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Brand Feature: Billy Bones Club

Sometimes you just have to do it yourself, at least was the case for Sam McKeon and his now ever growing army of Billy Bones Club supporters.

With a simple initial plan back in 2014 to make cool beanies for himself and his friends, the brand has now grown its reputation to a leader in great fitting, affordable headwear, expanding it’s range to wide brims and beyond after seeing a niche in the market. With creativity and quality at the forefront of the brand, and with inspiration from skate, music and weekend culture thrown in for good measure, Billy Bones Club continues to grow it’s loyal customers throughout Australia and abroad.

We’re stoked to welcome the brand to SurfStitch so to learn all about its fruition and the solid future ahead, we caught up with Founder, Sam McKeon. Come in, learn more and leave a life member of the club! 

“We’re for rockstars with no stage, skaters who can’t kickflip, we’re kinda a club for bikies without bikes!”

Yeah Sam. Thanks for catching up pal! Tell us who you are and what you are about?
I’m born and bred in Melbourne, and passionate about music, fashion, business and travelling. When I was growing up I never really knew what I wanted to do when I “grew up”, and then all of a sudden I was “grown up” and working as an accountant. Working as an accountant is as corporate as it gets, but as a creative person, I felt shackled by the day to day grind of crunching numbers, and needed an outlet. (although my accounting job is as rad as they get)

Billy Bones Club was born out of a 'who cares' mentality, with my initial plan just to make cool gear for me and my friends to wear. Becoming a brand was almost unintentional, but thanks to an ever growing support from the club, we’re now doing some really cool things that speak to a lifestyle rather than a specific target market. We’re for rockstars with no stage, skaters who can’t kickflip, we’re kinda a club for bikies without bikes haha. Billy has developed into a brand that does things our way and not paying too much attention to what others have done, just creating and doing things that we reckon is sick.

Give us a rundown of the brand history?
The brand started back in December 2014. I was a huge fan of beanies and couldn’t find any decent ones in Melbourne. So thought why not make my own, I designed some samples and gave them to all my mates, which led to our first small order as people kept asking about them. They were really long and gangster but so tight that they gave you a headache after wearing one for an hour haha. They sold out though, which was awesome. I learned a lot in these early stages. After another successful season of beanies, we decided to release the first range of fedoras, which everyone was frothing for, these were a big hit and really started the momentum in growing a brand! Following this we grew into caps and released our captain hats – which again went nuts. While the club was expanding, I was still chipping away at it while still suiting up for my corporate gig. Fast forward to mid 2017 when my best mate Sam came on board and the brand really started to turn into something, prior to this I wasn’t taking the brand to seriously just having fun and making shit I liked. We sat down and began planning things a bit more, and started looking 12 months ahead, rather than a season. We’re not quite full time on the brand yet, but getting closer every day.

Why ‘Billy Bones Club’?
I always liked the idea of having a skull/skeletons as a model for a brand, as it stops you having a preconceived idea of who should and shouldn’t wear it. “Billy Bones” is like a fictional character who represented everything the brand is. Someone who doesn’t take life too seriously, and just lives for good times. I loved the idea of the brand being a club that you can be a part of and grow with – that is where the named originated from. These days we like to think of the brand as the peoples brand/club, we try and listen to our community as much as possible and everything we do if based off what the club wants. We’re still working on the club concept regularly as it’s a big part of what the brand is, and hope that it can grow into a bigger community of like minded people.

Who are the team involved?
At the moment Sam and myself along with some help from consultants.

With focus on headwear, what have been the biggest successes and the biggest challenges?
There have been many of both. In the past 12 months a major success was being stocked by you guys, yew! As an ecom brand that mostly made sales through our own site, being recognised by surf stitch for doing cool things has really given us confidence to grow. Also working with some awesome creatives like Troy Freyee and Ains from Sticks and Stones, has been huge for us. We also had a huge period leading into Splendour, the festival crew have really got around our gear, I think I spotted 20 -30 people wearing our hats on the last day alone, so that was an epic feeling to see, plus one of the markets stocked a heap of our gear and almost sold out which was rad.

The biggest challenge early days was quality control of stock, as I mentioned we nailed style from day one, but our beanies weren’t as comfy as we had liked. But we’ve learned things as we’ve grown, and now have the right balance with manufacturing, style, comfort and practicality. As the club had grown, maintaining stock levels has been harder, as sometimes a new style might sell out in a couple of weeks, and we need to fast-track another order. As we make our products both locally and overseas, it can be hard to maintain product consistency.

Last year we tried a new manufacturer for our winter beanies, but the order arrived wrong, so we had to make other arrangements and wait about 6 weeks longer than we planned to drop it. But this is what makes it all fun, and as Billy’s my baby and the club is my crew, I only ever want the best quality gear making it to market. Managing work and the business was hectic at times, especially up until this year when all our stock was stored in my parents living room, boxes upon boxes everywhere and after work I’d be spending hours packing order to be sent the next day!

Describe the brand’s culture and what you live by?
The “club” is helping mould this as we grow but we want the brand to represent what we love and what we are about. Have fun, go rogue, stick it to the man, zero f*cks attitude, we don’t care what people think ha! We also live by the rule: if you wouldn’t wear it, don’t make it. We really started this brand as a reflection of ourselves. Our own interests and ideas manifested into something tangible, which at start was nothing more than a few beanies. As it’s grown and we’ve seen more and more people take interest and become involved with the brand, we’ve actually seen the brand develop and mould itself around the community that's getting behind it. Part of this is definitely due to how we’ve grown with social media, which is nothing new, but we think it’s also really unique in this day and age for a brand to be so entwined and influenced by the people who wear it. That’s the thing about ‘brand culture’, it boxes you in. We’re not out to be a brand with a certain culture which people do or don’t fit, for us ‘brand’ and ‘culture’ are sort of the same thing, its a lifestyle choice. Being a part of Billy Bones Club doesn’t just mean wearing our products. Doing what you want, when you want - that's being part of Billy Bones Club.