Geek Shopping: Retr8bit
Bringing retro back into fashion, Retr8bit takes the art of Hama beads and magics them into a variety of geeky goodness; from key rings and magnets to earrings and necklaces. A couple of our team stumbled upon their stall at KitaCon earlier this year and we immediately took a liking to their creations!
- Let’s start with a little introduction – tell us a bit about yourself and Retr8bit:
Well my name is Matthew Kibble. I’m a twenty something year old anime, comic book and retro game fan who over the last two years, since graduating from University, has started his own craft jewellery and accessory business using mini Hama Beads. We also have the wonderful Sarah Atherton-Knight, who whilst also putting up with me as her partner of nearly 5 years, has been our sales manager for conventions. We’re based in Leeds, have an online Etsy store www.retr8bit.co.uk (soon to be a full site) and have retailed at around 20 UK conventions over the last two years.
- Retr8bit specialises in Hama bead creations – how did you get into it?
A LOT of people used Hama beads as a creative medium when they were younger; something I hear frequently when I’m retailing at cons is “Oh! I used to use these as a kid! They were much bigger ones though”. It was (and still is just about) an affordable, enjoyable system of craft and creativity, much like Lego.
I too was one of these people; however it wasn’t until summer 2011 that I picked it up again after meeting a Hama bead artist at a London Expo. I remember reacting pretty much how people react to me now, going “Wow that’s so cool”, “You must have a lot of patience”, “Where do I get these beads?” and I bought a Gengar sprite off her (which to this day is stuck to my fridge).
It wasn’t until I got back to Leeds (where I was studying) that I found an independent art shop in town that actually still sold Hama beads, and even better, they did the mini ones. So I bought a bunch and just started making.
- Loving the name! How did you come up with “Retr8bit”? Is it to do with the style of your products?
Retr8bit (pronounced: Ret – Rate – Bit) is literally just a mash of ‘Retro’ and ‘8-bit’, if that wasn’t totally obvious.
I wanted something that reflected the retro style of design I was using and I thought the term 8-bit had kind of become synonymous with all sprite or pixel based games, so yeah.
That… or I just thought it sounded cool!
- A couple of us have already stumbled upon your stall at Kitacon and MCM Comic Con. What other events will people expect to see your stall at?
Currently we’re booked to be at;
- MCM Manchester Comic Con
- Onecon (Please go support these guys in Kickstarter!)
- MCM Birmingham Comic Con in November
We’re also looking at doing MCM Scotland, MCM London in October and potentially PlayExpo but we can only do so many big conventions at a time as we have to replenish stock, pretty much just the two of us!
- Do you have a specific favourite piece of work?
My 3D work has always been the most fun to make; Difficult and very time consuming, but hugely satisfying. I think the Companion Cube will always be my favourite, but my close second is the large Legend of Zelda chest I made on commission. It consisted of around 17,000 individually placed beads, took 5 hours of designing and testing, and a full week to make. I learnt three main things that week:
- (Probably) Never to do that kind of thing again
- That this business is seriously a labour of love
- Ghost in the Shell is a kick-ass anime
- Roughly how long does it take to make a piece? For example, your Companion Cubes?
Flat pieces are made in batches, basically getting as many onto one plastic peg board as possible. A full board usually takes me about two to three hours to complete including ironing, however this does vary as I usually have something playing in the background which may or may not distract me (compulsive procrastinator, right here!)
The 3D stuff like Companion cubes obviously take much longer as I have to make every panel first, and then iron them in a specific way so that they slot together without breaking.
- From your website, you take custom orders. What’s the weirdest order you’ve taken on?
Not sure about weirdest. Biggest was the Zelda chest…….. If I had to pick something it’d be the Rogue and Gambit wedding cake toppers I did. Whilst not necessarily weird, they were really interesting to design and make. Do look a little odd with no faces though…
- Have there ever been any commission requests that you have been unable to do due to complexity or perhaps due to a request that was just too odd?
I’ve turned down a fair few. My main issue is lack of colour available from Hama. I’m limited considerably by there only being one grey colour available to me and colours only go between 1-2 different shades.
Time scale vs. Price is another issue. Whilst I love doing big things, most of the profit I earn comes from time spent producing pieces as opposed to material costs. If I can’t keep the price reasonable to how long it’s going to take to make, then it probably won’t happen.
And yes complexity is an issue too. Too detailed an image is difficult to translate into a sprite format, but I will attempt just about anything (at least design wise)
- It must be nice to have your own business – are there any downsides to it?
Online businesses have two. One is copyright; people who sell stuff based on licensed characters/themes are always in that grey area of fair use and infringement. I’ve lost a few of my listings to copyright claims, one or two I’ve tried to refute but to no avail.
