How I Started An Apparel Printing Business Focused On Giving Back
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Antoine Taylor and I own an apparel and printing company called The Cause International that donates a percentage of its profits back to those in need.
We also finalized our papers to branch off and have a non-profit - which is now established as of this year, called The Cause International Non-profit. Yes I know it’s a bit confusing at first! We have two separate entities under the same name but hopefully I can explain that later throughout this interview in more detail. But that is the basic summary of what we do as a company!
So this is where it gets confusing. I have my own streetwear brand BUT we also print apparel and create spirit packs for high schools, colleges, and small businesses.
I think our flagship products would be the custom packs we do for schools and businesses though. More specifically for athletic teams within the schools we work with. In our first year of starting our business we gave back 65% of our profits to those in need. Truly we didn’t profit much from our first year of business because we realized there were people that needed that money more. And giving back to the community is a core value of ours that we used to shape our business.
Since the start of our company we have given back to The Boy & Girls Club of South Side Chicago, Skid Row, Flint Michigan, and our most recent giveback was to Guatemala where we installed water filtration systems to villages that did not have clean water.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I went to Saint John’s University in Minnesota for football. My major was pre-med and I was a full time athlete all 4 years.
I struggled in school with this major, but I chose pre-med because that’s what my mom wanted me to do. Even though my scholarship through football covered most of my costs I didn’t have the funds to meet some of my needs like being able to fly myself home for Christmas break or seeing my family.
Within the first week I sold socks 512 socks. I was hyped. At the time, I was a sophomore in college and I made my first $5,000 which to me was a lot! You couldn’t tell me nothing.
My mother was a single parent who did her best to give me anything I needed but circumstances of our finances made it hard for her to do so. This is when I started to come up with ways to make money because asking my mom for it wasn’t an option.
Making money through clothes has always been the idea but designing and printing was not how it started. I started by washing the clothes of my peers in college. I didn’t have time for a real job with school and my football schedule so coming up with something I could do whenever and that was located on campus was ideal for me. It was easy, no one in college feels like doing their laundry. Honestly I’m not sure who actually enjoys doing laundry so I started to wash the clothes of my classmates and would charge extra if they wanted the clothes folded. After a while washing clothes became something I hated. I got tired of washing other people's dirty draws and more. I stopped to strategize about what to do next.
My first business success
My thoughts went like this: I wanted to sell clothes. I wanted to make something that wasn’t already sold at our campus store, and would be cost efficient for me. That’s when I came up with socks. Everyone needs socks and wears socks.
I found a guy who manufactured socks who sent me a sample with our design, “Johnnies” (self proclaimed nickname) was the obvious choice for the first sock design. From there I went dorm to dorm knocking on people’s doors to ask if they would like to buy a school sock. I honestly didn’t think I would do that well. Why would people buy socks from me when they could easily get it from a name brand? But I tried anyways.
Within the first week I sold socks 512 socks. I was hyped. At the time, I was a sophomore in college and I made my first $5,000 which to me was a lot! You couldn’t tell me nothing.
After making this happen, I thought about what it was like to struggle growing up and even at that moment in life I was struggling. My mom was struggling. My family was struggling but we always found a way through. My life wasn’t easy but I realized there were others who had it way worse.
There were others who didn’t always find a way through like we did. Coming from situations where I understood struggle I wanted to find a way through my work to help those in similar situations. That’s when I decided I wanted to give back some of the money I made but I knew I couldn’t do it alone so I presented this idea to some of my friends.
Through them I formed a team and we became The Cause International. They helped me plan and figure out what needed to be done to giveback. Out of the first $5,000 I made from socks we traveled to the South Side of Chicago (where our company President is from) and used $3,000 of it to retrofit a Boy’s and Girl’s Club.
I met a little girl there who hugged me and said “Thank you for giving me my first Christmas”. The feeling of helping those around you is unexplainable and the greatest reward you could receive. I knew what I wanted to do. I’m going to create an apparel brand that uses a percentage of its profits to give back. After that, I never doubted what I wanted to do again.
Take us through the process of designing and acquiring the product.
We really didn’t have a “Design Process” at the time.
At the time I hadn’t started my streetwear line yet so none of the designs were mine but more the logos of schools or businesses that I was doing apparel for.
Our first product was design was for my university, where it all started. For the design of the sock we used our school’s nickname, “Johnnies”, in a font we thought fit well with our name. We ordered our first batch through pre-orders.
We did this because I at the time didn’t have the money to front and was only able to pay for the product if the money was given to me beforehand. I fortunately had a friend referred me to the manufacturer I used and still use today. I didn’t have much of a challenge finding him because of this.
Because everyone paid me up front for their orders there was no start of costs at the time. Until I filed for my LLC later on. Which even then wasn’t much of an expense for me because I did it through at program at my school called Escholars that helped me tremendously.
I think my filing fee at the time was only around $150, so I would consider myself pretty blessed at the time. My school helped me a lot through the process of my starting my company because they supported my vision behind it.
Describe the process of launching the business.
IT WAS AND STILL IS HARD, but we had to persevere and continue to figure out how to grow.
