What Happened to Damaged Kids?

May 5th, 2016 was a weird day for me,

Below is the message I read on my friend’s sister’s Twitter account. This friend was also my business partner. Our business was called Damaged Kids and this was the first I had heard about our business closing.

552016

I’ll back up a little and say Oliver is a guy I knew. We had known each other for quite some time. He was charismatic, creative, and seemed like a genuine person. I, like a lot of people, was drawn to his “can do” attitude and charm. A lot of people still feel this way which is great since he’s the lead singer of the pop punk band Broadside. Back in 2015, Broadside signed with Victory Records as Oliver finished writing their album Old Bones. There was a song on that album called “Damaged Kids”. That’s where this all started.

Around that time, Oliver was working on a street-wear brand called Damaged Kids. I helped him print the t-shirts as that was my day job at the time. He had such big dreams for Damaged Kids that he needed someone to help him manage the money, vet design, help market and manage the overall business. After his first Kick Starter failed, he asked me to help and I was fully committed. When I joined the project, we met at Panera multiple times to discuss how to turn this dream into a reality. I would manage the money, the product stock, the shippers and the print files for our designs as well as find vendors to print everything. While he was on tour, he would be the face of the brand and curate our brand’s image. Overall, our goal was to spread our message and build a community that supported Damaged Kids. As a team, we split our responsibilities, 50/50. We even shook on it.

Immediately, I started writing and organizing my thoughts. What was our tagline? Our statement? The goals? The point? The demographic? How many designs would we push? How many quantities would we order? What was the cost of business? What was the retail price? Who will host our website? What do we want the boxes to look like? What should the hang tags look like? How many colors would each shirt have? What kind of fabrics would we print on? Needless to say, I had every question possible listed in my notebook. After I finalized our business plan, I was ready for the next task. Nothing could stop us. There was nothing more rewarding than knowing I could make Oliver’s dream real and now it was also mine. He would sketch an idea in a book and I would vector it for print. Once it was printed, he’d photograph it. Shortly after, I started to design for our t-shirts too. To those familiar with our designs, I created the Stoked Skull, the hand lettered Damaged Kids script logo, the Skeleton “Sweet Tooth” design, and the “Keep Your Head Up” tags in our t-shirts.

For a little while, we had a good workflow. As the small runs of t-shirts would sell out, we would put what we could afford into more designs. As more apparel sold out, and sold out faster, we were ready to expand our brand into something greater. We talked about moving to Los Angeles, the clothing capitol of America, so we could learn how to better brand and manufacture our clothing.

In order for us to grow to that scale, we needed funding…specifically crowdfunding which led to our Go Fund Me page. Some of you may remember our goals and our story. Funny enough, our page is still up for viewing. This is where Damaged Kids really took shape. We outlined what the brand was about, our hopes for it, how it would give back to the community, etc. So many people supported us. We reached our goal in the last hour from a generous musician named Tyler. We had done it.  I immediately started ordering everything on our outlined list and built our eCommerce website. We pushed to get every order out by Christmas as promised. We made so much money during that time that the move to Los Angeles was actually possible. So we went! Before we knew it, everything was packed and we started our cross country adventure.

It was around our stop in Oklahoma that I realized something was off. It didn’t feel like “we” moved. I felt very much like a third wheel…an outsider in my own move to Los Angeles for MY business. I will state that saying it was MY business is very appropriate. As I mentioned, it was initially “50/50”. I could feel something twisting in my stomach as I drove closer to Los Angeles. I felt like something was very wrong, but I didn’t know what it was. There were many reasons why this move was awful, but nothing compared to how awful I felt while reading the screenshot above.

After we arrived in Los Angeles and settled into our apartment Oliver and I suddenly struggled being friends. It was very difficult for us to be business partners during this time too. He was absent, awkward, and let his girlfriend confront me about any problem that came up. We were barely 8 feet away from each other in our apartment and we seldom spoke. There was a lot of tension in the apartment that I didn’t understand so I just let this empty space exist. I would ask about Damaged Kids and no answer really came. I felt like I couldn’t really push our product if the face of our brand and the photographer didn’t communicate or weren’t present. I felt very stuck. I moved to Los Angeles to build this brand and it felt dead on arrival. I wasn’t sure if I had to mourn that death or not. Before I knew it, I was living in complete silence and tension. Once Oliver tweeted his note about “our” business, I was so angry. I could barely confront my “business partner”. I was more in fear of what I would say emotionally rather than fearing a confrontation.

