Suffolk University Students Eat Up Lecture from Johnny Cupcakes Founder
as featured in the suffolk voice
Johnny Earle is neither a professional comedian nor is he an award-winning pastry chef. He is, however, the local entrepreneur behind a successful cupcake themed clothing brand founded on an inside joke.
The business and its creator are better known as Johnny Cupcakes, and Suffolk University students packed the C. Walsh Theatre Wednesday night to hear Earle speak of the origins, and continued expansion, of his cupcake and crossbones brand.
His skill for generating profit became apparent early in his youth when yard sales and a lemonade stand proved successful. In high school, Earle, a self-described class clown, began selling whoopee cushions and itching powder to classmates. Candy and homemade pins soon followed.
When he began working at a local Newbury Comics store, Earle's coworkers dubbed him with the sweet surname he would eventually adopt as his namesake moniker. Feeling inspired, he began making t-shirts for himself.
“While at work I’d get heaps of compliments, questions, smiles, and requests about my shirts,” Earle said.
The response was so overwhelming, in fact, that he began replicating them to sell in suitcases out of the trunk of his car.
“I felt like a guy from the mafia selling cigarettes,” Earle said of the experience.
No sooner had he moved the operations to the attic of his parents’ home than he opened the first official Johnny Cupcakes store and warehouse in his native Hull. A Newbury Street outpost in Boston and a Los Angeles branch soon followed, stocked full of his signature pop culture skewing tees.
As business continues to expand domestically through e-commerce and storefronts, so has the product offerings. Joining a lineup of rotating t-shirts are handbags, mobile accessories, and jewelry. Now valued as a multi-million dollar company, Earle remains unfazed.
“It’s not about the money, it’s about being happy and doing what you love,” he said.
What he loves to do is find innovative ways to stamp his signature cupcake designs on products and offer them in limited quantities, making each item a unique collector’s piece. This method has meant eliminating big business with high-end department stores but Earle sees no problem in making his brand exclusive.
“People like what nobody else has,” Earle said, before explaining just how important each t-shirt is from the oven mitt shaped tags to the bakery-style boxes they come packaged in.
His stores are an equally unique component of the brand. In place of traditional clothes racks, industrial sized refrigerators house the merchandise, which is all playfully displayed on cookie sheets. The stores have proven so deceiving, Earle joked, that many customers enter them intending to purchase actual pastries.
Without investors, advertising, or corporate sponsorships Earle has built an impressive brand portfolio founded on principals of customer care and more importantly, the unexpected.
“If I can do this with cupcakes, you can do it with anything,” he reinforced, and it was with this optimistic thought that Earle ended his triumphant tale to the freshly inspired students who were undoubtedly baking up their own inspired post-grad plans.