an electronic cigarette company called Zero Style. At any rate, I felt no connection the name Zero, or many of the names I came up with that month (cue up cliche image of a wadded up paper overflowing a wastebasket).So, I did what most creative people do, I gave up on thinking and went for a walk. I walked around my neighborhood and noticed for the first time in a long time how many different people were smoking. It wasn't just teens in heavy metal shirts. Nope. It wasn't just old grannies scooting around on Rascals sucking down a cigarette the length of a pencil, either. Nope, rather it was everybody from every conceivable demographic was smoking a cigarette. I even saw a boy no more than ten light up with his friends on his building's stoop. I walked pass a huge wall mural that postured a grave statistic - "South Willamsburg has the highest asthma rate in the country." I began to feel something.
These smokers don't know about e-cigarettes, thought to myself. If they did, I pondered, would they try it to help quit smoking? What if I could isolate this one block and gave smokers the opportunity to try something that could help them get off conventional cigarettes? I swam around in this olympic sized pool of logic as I strolled down Bedford Ave. And that's when I realized what I needed to do - I needed to literally isolate this one block. If I could win over Bedford Avenue, my neighborhood, then certainly I had a product the world would want to try.
Taking one more glance at the street, I noticed the masses of slim fit jeans. The solution to this complex equation became somewhat clear almost instantly - Bedford Ave + Skinny Jeans = Bedford Slims. As silly as it sounds, I felt it was unique enough to never be mistaken or forgotten, and didn't force itself into some sort of blank identity. The name is deserved. So, I called my good friend, Nick, and asked him what he thought of the name - he said, "Genius."
Looking back, I have no doubt that starting this company has been the most positive way to spend my last two years. I have helped more people in this time than any other in my life. The heartfelt emails and phone calls from Bedford Slims fans has shown me that money isn't the only way to measure a company's success.