Great to meet you here! I'm a t-shirt guy… the head t-shirt guy around these parts. I aim to use the humble medium of the graphic t-shirt, one that I stumbled into, agonized on, and persevered through for close to 20 years to uplift, inspire, and connect with the world.
There is always the potential for a spark... The question is not where do we find it... but how do we rediscover it?
T-shirts happened into my life during my freshman year of college, in the first business class I ever took. I choose "Business" as a holding place of sorts for not having any clue of what I wanted to do. The class was a "mock-company," built upon the premise of creating and selling a product on campus. I offered up a t-shirt idea, but it was denied by the "board" due to its alcohol related content (a common theme at this point of my life).
I printed up 144 of them on my own and ended up selling out of them in a couple days. Following this successful first run of shirts I contracted with a local screen printer and setup as a middle man on campus brokering t-shirt deals between students and the printer. I had shown some entrepreneurial glimmers in the past from the days I created a window washing business called "Three Panes in The Glass" and a summer as an ice cream man. I also used to wear a "Want a Quickee" shirt around campus and was amazed by how much attention this simple t-shirt would get me. Plus I loved the "two-for-Tuesday" sales at the local thrift shop.
My path to independence started at its polar opposite. I've since learned that magnetism is charged by the principles of bipolarity. It took a while to charge up my system enough to get shocked out of the conventional track.
The abbreviated version of this story begins with 4 years in the cubicle jungles of Pharmaceutical Advertising in midtown Manhattan, toiling in the trenches of corporate artificiality, as any Pharmaceutical ad can’t help but convey. The fair balance for my life at this time (fair balance being an industry term for the long list of side effects in Pharma ads as required by the FDA) would read something like “may cause stagnation, stomach inflammation, alcoholism, and intense numbing of the heart.” I was a “liaison” between all departments in the firm, aka a glorified mailman, all the while working diligently on my dream of attaining freedom by somehow building a self-sufficient t-shirt brand named Solid Threads, one thread at a time from the ground up.
I taught myself graphic design at this time, tapping the knowledge of designers at the firm, along with acquiring some pretty serious Ping Pong skills and spending a little too much time at the Limerick House, the local Irish dive bar that has since closed. I didn't come up with these drinking t-shirts simply by surfing the internet. When I did make it home from my 50 – 60 hour work week, I would kick back in my massaging La-Z-Boy chair (which I got a sweet deal on from my uncle who owns a mattress shop!), pour a glass of port wine, inhale some of mother nature's finest bounty, and tap into the timeless ease I found designing t-shirts late into the night. (Drinking and drugs are definitely not necessary for creative inspiration. As time has gone on, I've found the opposite to be true in fact. But I do highly recommend the massaging La-Z- Boy chair.:)
After 5 years in the advertising game, and only seeing moderate success with the initial Solid Threads website I had mustered the courage to debut the Christmas prior, I was beginning to resign myself to a life as an Ad man. I applied for a "next level" position that opened up within my firm, but was ultimately passed over for the promotion. Several things about this irrational corporate injustice (as I viewed it) lit a fire in me and I was determined to bring about a change.
I started selling my “wears” on the streets of Hoboken, NJ in 2004, when I finally garnered enough courage to show people my creative pursuits from the past 4+ years.
There was an Arts and Music festival approaching in my hometown of Hoboken, NJ. I was even too late to officially gain admission, so I negotiated some space in front of a smoothie shop that I liked.
The response to these designs was surprising to say the least. I somehow made more money in one day than I did in a month of 50+ hour, angst ridden work weeks in advertising. I went in Monday morning, quit my job, and headed over to town hall to get my street vending license. I started selling my wares on the street 3-4 times a week and exhibiting at craft fairs and festivals throughout the state on the weekends. I ultimately "worked the streets" for over 2 years and was paying my bills and putting all remaining capital into the business throughout the process.
Through a serendipitous encounter with a former Urban Outfitters buyer while street vending, I was suddenly launched into a whole new realm of business size and scope.
I sent a presentation of my collection to the email contact I was provided by this chance encounter. It wasn't until four months later, when finances were beyond tight, that I I received a call with a life altering order of 2400 units of my “I’m a Drinker, Not a Fighter” t-shirt for St. Patty’s day. This was more than the grand sum of shirts I had sold to this point. I barely knew what I was doing as I headed to a seedy Long Island distributor to pick up the blank shirts needed for the order only to find there was no way I’d fit all these boxes in my Jeep Wrangler. So I stuffed them in plastic bags and made my way to an even seedier screen printer in Jersey City with my tattered beige soft top stuffed to the gills with olive green t-shirts as if I was the Leprechaun that stole St. Patty’s Day.
I pulled it off in the end, delivering everything on time and in good order. Astoundingly, that shirt went on to become one of Urban Outfitters best selling shirts ever, consistently getting reordered every 6 - 8 weeks for over a year and a half. It was seen in the movie 'The Break Up' and the series 'Always Sunny in Philadelphia,' far surpassing the appeal of St. Patty’s day alone. Urban Outfitters went on to order many more designs, and I've been working with them on and off ever since.
This unexpected order from one of the biggest t-shirt purveyors in the country at the time, introduced me to the wholesale side of the industry, the channel that has truly facilitated the growth of my business, and provided enough capital to open a "flagship" retail location.
