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It all started with a dream and a gnome.
John Hall, co-owner and designer of Apoc Apparel and a graphic communication senior, was sick of going to clothing stores and not finding the look he wanted.
“I was kind of annoyed of having an idea I wanted and not being able to see it at different companies,” Hall said. “From that idea came the idea of me designing my own clothing company, a whole brand of what I want and what other people want to wear.”
Hall set out to create his own clothing company his freshman year at Cal Poly from inspiration he gathered in high school. The name “Apoc” came to him in a dream where he was wearing “Apoc” brand shoes. The name stuck with him; all he needed were the designs to go with it.
That’s where the gnome comes in.
Hall’s free-hand sketch of a gnome was the first design that made it onto a printed T-shirt. It was also what warmed Hall’s friends, and now co-owners of Apoc Apparel, to the idea of starting their own clothing company.
Electrical engineering senior Mark McNeff, industrial engineering senior Chad Kihm and industrial engineering senior Tyler Nuss joined Hall to make his dream of an original lifestyle clothing brand come true.
“From the beginning, we said we didn’t want to make anything that we wouldn’t wear ourselves,” Nuss said. “We are passionate about making stuff that we think is cool. We are just a bunch of dudes and we love making clothes and running a business together.”
Once they had their first line of four graphic T-shirts printed, the four company owners wore the Apoc designs all the time to promote the brand.
“We would all go to (The) Avenue or Metro and three of us would be wearing the gnome shirt,” Hall said. “We were all, ‘Yeah, we are all wearing the same shirt. What’s up?’”
Now that they have multiple lines under their belt, Hall, McNeff, Nuss and Kihm — as well as their customers — have a lot more options to choose from. While Hall wears Apoc three to four times per week, the chances of him wearing the same shirt as one of the other co-owners is slim.
Since Apoc’s launch in 2011, the range of design has grown, but the gnome has remained — every clothing item’s inside tag displays the gnome as a sort of company mascot.
“Our clothing design hasn’t really changed, but it has expanded,” Hall said. “Our first two lines were heavily graphic, more wild. We came out with the bold designs to just stand out. After we had our foot in the door, we started designing more subtle T-shirts that appealed to more people.”
Not only has the range of design developed, but also the apparel itself. Apoc Apparel has expanded to printing on T-shirts, tank tops, women’s v-necks, hats, and hoodies. All of the different designs and types of apparel go through a collaborative brainstorm and input session that all the co-owners are a part of.
“We do all have a say in the design,” Nuss said. “John is really good at including us in that process so that (we) can have input and bounce our ideas off of him.”
Hall’s designs are inspired by the surrounding San Luis Obispo area as well as designs of the past.
“The Central Coast has had a huge impact on our designs,” Hall said. “We have the outdoorsy beach vibe. There is a little bit of a retro feel because I have grown up enjoying the retro feel of clothes I would get at thrift stores.”
That inspiration can be seen on one of their crewneck sweatshirts, which displays a picture of Morro Bay.
Designs that do not feature photography are created by Hall. He designs with free-hand drawings that are later vectorized as well as concepts completely created with Adobe Illustrator.
No matter how the designs are created, the most important thing to all of the Apoc Apparel co-owners is that other Cal Poly students and their broader range of customers want to wear them.
“Having our clothes relate to our lifestyle and being able to have our lifestyles relate to our peers and students around us is awesome,” Hall said.
Apoc fans who relate to this lifestyle can be seen all around Cal Poly’s campus.
“We love to see people rep our stuff,” Nuss said. “What gets us stoked is seeing people that we don’t know on campus in Apoc. We want to leave a legacy on this campus, and we love sharing Apoc with everyone.”
The designs and branding of the company came naturally because of the Central Coast’s love of outdoor, active apparel. However, developing the business practices of Apoc was more of a challenge.
“It has been a lot of trial and error for us,” Nuss said. “We wanted to print locally, at least to start. That’s how we have stayed.”
The four co-owners visited several local printers to compare prices and quality, ultimately choosing Left Coast T-Shirt Company as their producer. The quality of the fabrics continues to be an important factor in the production of future lines.
Another business decision that took some thought was choosing the number of shirts to print. At first it was a guessing game, but has evened out as Apoc Apparel has released more than 10 lines. The business practices and lessons they have learned together are what the co-owners of Apoc will take into their future careers.
“It is not an easy task to run a business with your closest friends that you are living with, because you see what they are doing every day or what they are not doing every day,” Nuss said. “Ultimately, it has been really growing.”
While they have had their ups and downs, the lessons they have learned from the business venture have helped them all grow.
“A lot of people have good ideas, but then don’t follow through,” Nuss said. “It’s following through that really grows a person and really challenges you as a team. We have been really challenged as friends, as businessmen, and we encourage people to take risks.”