Words have always been the driving force behind Michael G. Simpson. While working in a tech retail job, he began writing his first poetry book; one that eventually evolved from being written on pages to being painted, printed, and sewn onto fabric. The designs that began as a way to market the book soon transformed into a clothing brand centered around connection, creativity, and community: Writings From Michael.
Fascinated by how storytelling can bring people together, often highlighting the common ground between seemingly dissimilar people, it’s only natural that he’d fall in love with the past lives of vintage clothing. It wasn’t until his move to Los Angeles in 2015, however, that Simpson discovered his adoration for it. Roaming through second-hand warehouses and thrift shops in and around LA, he noticed the potential of the worn fabrics and lived-in denim hanging from the racks and tucked away on shelves — he wanted to revitalize them, without losing the stories behind them. “A lot of people undermine vintage clothing,” he explains. “But you can transform these pieces. Things can be trendy, but vintage clothing...it’s forever.”
Writings From Michael (WFM) is known for perfectly broken-in vintage denim, dyed cotton, and leather sneakers brought to life again by hand-painted phrases (affirmations like “Find ways to build opportunity so opportunity can find us”), layered patches, and similar custom alterations. Every item for sale on the brand’s website is created by-hand in Simpson’s small LA studio. When reworking pieces, Simpson applies anything from alterations, to graphics, bleaches and dyes textiles, and prints or hand-paints his words onto the items. He doesn’t keep his creative process a secret either; anyone can follow the inner workings of WFM on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. That level of transparency has helped build a community of customers who have grown to know — and love — Simpson’s signature style.
“I think that’s the standout part,” he says. “You can set a piece of WFM in front of any top designer, and I truly feel, at the core, that you will know [what makes it different], what a WFM piece is. And it’s a conscious grab too. It’s not something that you’d be able to find just at the mall.”
While working to get WFM off the ground — advertising the business, increasing sales, and establishing connections — he discovered his gift for networking and was reminded of the true silver lining of creating: communicating a message. A common theme shared among the collection? The interconnectedness of humans. It’s easy to get caught up in the differences between people, but they melt away when you’re creating with others, he explains. “It doesn’t matter if someone is the same color or gender as me, and that is really beautiful,” he continues. “Because people, I think at their core, all just want to be loved and understood.”
Simpson’s creativity fueled the business idea, but he knew that he would need to increase sales in order for WFM to truly succeed. “In the early stages of running WFM I utilized a flea market in Los Angeles to garner an audience and to put my products in front of real-life people in order to build my brand and business,” he says. “It was the most organic way to get customers.” Not having a brick-and-mortar location, Michael knew he’d also need a website and a reliable system in place for invoicing and processing payments. “Once I got a website, PayPal was one of the first online payment systems put in place for customers to seamlessly purchase WFM pieces and products,” he continues. Using PayPal to process payments and create invoices helps Simpson focus on the creative side of the business, instead of getting bogged down with the financial details.
“I think with artists, … we can be unorganized, we can be very all over the place,” he says. “When you have something that’s structured and professional, it helps us” — artists who are also entrepreneurs — “just be artists.” And utilizing PayPal’s suite of business solutions not only gives Simpson peace of mind, but also his customers. Seeing that familiar yellow and blue logo provides them the option to checkout via a brand that they already know and trust. “When you have that, the piece that everyone feels comfortable with, it helps the [customer] interaction,” he explains.
Strategies for growth
For other small business owners looking to grow, Simpson notes the importance of utilizing tools like PayPal to help streamline the operational side of the business and reach customers in new channels. He also encourages other business owners to build a strong social media presence documenting the behind-the-scenes of their brands, like he has. “Transparency now is a form of currency,” he says. “I find when you document your process, it gives [insight] to current and new customers that love not just the product, but love the way in which the product is manifested.”
As for the future, Simpson plans to continue growing, both professionally and personally. “I want to be aligned with other brands, with other great designers and people doing impactful work,” he says. His goals for 2022 include tactical goals (such as reaching new markets through brand partnership deals and expanding the WFM team by hiring interns and full-time employees) and big-picture aspirations, like becoming a valuable resource for other creatives in his community.
At the end of the day, Simpson hopes his customers feel the love and care poured into each piece he creates. “Whether it’s a canvas or a piece of a sweater or sneakers, it’s [all about] communicating a message that people truly want to embody,” he says.