After a brief stint in Belmar NJ, fulfilling my dream of having a shirt shack at the beach, I parlayed this retail experience into a proper Brick and Mortar location on a lively, yet tucked away drag on the backstreets of Hoboken, NJ. It was somewhat off the beaten track, but that seemed to add to the appeal. My business truly solidified and took shape during the next 7+ years at this location serving as a home base of operations all the while becoming somewhat of a staple in the Hoboken scene. People knew me from my street vending days and seemed to share in the efforts I displayed in getting to this point, as well as the rewards.
By 2011, I had 6 employees, seasonal collection unveilings, biannual trade shows in Vegas, and over 200 wholesale accounts domestically and internationally - from mom and pops to some of the largest retailers in the world. I was running a relatively well-oiled machine operating in retail, wholesale, online, and custom printing channels… but I was also running myself into the ground. I didn’t fully realize how dense the overworked, over-stressed haze I was in had actually become. I’d lost touch with the freedom I so desperately sought when I first began plotting my escape from the doldrums of corporate America. Enter Hurricane Season!
It wasn't until everything I'd worked so hard to create, was washed away over night, that I began to sense who I truly was and how I really wanted to live.
Hurricane Irene issued the first severe blow, forcing me to move my entire operation 2 months before Christmas. This move took an incredible amount of effort, but was still only a temporary solution. I made an offer on a lease in a much more prominent (and expensive) location, but it was not accepted in the end. After a lot of second guessing, I returned to my former location and spent the next 8 months working even harder to renovate the entire space to my exacting specifications, all the while keeping up with business as usual. Unfortunately, I completed this momentous project just in time for the arrival of Sandy.
Hurricane Sandy brought a surge of over 4ft of water covering 80% of Hoboken. I was trapped in my condo around the corner for nearly 4 days waiting for the waters to recede, holding onto hope that the levels had stayed below the desk line, so my computers and printing equipment could at least be salvaged. This unfortunately was not the case. I trudged along my short commute, through the mud that the waters left behind to find that my store and basically everything in it had been completely destroyed. Beyond the traumatizing experience of the flood itself, my ordeal was just getting going in some ways. I now had to sort through the devastation and put enough of the pieces of the business back together to at least keep the wholesale and online components "afloat" through the fast approaching holiday season. I was in survival mode at this point, pushing myself beyond the breaking point, suppressing all the feelings of fear, doubt, uncertainty, anger, mourning, and despair bubbling up in my heart and mind like the flood waters of the Hudson River before them.
Hidden within all adversity are the seeds of opportunity and new awareness if met with acceptance, faith, resilience, and as much optimism as one can muster.
As I began to get some distance from this tumultuous season in my life, I was slowly overcome by thoughts of how hard I had worked to follow what I thought was the only recipe for attaining an elusive sense of contentment. I pondered how close I had come to continuing down this exhaustive path; how if my offer on the more prominent location had been accepted I would have stayed dry during Sandy, yet that much more deeply entrenched in this restless way of being. I began questioning everything... wondering what it all means.
As more time passed, a transformative new understanding slowly but steadily began seeping in.The magnetic principles of bipolarity at work again! I LET GO of the store, I let go of all but one of my employees, I let go of my well-appointed condo and my beautiful, yet draining live-in girlfriend. Most importantly, I eventually learned to let go of all the false precepts I had previously been convinced I needed to have in place in order to feel the ease, contentment, and joy I was ultimately after through all of my maniacal efforts towards outward, material “success.” Hurricane Irene and Sandy revealed these precious seeds of truth hidden deep within, and for that I cannot be more humbled and grateful.
Vermont continually encourages and reminds me to remain centered on my state of being above all else. That is the crux of this whole seasonal shift in my life I believe, outwardly manifested in a relatively short move 5 hours north from my Jersey roots to my new Vermont home.
After shedding everything that didn’t FEEL right in my life, outsourcing the core functions of my business so it could be run from anywhere with an internet connection, I set out traveling for a year. During these travels, I happened upon Burlington, VT and fell for it the first time I laid eyes on it, crossing Lake Champlain from the Adirondack’s. I was immediately struck by the vibrancy, openness, and creativity of the community. There is a laid back, motivated mindset fueled by a connection to nature and neighbors that resonates at a deeper level.
I lead a more inspired, joyful, well-rounded existence, and the direction of my designs, mirrors this shift in awareness, expanding rapidly on themes of social consciousness, nature, activism, and mindfulness, but still rooted in flavor and fun. I have finally launched the charitable channel of Solid Threads, called Solidari-Tees, with huge help from Nilima Abrams and her Burlington based company Splice Cream. I am currently launching a collaborative platform with renowned design/branding guru Michael Jager of Solidarity of Unbridled Labour. This initiative, called Solid Friends, allows us to expand the breadth of our t-shirt offering and connect with artists from all walks of life on a continuous basis. I'm also excited to be opening up a modified retail store experience, 5 years after our Hoboken, NJ was destroyed. It's called Sneaky Boutique /Boo-TEE-kee/, and you'll have to dig around a bit to find it, but I'm planning to make it well worth the search.
I look forward to continuing to share this journey and engaging with all those delving into this great mystery, and all those that like rocking my shirts. They come from a place of optimism, authenticity, and love, and each one means more than they may appear at face value. Please join into the community through the character section, the friends section, and of course, the t-shirts! Here's to tuning in, going easy, and staying creative. One Love.