The one-month-old site carefully curates and sells awesome, one-of-a-kind, pre-owned t-shirts, and donates 30% of each sale to adult rehabilitation programs run by the Salvation Army.
MBAsocial recently spent some time with three of Sleevecandy’s four co-founders – Reed Hushka, Hanif Perry and Kavin Arumugham – who were really only looking for roommates when they found each other on the message boards for students admitted to Kellogg’s Class of 2011. Two of the three didn’t even know they wanted to be entrepreneurs straight out of business school.
“Literally the first time we met was moving in,” says Hanif. “Now two years later we have a company.”
This little bit of luck, mixed with determination and goal-oriented execution meant the company launched the same week the three were graduating from Kellogg. They told us more about the idea, why launching with friends could be a good thing, and their favorite kind of ironic t-shirts.
Where did the idea for Sleevecandy come from?
Reed Hushka: It’s really a simple story of wanting something and it not being available. In college my friends and I wanted cool authentic t shirts that were “accidentally ironic.” For example, we once found a t-shirt from a local high school gym in Montana that said, “Fit happens.” They were trying to promote gym class and physical fitness. My friend and I got in a fight over this shirt because it was ridiculously awesome. (He won.)
So we would always find awesome t-shirts in Salvation Army stores, but not in our size, or the right color. The idea came to me two years ago: what if we aggregate all these great shirts together, and organize them better. If I click one button I see only size small, if I click another, I’ll see only the colors I want, and hopefully, the content I want. This is what our website is trying to do right now.
Who’s your target customer?
Hanif Perry: It’s the kind of person who realizes you can’t get a shirt that’s “accidentally ironic” just anywhere. You can only buy a shirt with forced irony, that’s mass-produced.
Kavin Arumugham: You’ll notice a large price range from $16-$52 on the site; while all of our shirts are hand-curated and one-of-a-kind, the most expensive shirts are truly rare and authentically vintage. These will attract t-shirt aficionados – people who can appreciate an original 1985 Bears NFC Championship or a vintage Mickey Mouse t-shirt.
RH: And while we want to be laser-focused on the people who get it, and who value the accidental irony thing, we also want to educate people on the evils of forced irony, to move the idea to a wider group of people.
Additionally, we want to target people who care about companies that have a big social and environmental benefit as: 1) 30% of revenue goes to Salvation Army, and 2) it’s widely published that it takes between 500 and 1,000 gallons of water to make a new t-shirt (just growing the cotton, spraying god-knows-what on the ground, and shipping).
What are your favorite kinds of shirts?
HP: I also really like camps shirts, and…academic achievement shirts! Chicago Public Schools made a shirt that reads: ‘I am a literary winner.” So awesome.
Any resources you used while at school?
RH: I just felt like it was this crazy idea, but when I ended up getting 2nd place in the InNUvation Venture Challenge, I thought the idea might have legs. Without placing in that competition, Sleevecandy would not be around.
By far the biggest help has been William Sutter, our Entrepreneurship & New Venture Formation professor. It was a great class and he has been extremely supportive; when we’ve wanted to quit, he’s said: “No this is something that is good, you guys need to push harder, you’ve got something here.” He’s really inspired us to keep the idea going.
What’s your best advice for other MBA entrepreneurs out there?
HP: I’d say that being able to execute is everything. What we do well is set goals for ourselves - if you don’t set goals, and don’t execute, it will come to nothing. Also, be passionate about what you do. We all love t-shirts, and we love the social impact of our product.
RH: Despite what people say about the complications of starting companies with your friends, what’s made us effective and successful is that we are all really good friends. We have a great relationship, and we like hanging out with each other. The hard discussions are easier to have, and I think we work harder because we like being around each other.
KA: If people don’t understand your concept, you can’t let that discourage you. Sometimes we’d think, ‘Maybe everyone else is right, no one will pay $30 for a shirt.’ But you only need one person out of 50 to get it, and that person could wind up being an investor.
So what’s the future of Sleevecandy?
RH: In the long-term we want to be a t-shirt database. For example, I grew up in Bismarck, North Dakota, and I have a Bismarck Parks & Recreation tee. The shirt tells a story about me, as I used to be a soccer coach there, and I would love to be able to share that story with people. This is what we want to do two to four years from now. We want someone to be able to type in Memphis, Tennessee, and get a shirt that is not only hilariously accidentally ironic, but also connected to their personal story. We want people to be able to find shirts that can tell a story about the wearer.
Photos courtesy of Sleevecandy.
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