And the other is Fees. So many fees. Whilst selling through Etsy has been great for exposure, their listing fees, mixed with transaction fees, and then paypal’s transaction fees can really cut your profits. My advice is to get your own website as soon as possible with a paypal (or other online transaction) shop system.
In term of personal downsides, I don’t think I have anything specific. I get stress related illnesses sometimes after big conventions, but that’s it.
- Can you tell us exclusively if you have any exciting products that will be hitting your website and stall soon?
Much of the stuff we sell is tested through conventions as listing fees keep our online store limited. However with the new website this should no longer be an issue.
A few items we plan to add are:
- Legend of Zelda – Heart Life Bar Necklaces
- Danganrompa – Monokuma (Monobear) Sprites
- Kill la Kill – Senketsu and Junketsu Necklaces
- Potentially a Sims related item
We are also currently in development of a website, so if you’d like to check it out – www.retr8bit.wix.com/retr8bit
If you want to be awesome, tell us what you think about the site, good or bad (keep it constructive though), on the SUBMIT tab or on our facebook page. I may even give-away some key chains to anyone that does!
- Selling online or in person – which do you prefer?
In person. Every time. Getting to see people’s reactions and talk to them about the products is 99% of the reason I sell at conventions. It makes me so incredibly happy that people want to buy stuff I’ve made.
- What’s your weirdest customer experience?
Within this sort of world it’s hard to pinpoint just one single thing, given how we’re all weird in our own way, but I recall one specific gentleman who was looking into a business sale. We’d been having a conversation for a while, and the gentleman sold adult materials, mainly doujins and asked if we would be able to do wholesale orders. Now, in the past we’d done some whole sale orders of earrings and fridge magnets for the brilliant Thomas “Tomska” Ridgewell (youtube.com/tom) so I said I’d consider it. He then proceeded to ask if I could do a bulk order of sprite ‘Shimapans’. I didn’t know what that was, so I had to google it on my phone. Now for those that don’t know, Shimapan is a certain type of Hentai that’s defined by female undergarments of the blue and white, horizontally stripped variety. Now whilst I didn’t exactly say no to this request, I was internally dying of laughter at the prospect of taking it on….. as were the other dozen or so people who had been listening to the conversation. Nothing became of that request afterwards sadly, but that may or may not have been for the better.
- Do you have anything to say to your customers and follower?
A GREAT BIG MASSIVE THANK YOU! I know I put this every time we do a con or competition, but you guys make it so worth the effort! All the comments and praise you send just makes our day!
Also, more of you need to enter our competitions! Free things people!
- For those people who haven’t come across Retr8bit, here’s your chance to get a message out there and sell yourself!
Retr8bit takes retro gaming design, all your favourite games, TV/web shows, movies or comics, and mashes them together to make awesome pixelated jewellery and accessories. We sell Sprites, Key chains, Bag clip-ons, Earrings (and clip-ons), Necklaces, Badges and Magnets!
If you have a suggestion or commission request, I will literally try anything! Even if it doesn’t already have a sprite design, I’m happy to make one!
We also deal in 3D products which you should totally check out, because they’re even more awesome and take me an age to make!
I MAKE STUFF!
YOU LIKE STUFF?
(Original Doge sprite image – http://pavlos8.deviantart.com/)
- Finally, is there anything at all that you’d like to ask any (or all) of the crew here at Renegade Revolution?
[To all] What is your favourite item in my shop?
Jojo: See now the Tetris earrings are always going to be special to me because they were my first purcahse (plus, it’s so hard to get clip-on geeky earrings!) but I’ve started to take a shine to the 3D Turrets from Portal 2! (They’re not listed on your store yet – but I’ve seen them at your stall! Make them available online! :P)
Amy: Hama Bead Nyan Cat Fridge Magnet. Sooooo cute! 😀
Ruth: I like the eeveelution sprites!!! They so cute!
[To all] If you could start your own business, what would you sell?
Moley: I already did, and it was glow sticks to anime nerds. I thought I was about to branch out into rave gear then I got rediculously depressed.
Skawt: Professional cosplay antagonist. Call ahead of time, I’ll cosplay your enemy. We can battle /pics
Stuart: I was once looking at a comic shop/ cafe. We actually looked at a few properties.
[To the guy that was walking around MCM London with Jojo dressed as Solaire] Do you even praise the sun bro?
Scott: I do my best to be so grossly incandescent.
Thank you so much to Matthew for taking the time and effort to answer all of our questions. We definitely look forwards to seeing more geeky goodness from Retr8bit soon!
All images used with permission from Retr8bit.
Convention photos © Jojo Yap and Scott Sanderson