Edmonds design firm setting sights on local market

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Eric Carr (center front) heads up the Edmonds South By Sea design studio, where a group of 15 designers turn out logo materials for academic institutions nationwide.
Eric Carr (center front) heads up the Edmonds South By Sea design studio, where a group of 15 designers turn out logo materials for academic institutions nationwide. (Photos by Larry Vogel)

From the top floor of the 209 Dayton building in downtown Edmonds, South by Sea employees organize boxes full of colorful T-shirts with Greek letters across the front and back. These shirts are destined for one of the many college fraternities and sororities the company serves nationwide.

“We handle orders from across the country,” said Eric Carr, the owner of South by Sea. “I have never sold an order in Hawaii, but that’s it.”

In 2011 Carr, Anne Nornung, and Brand Metcalfe started South by Sea in a house in Monroe, using the garage as a design studio. Metcalfe already had experience printing T-shirts for bands, Carr was aware of the T-shirt business from his days as president of his fraternity at Washington State University, and Nornung has a background in creative design. “We just jumped in and figured it out as we went,” Carr said.

Robyn Banker, Director of Campus Relations, and Carr hold up two examples of South By Sea's work.
Robyn Banker, Director of Campus Relations, and Carr hold up two examples of South By Sea’s work.

Trying everything from high school T-shirts to dental merchandising, South by Sea found a niche designing logos for college fraternity and sorority apparel. The company’s office eventually moved from the house in Monroe, to an apartment in Northgate, and finally to its current location in Edmonds. A year ago they were able to open a 10,000-square-foot full production printing facility in Nashville. The company has 48 employees plus a number of independent sales contractors. And as of last year the company cracked $7 million in sales, and that’s just the beginning. “We’re looking to do $10 million this year,” Carr said, “and eventually we’d like to get to $25 million.”

Starting this year, South by Sea plans to focus on corporate business, with the goal of moving its non-collegiate sales from 1-2 percent to 50 percent. Carr has started that push by working with local businesses, noting that the company makes T-shirts for Rory’s Bar and Grill and Walnut Street Coffee. “We want to target local markets like 5k’s or local bars rather than going after huge businesses,” he said. “We can do cool custom designs and artwork with smaller local businesses.”

On top of their lucrative T-shirt and merchandise business, South by Sea also operates as an indie music record label. Two and a half years ago, Metcalfe moved to Nashville to take advantage of the city’s thriving music scene. Currently the company has three full-time song writers and a recording studio in Nashville. Their music label has seen a fair amount of success. On Spotify, South by Sea’s artist Frankie was featured on Taylor Swift’s summer playlist. And as of late 2015, South by Sea’s Ofelia K had over one million plays of her song “As A Bell.”

South by Sea’s Edmonds headquarters, however, is here to stay. “We can really have this office anywhere, since were an online business,” Carr said, “(but) we wanted a nice area with a lot of room and we ended up finding that in Edmonds. We’re a couple blocks from the water, we can walk to the pier or walk to lunch. This area is great, no drama, easy living. We have some big goals and aspirations and I don’t see us leaving Edmonds, no matter what.”

— By Riley Conley

Riley Conley graduated from Meadowdale High School in 2014.

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