These days, the guys behind Absolute Merch are looking to change how people think of band and artist merch. But when Billy Candler met his business partner Noah Russell as a couple of OC-based concert promoters and managers, they never could’ve imagined their future would be in replacing your favorite band tee.
For that matter, it was only after the duo had merged their band-managing efforts together that they even realized how mundane the merch world had become. When one of their more stylish clients requested a few items beyond the standard t-shirts and hoodies, Candler was sent off on a fool’s errand to try to find a company that could handle a more fashionable request.
“We were reaching out to all of the normal merch companies, and everyone was telling us to get fucked in a sense,” Candler says. “We started sorting everything locally and figuring out how to make it for the band. Then that band went out on tour with the merch no one had ever made before, and they started introducing us to other bands. I don’t know whether it was good timing or what, but that demand for non-standard band merch started growing, and we were the only ones who could do it at the time.”
Over the last three years, Absolute Merch has become the go-to source for bands looking for cooler clothing — particularly in the rock-focused circles of Warped Tour regulars. With clients like Set It Off, 3OH!3 (when they’re not trusting hoes, at least), and Neck Deep, it didn’t take long for the brand to catch on and begin rivalling some of the more established merch brands. But if you ask Candler, there’s one band on their roster that really helped set Absolute Merch apart from many of its competitors.
“Benji and Joel from Good Charlotte hit us up and said they loved what we were doing, so we partnered with them and took over all of their stuff,” Candler says. “It’s cool because all of these bands that I used to listen to when I was younger have been reaching out to us like ‘Hey, make us cool.’ It’s definitely been a little bit humbling.”
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More than the bands they work with, Candler and Russell want to see Absolute Merch become a recognizable name in both fashion and music. In many ways, it seems like the duo wants to become a more modernized and fashionable version of what Hot Topic used to be for kids in the pre-internet days. Rather than just being a spot to find your favorite band’s shirts, Candler hopes Absolute Merch becomes a brand that people look to for the latest styles and collections.
“The idea behind what we’re doing is for Absolute Merch to be its own brand or its own lifestyle rather than just looking for a specific band on our website,” Candler says. “We want to create almost like a PacSun for kids who are in this alternative music scene. We want it to be somewhere you can go back to school shopping or whatever instead of just somewhere to find a Good Charlotte t-shirt. I think we’re the first band site that actually has collections as opposed to ‘Here’s a bunch of band shirts.’”
Over their near-decade in the music industry, the Absolute Merch founders have already seen how much the trends in fashion and band merch have changed. Whereas a plainly printed shirt could’ve been an iconic fashion statement in the ‘00s, fashion trends have spilled into the merch world enough that fans expect clothing items they’d wear with or without their favorite band on them now. While that’s a tough thing to follow for many of the older merch companies, it’s a change Absolute Merch welcomes and looks forward to continuing.
“We’ve been seeing this major shift where like eight years ago, it was cool to just print My Chemical Romance on a black t-shirt, but that’s not really a thing anymore,” Candler says. “The culture is changing. Kids don’t go out to the bars or a party anymore wearing their Saosin or Circa Survive shirts. They want cool fashionable items that are going to represent their fashion sense and their favorite band. The days of the standard band shirt are few and far between now.”