When creating your inaugural music festival, as we did in May, there are few obvious must haves. Great music itself would be a good place to start.
But in the modern festival era, there are many more vital components: delicious food, an array of beverages, visual art, creative vendors, a wide range of engaging activities, and, of course, porta potties and hand-washing stations.
Oh, and let’s be clear: merch – the branded gear spanning t-shirts and hats to blankets, hoodies and more – is an absolute must.
Mara Mustola, sales director for Golden Goods USA, the concert merch juggernaut founded by Jeffrey Levine that is now based out of the Mill Creek Plaza building in Mill Valley, can testify to that. Mustola grew up in the music business, as her father is Arne Frager, who once owned the famed Plant Recording Studios in Sausalito, where some of the most acclaimed bands of all time recorded signature hits, including Fleetwood Mac, Prince, Sly Stone, Rick James and dozens more.
After stints at Hi Fidelity Entertainment in Novato and Cinder Block LLC, the latter of which gave her a taste for the power of merch, Mustola was hooked. “Music has been a part of my life and I wanted to get involved in the music industry but wasn’t sure how that would be. In 2012, she linked up with Jeffrey Levine who, as a pre-med student at the University of Vermont decades ago, designed rock t-shirts and sold them in the parking lots of Grateful Dead shows, the inimitable traveling carnival that had long since grown into much more than a live concert experience.
Levine and his ever-growing team at the time was eventually successful enough that he received a cease-and-desist letter from the Grateful Dead. Ever the innovators, the Dead appreciated Levine’s talent and offered him a licensing deal to officially create and sell merchandise for the Grateful Dead and the Jerry Garcia Band.
Levine landed related gigs down the road, including for Levi’s “Button Your Fly” ad campaign in the 1990s, and later other big names like Tommy Hilfiger, Donna Karan, DKNY, as well as hip-hop gear for the likes of Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z. He launched Golden Goods USA in 2009, but the company’s arc was not what you’d expect. He began by designing and manufacturing promotional apparel mostly for corporate clients in the ever-growing tech sector and expanding music merch.
So what are the distinct characteristics of Golden Goods apparel? First and foremost, it’s ridiculously soft, says Mustola. “Jeffrey saw a niche in the market for high-quality, super-soft, retail-quality branded apparel that people didn’t want to get rid of after wearing it one time,”
As live music and major festivals have started coming back as we’re well into the third year of the pandemic, Golden Goods has started making merch for bands like Jane’s Addiction. And given their local roots, the firm creates merch for the likes of Old Mill School, Marin’s Camp Funderblast and our very own recent Mill Valley Music Festival.
“People in Marin know how important music is,” he says. “They identify with the cool factor of music and would love to have their brand associated with the guys who do music.”
“Golden Goods is very unique,”Mustola says. “These are customized, eco-friendly, garment-dyed products that we can brand in ways that make them special and unique. Our differentiation is really high quality branded apparel. We’re not getting it printed with cheap, crappy plastisol ink and doing so at the lowest possible price point like something that will be worn once and the consumer will end up washing their car with it.
“The apparel world is such a wasteful world – we want it to make sense,” Mustola adds. “People overlook design, and that’s always been in our sights.”
Golden Goods is all over the music festival circuit right now, with the Mill Valley Music Fest and BottleRock in this year’s rearview mirror and Life Is Beautiful, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and more on the horizon.