While The Squirrelologist covers many topics, one near and dear to my heart is my other company, Shortees. Over the next few months here at The Squirrelologist I am going to tell the long, often sad and frustrating tale of how Shortees developed. I will also report on how things are currently going, what is working, what is going wrong and how much hair I have left. So without further ado, I present the story of Shortees……
Episode 1: The 90′s were coming to and end and as we moved into the early years of the noughts, men’s fashion was making a shift. Shirt tails were coming out all over. Dress shirts were hanging loose, casual shirts were going crazy with stripes and designed never to be tucked in and the ubiquitous t-shirt was free to flap in the wind. It was great time for all of those shirts that longed to live a untucked lifestyle. All of those shirts except for those that belong to short men. Those shirts, those poor shirts were doomed to a life of being neatly tucked in. Never to flow casually and comfortably over the belt. And why? because of a conspiracy perpetrated by a secret society consisting of Levi Strauss, Armani and Lacoste? No. Simply because no manufacture thought it was necessary to make shirts designed for shorter men. Their answer, buy a smaller size. Well if you have ever seen a grown man with a physique larger than a prepubescent girl or god forbid, a beer belly, then you know how ridiculous that solution is for the majority of shorter men. Yes some can comfortably fit into a small but that is still a tiny percentage of short men. And even then, the length of those smaller sizes are far to long to be untucked.
Like many men in their late 20′s I had a stack of t-shirts in my closet almost as tall as I am. They were the main item in my wardrobe. Go to dinner, put on a nice t-shirt. Go to lunch, put on a t-shirt. Run errands, put on a t-shirt. Have a hot date with the newest Victoria’s Secret lingerie model, put on a clean t-shirt. That my work consisted of running fitness departments in health clubs and personal training meant that dressing up for an important day required putting on a polo shirt instead of a t-shirt. Like so many other men my height (a dynamic 5’51/2″, don’t forget that half-inch, it’s the last half-inch that counts) I longed to be able to wear my shirts untucked. It was a constant point of frustration. Shopping was something I avoided as much as possible not just because of a natural Y chromosome based dislike of shopping but because it was next to impossible to find anything that fit. I was living a life of quiet fashion desperation.
Flash forward to 2002, 2003 and 2004. My evenings were filled with classes on accounting, marketing and finance. I was working towards an MBA while holding down my day job. Every night I was either in class or sitting at my desk at home doing homework. My friends had come to expect that I would be out of circulation for months at a time and when the semester ended I was ready for the beer to flow, at least until the next semester started. While in school I sat through a number of courses on entrepreneurship and new venture formation. As I was constantly inundated with ideas about how to go about creating the next great American company one idea stuck in the back of my head, pain. Not physical pain but the pain of having a problem without a solution. Find someone’s pain and figure out how to solve it and maybe, just maybe you may have the basis for a successful business. Now at the time my thoughts were solely focused on the fitness industry. I had spent my entire career in either sports medicine or fitness and didn’t see myself doing anything else. The hours were flexible. The atmosphere easy-going and pleasant and there was opportunity for the right person with the right idea. Even the MBA program I choose was one that would allow me to continue to work throughout school without any concern for the reputation of the program and how it would impact my job recruitment chances. I was sure that I was going to work for myself and I was in school to develop some new tools. Not to get a job.
August of 2004 came and went and I completed the program and received my degree. Finally, 9 years after I moved to California to pursue a different masters degree I could add those extra initials after my name (my parents were so happy). In the fitness world everyone loves listing every degree and professional credential they have after their name. It’s a non-stop contest over who can have the most initials on their business card. At the time I was working for a friend of mine, acting as business manager for his physical therapy and fitness company. We had opened a second clinic and a stand alone fitness center and I had joined the company to provide some structure to their business practices. At the same time I continued to operate my own small personal training company, Sky Fitness, on the side. While all was good, I knew that I wanted to earn more and needed to start my own company in some field that had high earning potential. I had spent almost a decade living in Silicon Valley and watching the technology sector and the web grow into the behemoth it is today. Every day there were stories in the newspaper about new companies or how someone had hit it rich with their great concept for a web-based business. It was around this time that I started thinking about how I was going to finally get ahead in the world.
I started developing a list of different business ideas. Every crazy concept that I could come up with. For almost two years I thought about different business. Analyzing how successful the idea could be. Could I afford to start it? Could I run it? Was it scalable? Did it stand up to the analysis I head learned to put new venture ideas through? On that list of ideas was one that was undecidedly low tech, t-shirts. T-shirts for short guys. I had thought about my pain. The desire I had to wear a shirt untucked and the problems I had when shopping for anything other than underwear or socks. As other ideas fell to the wayside one after another, there was this one idea that wouldn’t go away. This one idea for a business that stood up to every criteria a successful venture needed to stand up to. The idea for Shortees.
In January of 2006 I made the decision to try to start Shortees. Would I just buy shirts from a distributor and hire a seamstress to cut and hem them? It seemed like an easy and logical solution. I started looking for help on Craigslist. Replying to posts for seamstresses and getting prices. It soon became clear that it would either be too expensive to do things this way or it would be logistically next to impossible to find the right people who could handle the necessary volumes. The answer was going to be manufacturing my own shirts. Not knowing anything about the apparel manufacturing industry I was a little lost. Somewhere along the way I had learned about American Apparel. A little basic research on their website showed that they could do custom manufacturing. I quickly sent off an email asking about this service and a few days later I learned that they required a minimum of 5000 units to fulfill an order and the cost was far more than I could come up with at the time. Before my idea even had a chance to get off the ground, we were dead in the water.