Photo by Leah Ingram Eagle.
Hoover residents Jason and Andee Johnson, the two-person team that owns and operates the Original Birmingham brand.
When Jason Johnson and his family moved from Atlanta to Hoover more than three years ago, he heard locals refer to the area as “B’ham.” The popular moniker sparked an idea on how to use it to promote local pride.
“I decided to take the letter B and a picture of a ham and put it on a bumper sticker. We started out with the one product on bhamsticker.com,” Johnson said. “I had it on my car, and people would ask me where I got it, and I’d give them one. We convinced a couple of local shops to pick them up, and they sold really fast.”
In the past three years, the brand has taken off and is a familiar sight all over the city, he said.
Johnson said the timing of the sticker launch was perfect, coming during the revitalization of downtown Birmingham. With the success of the bumper stickers, in January 2014 he expanded his brand to include T-shirts. He bought a screen printing kit and created the first one in his basement.
“I decided to change to a bolder design, and once we did that, it went crazy,” he said. “We began working with local printers, and after a lot of stepping stones along the way, the volume now is so that we can’t do it on our own.”
Original Birmingham now orders shirts weekly from its printer but continues to house their inventory in the basement of the Johnsons’ Hoover home, while shipping from the local post office.
Johnson’s wife, Andee, said people don’t realize the company is just the two of them. While Jason Johnson is the creative side of the company, she provides ideas for many items and also spends a lot of her time sewing a logo tag on each shirt.
“We’re pretty observant about what’s out there that’s selling,” she said. “We go to markets and boutiques and pay attention to what’s the hot thing and jump on it. We haven’t found anything yet that doesn’t sell well.”
They release a new line every July to commemorate the company’s anniversary. They’ve recently added home items, including kitchen hand towels, pint glasses and throw pillows. In addition to the original B’ham shirts, they also have “Ham Sweet Home” “B’ham Life” and “Believe in Birmingham” options.
Plans may include pet-related items, such as dog collars. They said they listen to their customers, and if they get enough requests for something, they will do their best to make it.
While they said they may expand the brand to include other cities, it’s just Birmingham for now.
“We want our brand to have longevity and would like to see it grow into something that stays,” Jason Johnson said. “We are working on that, so it’s hard to think about doing other cities. We are carried in retailers that have a presence in other states, so we’ll consider designs for other states, but our B’ham line still has a lot of growth to go.”
In addition to their online store, the company has had great success at Pepper Place Market the past three years. Jason Johnson said it’s given them consistent, direct sales to the public, along with a visibility they didn’t have before. The company became incorporated last year, and it’s working on its trademark status.
Jason Johnson has spent 24 years at his insurance job, his first one out of college, but he said he wouldn’t mind if his business grows to a point where it became his full-time job.
“There is a lot of opportunity in this town to be an entrepreneur, but even if I never do it full time, the satisfaction I get out of designing and marketing is worth it,” he said.
The Johnsons say seeing their logo being worn by others never gets old.
“We get behind cars that have our stickers on them all the time, and it will hit me that so many people have latched onto my idea and loved it,” he said.
Original Birmingham has also gained a local celebrity fan in Noah Galloway. After he spoke to their son’s class at Brock’s Gap Intermediate School, the Johnsons said they sent him a shirt. He’s worn it in many of his Instagram photos and recently was wearing it on a magazine cover.
“For me personally, the satisfaction seeing something you designed enjoyed by other people. That’s pretty rewarding in itself,” Jason Johnson said.
For information, visit originalbham.com.