Campus Spotlight: Cooper Customs
By Jessie Garten
Meet Amanda Cooper, the face behind Cooper Customs, a creative Instagram account launched in 2016 while Amanda was only 14-years old. Not only is Amanda a double major in Media and Digital Communication and Studio Art, with the intention of being in the Strategic Design Fellows Program, but she has a passion for art, drawing, dance, shopping and spending quality time with loved ones. She aspires to become a creative marketing director and assist with artistic decisions for a company. "I had no idea what started as a small hobby would turn into a successful business today," shares Amanda reflecting on the launch of her small business.
What inspired you to start Cooper Customs? What was your first project?
Art has always been my ‘thing’ - it came naturally to me, from taking art classes as an extracurricular, to working on the artistic portion of projects, my notebook margins were constantly full of doodles. Between my schoolwork load and being a full time competitive dancer, my passion for art simply didn't fit into my day. Whether it was going out to eat with friends on weekends, or shopping for new clothes (or even the unnecessary $4 daily iced coffee), as a careless teen with spending, my parents were the first ones to tell me that. Now that I was in high school, they reminded me that had to start being more money conscious and responsible about my spendings.
With absolutely no time for a real job as I juggled school work, dance and a social life, I had to come up with my ‘own’ way of doing what I loved, while making some money... and art seemed like the perfect fit. Scrolling through Instagram, I came across an account of custom pair of Converse where someone simply took a Sharpie and drew different designs on them. While I had always wanted to try it, I never took the time or energy to create a pair - this gave me the perfect excuse. I took the dirty old white pair in my room ready for the trash, and spent my free Saturday night home bringing back my love for art and design. A few hours later I had created my first pair of what soon became Cooper Customs. As a 14 year-old high schooler, I threw on my custom pair the next day as left and right I received compliments. Business definitely started out very slow, with my sister first creatively coming up with the name, selling pairs here and there, but I was doing what I loved. Almost 5 years later, I not only launched a successful business, but found a way to incorporate my drive for art back into my everyday life.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to a high school or college student launching a small business?
First, patience is key! Starting a business doesn’t happen overnight. It has taken me a long 5 years filled with trial-and-error and sacrifices to grow my business to where it is today. Within the first year from September 2016 to September 2017, I had around 150 followers and sold maybe 6-7 pairs, but fast forward 4 years I have grown both my following and sold over 200 pairs. I've expanded to selling custom letters and song plaques, participated in promotions and giveaways, but most importantly taught myself important factors of running a small business including time management and negotiation. I've learned there is always room for improvement, and every pair created has allowed me to perfect my craft and style. If you find yourself with the odds against you and reaching a roadblock, keep your head up because ultimately everything works out with patience, persistence and determination.
Second, promote yourself! No amount of promotion is too much. If you want to sell whatever product or service you create, no one is going to express interest if you don’t take initiative and put your name out there. Tell your friends to follow your account, regularly post on social media, create giveaways, and constantly come up with innovative ideas to improve your business. Overall do whatever you can to make your small business the best version it can be, and with full effort to promote your brand, it won't go unnoticed!
What have your favorite projects been?
1. My graduation cap: This project is definitely the most special to me, because I knew that from the moment I started Cooper Customs that I was one day going to completely customize my graduation cap similar to how I customized tailgate sneakers. That’s exactly what I did.
2. Cartoon Air Force High tops: When a customer asked if I could create a pair that looked cartoon-ish, I was up for the challenge and gave the illusion that the sneakers were popping off the page. I am obsessed with how they came out, and not going to lie wanted to keep them for myself.
3. Purple Tri-tone Air Force: This type of design was new to my repertoire, and ended up being super popular this summer. I loved creating this new type of shoe one because of its simplicity and two because it gave me a chance to stray from the staple college-related designs I normally do.
These are just three of the hundreds of projects I’ve done over the years, and what I mainly love about all of them is that no two pairs or letters or grad caps (etc) are alike. I personally communicate with each and every customer and make sure I incorporate exactly what they want to create the perfect design. Some people who aren’t that particular trust me and give me their complete creative freedom and I love that too, because it gives me an opportunity to bring my own visions to life.
How do you balance being a college student and running a small business?
As excited as I was to start college, a small part of me was dreading it because that meant that I was going to have to face a decision that was not easy to make. I knew with living in a completely new academic and social environment, no longer having convenient access to all of my supplies, I had to adapt to the new atmosphere college provided. With starting a new chapter in my life, I felt that I needed to put 100% effort into my academics and college student life. The only way to do that was by temporarily putting my business aside. This decision was hard for me to accept because I had been taking orders with no time off and for the first time in 4 years I had to "close and intended on picking up during the winter and summer months. This has given me the best of both worlds, while I get to enjoy my time here at UMD and not have to think about running a business entirely on my own, I can pick back up right where I left off and continue taking orders when I am home.
What is the biggest challenge you face while creating art?
The question I get asked the most by people about what I do is “what happens if you mess up?” My usual response is “somehow, just somehow, I make it work”. In complete honesty, yes, there have been multiple times where I have messed up, whether that is spelling the name of a mascot or college wrong, losing grip of the marker and coloring out of the lines, or accidentally using the wrong color. Mistakes are inevitable; in art, in school, in everything in life! When working with permanent markers and paint, if you mess up, it's not like you can go back in with an eraser. My parents taught me that there is a solution to every problem, and I am a firm believer in that.
Every mess up I have made in the past I have found a magical way to fix it, whether it is by incorporating that mess up into the design, or painting over a mess up with white and drawing over it. You would never know or see that mess up, because I do a good job of covering it up :)
My second biggest challenge of equal importance tends to be artist block. Think of writer's block, but for artists. It is when motivation has run dry, and you just cannot come up with ideas. These instances are not necessarily long-term but more temporary. Sometimes I sit down to start a pair of sneakers or the letter I am doing that day and I just have no vision nor motivation with what to start drawing, despite creating maybe 100 other very similar shoes or letters in the past. But that is totally okay, because the next day I can sit down in front of that same pair of sneakers or letter and have 1,000 different visions. It is definitely a weird concept to think about, but it happens to me every now and then and always gets in the back of my head and makes me question my creativity. But I view it as just a bump in a short road, knowing I will eventually get over it and regain creativity and visions.
Where does your inspiration in your artwork come from?
Believe it or not, whenever I am starting a new project and need some inspiration, I find myself stalking my own account on Instagram to resurface some ideas I have created in the past. Looking at past work triggers my mind to remember maybe one design that I may have forgotten about or a design that I really loved but haven’t done in a while.
What are your goals for the future of Cooper Customs?
Cooper Customs is my pride and joy, and I absolutely never want to stop doing it. Although I don’t want to necessarily turn this business into my endgame career, the amazing thing about running this business entirely myself is that I can keep it as a side job / side hobby for the rest of my life. In terms of expanding my business, it has always been a dream of mine to create a digital component. One day in the future, my dream is to turn my designs into digital designs, opening up a whole new window of possibilities like mass printing them on different products, such as phone cases, computer cases, posters, mugs, clothing, tapestries, shoes, and more. Here at UMD I have started to take digital art classes where I have learned how to become proficient in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, so with more experience maybe that dream can potentially become a reality.
Connect on Instagram and check out her artwork at @cooper_customs !