‘I cannot believe that you like getting up in the morning, suiting up, fix your tie straight, put on a big smile and go to your office every single day for five days a week for the rest of your life and enjoy it. I simply cannot believe it.’ While interviewing the guys of Stripes Clothing we discovered the bigger meaning behind freedom. ‘Freedom isn’t just being out of jail, but bigger, doing what you like to do. Being able to make your own choices, your own decisions, about making shit happen.’
These two sentences perfectly describe the mood of the evening while talking about Stripes Clothing. While talking to these guys, we got infected by their spirit, their passion about the brand. Each of the founders and designers know exactly why they started Stripes Clothing and why they want to make it big in the street wear world. We were lucky enough to have some time with these guys, while they just launched their own brand, work elsewhere to pay their bills, some of them graduating in the process and designing their new winter collection.
All work no play for Stripes Clothing; ‘But if you work on what you love to do, it doesn’t feel like working.’
After college, school assignments, internships and graduating us all realized working on a regular job wasn’t an option for us. We wanted to start something for ourselves, do something we loved to do and learn in the process. We didn’t want to spend the rest of our lives behind a desk, staring at a screen, working on something we don’t love.
So our first idea was to start a t-shirt company, that was back in December 2011. While in the process a family member came up to us with the idea that we could let our shirts get printed in prison. We we’re all curious about this idea and got a tour at a local prison to see what the fuss was about. After the tour we stepped outside and were overcome with a strange feeling. ‘Now we go home and do what we want to do, play some Xbox, watch some television. But these guys in prison aren’t going anywhere. They can’t decide what they are going to do. At that moment we realized the value of freedom.’ So Made in Prison and Inspired by Freedom are two loose components that we fused together under the brand.
By collaborating with the inmates we hope to teach them something, particular skills in producing shirts and other clothing that will eventual help them while they learn to get back in the society. While working on our shirts they learn structural work habits and taking responsibility and pride for their work.
We are also working on a different line of clothing, called the Stripes Conscious line; we started a competition in prison among the inmates to design their own shirt. The assignment was simple; we asked the inmates to put their feelings and thoughts on paper. Out of all the submissions we chose a winning design that will come on a shirt. All the profits of these shirts will go to reintegration projects and victim funds. The reintegration projects are necessary for inmates when they get out of prison, these projects will help them joining the society in a normal way.
If we look back, we can pat ourselves on our backs for what we have accomplished by now. We started with the idea in December 2011 and launched the brand in August 2012. In less than a year we went from an idea to launching a brand. If we could do it again we would make some changes in our planning. But we didn’t really run into big problems. The most problems we had were with the production and quality of our products. Clothing is about details and both for us and the prison, this project was something new. A couple of times when we got the sample shirts back from the prison, small things were incorrect, things like the placing of seems or the colors of used threads. But this was our first and only launch so we wanted our products to be perfect. This caused some delay in the process but it was definitely worth it, because now we really feel comfortable and sure about the clothing we sell.
The most important lesson we learned while launching Stripes Clothing is that having an own business is a 24-7 thing. We are 24 hours a day working on our brand and we love it. It is our passion that we work on this brand all day, every day. If someone asks us a question by email, we try to respond right away, even if it is in the middle of the night. We want to let the customer know that this is our brand, our passion and we are on it 24-7. We are here to stay. And the most important thing, when we are busy for our brand, it does not feel like working.
First of all, we are very proud with our accomplishments. We didn’t really set goals yet but we were able to generate some buzz, not only in Holland but far over the boarders too! Looking back on the first few months we didn’t think things would move so quickly. The news and the story behind Stripes Clothing are well received on blogs from Great Britain to Poland, spreading our name into the street wear world fast. We were even lucky enough to be approached by a street wear retailer from Vienna who really liked our idea behind the brand and asked us to send some shirts!
The street wear world is fast and competitive, everyone starts a t-shirt company nowadays from their bedroom, but we are different. We distinguish our brand with our story and way of production. We have something to tell, something to stand for, something to defend and we want to spread it! There are more brands that produce their clothing in prison but not in our niche. With that we have a unique idea and a unique brand. That makes us different from all those other start ups.
Sales can always be better. It’s never enough, but we are happy to say that after selling to friends and family, all our sales now are to ‘unique’ consumers. People not only buy our clothes but come to our website and read the story, give us positive reactions and spontaneously write pieces about our brand and product on their blog.
Seeing our brand ‘being alive’ like that, definitely really gives us a rush. We now see the results of all those days of hard working, all those days of designing, planning, creating and producing and it feels good. We remember the day that we launched our website and facebook and all clustered behind the screen of our computers and seeing the likes and reactions flow in, the visitors count on the google analytics graphs climb further and further… it was unreal!
Despite our successful start, we are still in a learning curve. Like we said, in the beginning we had all type of small production errors that kept us from running a smooth operation. But as the inmates work more on our products and learn more techniques, we can make different and more complex products and items. Our current collection consists out of selected items but we want to grow with each season. And with every item we add to our collection we can expand into new niches in the market like five panel caps, hoodies and rucksacks. It is because of current selected collection that we don’t have physical retailers yet. Retailers are used to see a whole collection with several items of clothing and not just a few tees. So while we expand our collection we hope to expand our physical retailers too.
Our goal is to keep our brand evolving. Our main product now is t-shirts but in the future we would like to shift things to higher end street wear. Brands like OBEY, NORSE Projects, ONTOUR, North Face and The Hundreds are examples of where we would like to go, what kind of style and quality we would like to reach.
And on the other side, we are still waiting. Waiting for the day that we run into somebody with our shirt on or meeting someone that has been inspired by our products. We are also waiting on the day that we can quit our current jobs and make a living out of Stripes Clothing, no other work, just Stripes. The best thing that can happen to us now is that we can’t take the pressure anymore, that we have to expand or call in reinforcements to keep growing and keep evolving.
In five years we hope to be in a room and just think of ideas, which we have grown so much that we have people who work out ideas for us. We hope to be an established brand with regular collections coming out every season and still being innovative. And we hope not to be surprised when seeing someone walking around with our clothing on.