Graphic communication freshman John Hall, along with industrial engineering freshmen Tyler Nuss and Chad Kihm, electrical engineering freshman Mark McNeff and fruit science freshman Kyle Jackson, are living out Hall’s dream with the latest edition of their college-startup archetype, a T-shirt company called Apoc Apparel.
Now, they are ready to take their business to the next level.
“We all have (the) drive to see this succeed and that pushes it a lot,” Nuss said. “If we were complacent about it, we wouldn’t sell shirts. We have a financial and, I think, a personal stake in it. I don’t want to see something I do fail.”
But Apoc is hardly the typical business. The company’s owners met at Cal Poly in the fall and use a blank pantry door in Cerro Vista. The apartment holds four types of T-shirts and will soon be stocked with a new spring line of women’s shirts, v-necks, tank tops and regular T-shirts.
Although the freshmen had no experience starting a T-shirt company, the owners have elevated Apoc from an attempt to make money into a serious project.
In just two months the group nearly sold out their first run of shirts. The initial printing included four designs spread over 160 shirts and was little more than a shot in the dark. Having never sold clothing, the group of five had little idea of how many shirts to order in each size and failed to make a women’s shirt — a move they said they plan to correct in the latest set.
The Apoc name bounced around the Cerro Vista apartment as shirt designs including gnomes and airplanes surfaced, but they got a break when they turned misfortune into hope.
Following the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged northern Japan last month, the five freshmen forewent studying for finals to design and create “Hope for Japan” shirts. They sent the order to a printer during their last week in San Luis Obispo and set up a booth on Dexter Lawn upon returning from spring break. The group raised more than $2,200 by selling the shirts for $12 each and sent all proceeds to the Red Cross.
The group didn’t make a profit but the “Hope for Japan” shirts it did expand its audience.
Almost overnight, Apoc shirts went from being a rare sighting away from Cerro Vista to a common occurrence across campus.
“It’s been really cool, and I’m so stoked at how many people just love them, especially seeing them on people I don’t know,” Nuss said.
But getting the shirts out of Hall’s pantry and onto the backs of Cal Poly students has been no small task.
“It’s all about persistence,” Kihm said. “I have to ask people (to buy a shirt) two or three times, then they’ll come by and be stoked about it. Once they find out we really care and we are adamant about it, then they become adamant about it.”
The process usually begins and ends with Hall, who works on Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator to design the graphics.
Hall said he draws inspiration from psychedelic artists from the ’70s and popular British street artist, Banksy. After creating the shirts, he shows the design to the team for approval before placing a shirt order. With no official place of business, the guys fund their startup with money they put in themselves.
They hope to change that in a few years with a mail order system that would enable them to ship their shirts to customers across the country.
The goal is to be as big as possible.
“Right now every purchase is a big deal,” Nuss said. “We want to get to the point where our finances are under control and we are comfortable making financial purchases. In five years hopefully we’re in stores across California and we’re as big as anything.”