The Story

More About Us

  • Testimonials
  • Customer Stories
  • Dustin's Links
  • Newsletter
  • Free Products

Dustin Lee | RetroSupply Co.

The RetroSupply Story

Hi there - my name is Dustin,

I created RetroSupply Co. as a way to quickly and easily give designer's work authentic looking retro effects.

I love all sorts of historical design, but if you browse the shop you'll see I'm a huge fan of mid-century american design. 

When I'm not having working on RetroSupply I love to play guitar, take pictures, study marketing and spend time with my family.

Want the long version of the story?

Keep reading and find out all about my two year return to my childhood home. A failed start-up. A baby on the way. And falling ass-backwards into a business I love.


An Unexpected Journey

In October of 2012 my grandfather passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack.

It was a hard time for my family, but even more so for my grandmother. She'd been married to my grandfather for 60 years.

Plus, my grandmother had begun to show signs of Alzheimer's disease. Either someone needed to take care of her or she needed to live in a nursing home.

At the time my wife and I lived in Vancouver, Washington. I was working as a freelancer and my wife was working for a non-profit. After a few days we decided that we would be willing to move to Los Altos, California to stay with my grandmother. 

It gave my wife and I the chance to help my grandmother (who I'd always been close with). Plus, I spent most of my childhood in the bay area. It was a chance to come home for a while.

I was making a full time income working as a freelance graphic designer. Which meant I could work from anywhere. So it was fairly easy for us to uproot ourselves and make the move. 

Within 4 weeks we had packed all of our stuff into storage and made the move.

Zero Money, a Failed Start-Up and Miracle #1

We arrived in Los Altos just in time for Thanksgiving. We got to spend that holiday season with my grandmother and it was a blast. We worked, played lots of cards and bingo with my grandmother, made meals, went for walks and slowly adapted to being somewhere new. 

A few months after arriving we discovered we were pregnant. This came as an exciting, and a bit scary surprise (Miracle #1). 

I guess with so many changes happening I felt emboldened. When my main client Jonathan Mead asked me if I wanted to create an educational start-up for entrepreneurs I was all over it. 

I quit doing all my freelance work (bringing my income to $0) and started spending 40 hours a week working on the start-up.

In hindsight, giving up all my income to build a start-up when I had a baby on the way was a crazy (AKA bad) idea. But I didn't want to live my life in fear. I wanted to do work I loved and take a chance at providing more than my freelance work could for my family. 

I did everything I could to make our start-up successful. I became a member of a start-up co-working space, took a start-up marketing course at Stanford and flew to Portland monthly to meet with Jonathan.

Despite us both working like crazy we couldn't seem to make the business profitable. 

Even worse, my families savings was depleted and our baby was due in six weeks.

Little did I know I was about to stumble into work I was passionate about...

RetroSupply is Born (Miracle #2)

I was struggling to try to make our startup become profitable.

But I had also become aware that I needed to find a way to make some money.

The only problem was all my time was consumed by the start-up. At the end of the day my energy was drained. But I knew I needed to make money fast. Our baby was due in just a few weeks and that meant medical bills, car seats, strollers, diapers among other things. 

I decided to start waking up 3 hours early every day. My plan was to use that time to build a lean business that would hopefully generate enough money to cover the necessities.

But I was still missing something... A business idea.

I opened up Evernote on my laptop and stared blankly trying to come up with ideas. I knew I wanted to do something that I was passionate about. Something that would energize and excite me (it needed to be energizing if I was going to wake up at 4:30 in the morning).

It finally occurred to me by complete accident while I was digging through the garage. I was living in my grandmothers house. The house I visited so much as a child. Every drawer and closet was filled with old papers, packaging and scrapbooks. 

Most of the stuff was from the 1940's and 50's. Old matchbooks my grandfather collected from overseas during WWII. 60 year old bright orange powdered soap boxes. Mid-century furniture that had been in the house since they moved in. 

I was literally surrounded with retro items from mid-century America. As a graphic designer I always loved this stuff. But I also spent my childhood surrounded by all these items.

They brought back memories of reading the old childrens books. Drinking root beer from old glasses with my grilled cheese. Digging through drawers for treasures as an 8 year old boy.

I decided to start creating design products that recreated the look of the retro stuff I was surrounded by.

Within a week I had created my first product. I put it up for sale on Creative Market and waited. Sales trickled in and at the end of the month I had made $837.

The next month I focused even more on creating products that recreated the retro print, advertising and other epherma from the era. Sales started to pick up.  Apparently, I wasn't the only one that loved this stuff!

Within a few more weeks sales were up. 

My Daughter is Born

On August 28th Elah Maria was born. It was love at first sight. I felt double blessed. 

My daughter was born healthy and happy. 

RetroSupply had started generating a full time income for my family. This was a huge blessing because I was able to spend those first weeks with my daughter without worrying about money or struggling. 

RetroSupply Today

Thanks to a relentless focus on creating high quality historically inspired design goods RetroSupply continues to be my full time job. I've been able to spend all my time creating products that inspiring me.