Long story short, Oliver and I went our separate ways and I was blocked from all his social media. During the aftermath, I found out some early designs from Damaged Kids were actually stolen from other artists online. Although these early designs were created before I had joined the project, I felt deep regret. I emailed the artists and hoped they didn’t go after any copyright. As an artist, I understood how they would feel. Thankfully, they were gracious and my apology to them was enough.

I never found out what the “legal issues” were that ended Damaged Kids. If this is true, I can only assume the record label interfered because of our “profits”. Honestly, I don’t know if I believe anything I was told. All I do know is a lot of people invested in this project and they didn’t really get anything from it. That never felt right to me. Our main goal was to ultimately give back to others and we failed them. We never made enough of a profit to donate money to any of the mental health organizations we outlined. This whole experience was a huge bust and blew up in my face. I was in business with the wrong person. It always felt to me as though Oliver ended it all on a whim. I never spoke on this subject because any time I tried I would be hit with a lot of backlash. I couldn’t handle it…not after everything I contributed. Not only did I lose a business, but I lost a friend. Oliver was in my life for a long time and he had profoundly affected me in many ways. Also, I was alone in Los Angeles struggling to find a job and a social circle as I didn’t know anyone in Los Angeles. By this time, I was running out of money because I had invested over half of what I had into Damaged Kids. Many of our funds were tied up because we were relying on each other. This entire experience severely dictated my life for the following two years. It injured my reputation. I lost a substantial amount of personal funds on top of all that work. It felt in vain and lost which really upset me. At the end of the day, my friend broke my heart so deeply I didn’t think I could have felt any worse about it. Maybe that was the true irony of all of this. I was so alone that in a way I was the “Damaged Kid”.

So that brings me to today…to this post, wherever it exists.  After two years, I still get asked what ever happened to Damaged Kids. I get asked often enough to where I always feel so bad because I don’t have an answer for those people. They want a response and there just isn’t one. I woke up to that note just like the rest of you. I put in money like the rest of you. All I can offer is my side of the story.  What I do know is what I contributed and what I knew I wanted Damaged Kids to be. All I can offer is an apology to those I may have let down. I know after two years many of you have moved on. As you should and as should I. But I just can’t let this bit go, I’m responsible for this thing people want an answer for.

Damaged Kids was many things, but it was never a bad idea. This story has taken so many twists and turns that it has sort of evolved into a new thing. The end of Damaged Kids has been vague for so long now. I’m one of two people who can own what this was. Personally, for me, I don’t want all this work to be in vain. I want to do right by all of those who supported this dream and made it a reality. The entire goal of Damaged Kids was to build a community and de-stigmatize mental illness in all forms. I don’t want to make empty promises and I don’t want to lift you up with fake sentiments. This whole experience sucked for all of us. At the end of the day, this doesn’t have to end as a shitty story. Being a one woman show, I can’t oversee all these details like I once did, but I can give you the clothes that were promised and tell you my side of the story. That’s all I can offer you at this point. I want to attempt to give back what you gave.

To do that I will be re-releasing the designs I made for Damaged Kids along with two new ones. The motto being “Damaged, Not Broken”. So, I now present to you the 2018 Damaged, Not Broken line. (http://laurenversino.com/damaged-kids-2018 ). All of these designs were personally made by me back then. My newer designs express how I felt while digging up all these other designs. I will also be donating a portion of the sales made to the organization RAIIN. It helps survivors of sexual crimes through education and resources, which is an organization I myself have used. I hope to be able to donate to them $2000, the total amount the GoFundMe asked for back in 2015.

With a mostly healed heart, I dedicate these designs and this gesture to anyone who’s ever been burned, ever been abandoned, ever been heart broken, lost or confused. This is for you. I’m there with you. You’ll pull through as I did. We are going to be okay.

LVsignature

Lauren Versino

http://laurenversino.com/

Purchase the new line here : http://laurenversino.com/damaged-kids-2018

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