What started in a dank basement has turned into the second greatest store in the universe, conveniently located in KC's not-very-dangerous-anymore East Crossroads. Friendliness and eccentricity abound harmoniously at Normal Human, making for an inviting, creative retail experience where you can often see the screen printing process by peeking into our back-of-house studio. That's not all, but if you want to know the rest, you'll have to come see it for yourself.
1815 McGee St, Kansas City, MO 64108
Open Fridays & Saturdays, 11am-7pm
Q and A with Dan Mahaney and Pat Egger, co-owners of Normal Human
What inspired you to start Normal Human?
Dan: Honestly, it started out of extreme dislike for my day job. I wanted to create an arts-focused business where we could make and sell our own stuff, and a business where Pat and I could combine our different skill sets and talents.
Pat: My background is in art. I’ve always known I wanted to be a maker. I thought this would be the best creative avenue to make and sell our own things. I wanted to start a business that was a creative entity like a design house or firm, something where we’re putting our creative skills to full use. Even when I was younger and working other jobs, I always knew those jobs weren’t my vision. But Normal Human was: having our ideas out there for people to buy, love, put on their walls and wear.
How do you two know each other?
D: We went to high school together, played in a band called Midland Drive.
P: Dan was creative in high school, he was doing graffiti and lettering and I went to RISD to get my Masters in printmaking. When we discussed starting our own business, we sat every one of our friends down and had these round table discussions with them. We met other makers including artists and furniture designers asked a ton of questions. A lot of other people put in their two cents on our ideas and what we were trying to do and it ended up being us two who wanted to build and design our own thing.
D: Our original idea was that we’d have people from all creative media like photography, film, and painting and a have a studio space for everyone to work; but that logistically wasn’t going to work, so we went with a scaled down version.
What’s your background?
D: I studied the creative side of advertising and design in college. Worked briefly as a graphic designer, then went into digital media. I worked in a few different ad agencies in Kansas City and started NH as a side project while I worked in that field.
If you had to give NH a mission statement, what would it be?
D: To create original pieces that are accessible, both in form and price. We want to create items that people use and appreciate on a daily basis. We take great pride in our city and exhibit that in many of our designs, but the best way to honor and represent our city is by creating great designs, whether they’re Kansas City-centric or not.
What do you love about Kansas City?
P: I love that there’s a large number of Kansas Citians who appreciate and follow what we do. There’s a great small business culture here and we we enjoy a good amount of support.
D: I love the fact that we can do this here. Our business is enabled both by local support but also by how affordable it is to live and work in Kansas City. The retail space we occupy in the Crossroads would be 2-3x more expensive in a larger city but a business can still only sell t-shirts for $20-25 no matter where you are. Accessible, good design is a big theme in our work and design and our city plays a large part in that.
What’s next for Normal Human?
D: It’s no secret that we owe a large portion of our success to our Kansas City sports teams and that hometown pride, but we want to move our designs beyond that and help put Kansas City on the map as a place that creates great things, not just great Kansas City things.
What differentiates you from other Kansas City t-shirt companies?
D: We inject a lot of our own personality into our designs, and create art that is inspired and/or conceptual. We don’t want to just put a licensed logo or a couple letters on a shirt, and being a small business that produces our own goods allows us the freedom to try a lot of new things.
P: We’re always trying to pursue good design and products that have broader appeal. It’s good to have pride in your city but we’re designers and artists, first and foremost. That is KC pride to us.
What’s been the most surprising thing about owning your own business?
P: Everything. It’s been a learning process to understand how to run a business and manage stuff like taxes. As an artist, that’s been the most surprising. Also, learning the ins and outs of concepts like the cost of goods and other nitty gritty details. I’ve also been surprised by the reach of our design. Our products have traveled and I see people wearing our stuff across the states and in Europe. It’s neat to see it out there.
D: People tend to think we’re a larger operation than we really are. It surprises people to know that there’s only a handful of people employed at any given time and we do most of the design and production ourselves. If you stop by the shoppe, chances are you’ll talk to either myself or Pat, or at least see us printing in the back.
Any advice to budding entrepreneurs?
P: Be prepared to work more than you expect. There’s always something to be done; if there’s a slow time with your business, use it to work on something that the business needs. Don’t stop when it gets rough or it’s slow going - then it’ll never work. Keep pursuing and communicate. Don’t be shy and don’t be afraid to talk about what you’re doing. Many times, talking about your projects helps define them and gets the word out.
D: Just go for it. You need a plan to start it, but you have to be flexible and be OK with changing it. Inevitably, something isn’t going to go the way you expected. Also, hire out things that you’re not good at. For me, that’s accounting. But if you’re good at numbers but bad at creative, hire a designer.
How has NH evolved?
D: We started in Pat’s basement, but moved out as soon as we found a reasonably priced spot for retail and printing. We did a lot of pop-up shops, First Fridays and started wholesaling and custom work. We kept our day jobs for the first few years, so we could save the money we made as a company until we could afford a spot in a more highly trafficked area, which was in KC’s first neighborhood, Westport. While we were there, we benefited heavily from the Royals’ success, which meant we needed to expand our printing facilities, which took us to the Crossroads. Then, as the East Crossroads continued to developed, we decided to move our retail operation there.
P: As part of the move to the Crossroads, we’ve stopped selling other people’s stuff because a lot of other shops popped up that were doing similar things. Instead, we started to focus on developing our own products, and reflect more of our own personalities within our retail space.