We didn’t really have an online presence, to be honest we didn’t gain an online presence until around last year! (LOL we know that’s sad).
I created our website myself which launched last year. We are still trying to figure out the exact look we want our website to have (please don’t judge). Our website is currently still under construction! And we are creating a new one, with an all new design to it as we speak!
Making people feel good for supporting you and actually connecting with customers creates a sense of genuineness for our brand.
We didn’t take out a loan or anything of that nature to start the business. That may be why we are still where we are, because we are working literally from the ground up. We didn’t use capital, investors, loans. Literally nothing! Just a group of college kids using what was around them to figure it out.
Honestly we started seeing customers this year! Between printing for organizations and our actual streetwear brand traffic has picked up within the past year. There was a slow period where our team has a whole was not doing much to build our brand because we were all in school trying to balance everything. Now that I am out of school I have been able to dedicate all my time to our business within the last year and I think that’s when we truly started to see customers.
Biggest lesson learned from starting the business was that not everything goes as planned or the way you want it, so it’s really important to know how to adjust to the obstacles that come your way.
I learned that there is no instant gratification the hard way, I would become frustrated with not seeing results as fast as I expected. Starting a business takes time and a lot of bumps in the road along the way but I just had to stay patient and know that it was all going to come together eventually.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
One thing that has really helped us is that we gave away/sent out a lot of promo apparel from our streetwear line.
We sent out whatever was left from our last drop and asked everyone who received an item to post on their social media platform a picture in their clothing piece and to form a caption that explained what The Cause was.
We also were constantly scheduling photoshoots for our own content and whoever modeled for us would get to keep the item along with pictures from our photographer. That really help create traffic to our page.
We plan to use the people who pre-order from our SS19 drop to model for us as a thank you gesture for supporting and buying. Making people feel good for supporting you and actually connecting with customers creates a sense of genuineness for our brand. That really works for us and what we stand for specifically. It’s to create a loyal base of supporters. I
think this works for us because we are community based and those who follow us get a sense of our values/who we are as people outside of the company compared to buying from a large scale clothing line. Depending on what you do or what your product is this may not work for every situation. You have to really find what works best for your company and aligns with your company’s objectives. That’s key.
We have not tried Amazon as a sales channel. Again, I think that depends on the company as well. For instance, it might be great for large companies who sell household items or other clothing lines that have the means to be able to do so.
With us, we are small and our company has more than one part to it which is the printing for schools and our streetwear. And here is why Amazon is not a strategy for us: our printing side of the business we go into these schools and sell by face to face interaction and most coaches want to meet the vendor that they are buying gear from.
Also, as part of giving back to the community every high school we connect with we set up a mentorship program with their student-athletes where we will come in and connect them with a list of colleges we work with if they want to play at the next level or just have the opportunity to look at different higher education choices.
We work closely with the high school students in our area. And as far as our streetwear line, we do not mass produce. We only drop every so often and for a limited time. Our selling point is our story so if we were to use Amazon as a sales channel we would ultimately take away our story line. We wouldn’t be able to advertise what The Cause is the way we would want to through Amazon.
We are more than the clothes. Clothes is just our outlet to reach our main goal which is to change the world around us. You just can’t do that through Amazon. We want to mix fashion with a bigger purpose. But like I said, Amazon is great in other cases.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Yes, we are profitable and have come a long way since the beginning. We’ve only been an formal LLC for roughly two years. Each year better than the last. We offer so much that, and all of us on the team have never run a business so everything that has gone into this has been a self learning project for us all.
Each spirit pack that we sell to schools we make roughly around $1,000. For our streetwear brand the ADS is roughly $30 or more a person.
We don’t really spend much on ads, most of our growth has been organic. As we grow we definitely need to work on paying attention to more of analytics. A lot of our sales for our streetwear have honestly been from in person sales. Yes, that sounds weird but a lot of people will pre-order through DM’s or a rep. And Obviously coaches order through the rep that they talk to. And of course we have sales through our website.
Our operations has come a long way from where it started but it has a long way to go. We are in the process of developing a more formal operations. When we first started everyone was doing whatever was required to get the job done. There was no set roles. And a lot of us had no business experience or were studying other things in school.
Running a legitimate business is new for most of us. Oh, we for sure plan to expand. That’s the goal for anyone, isn’t it? The more we expand, the more people know about us, the more we are able to create the funds to give back. Over 50% of our audience are the ages of 18-24 so young adults.
But we want to be able to reach everyone because we feel everyone can connect to this brand in someway even if they don’t like our designs or products but like what we do. We want to be relatable to most.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I have always been a go get it type of person.
Sometimes I just want my ideas or plans to happen automatically so when I first started I would make decisions for my goals or ideas that seemed rushed without realizing that sometimes it takes time to reach those goals or never to skip certain steps.
I was a person who saw a goal and forgot all the little things it takes to get there. With my team they help with the critical thinking and making my goals come to life but also advise me when my decisions may be too rushed. It’s good to have a team that is always willing to be honest with you. If you don’t have those people who are willing to bring you back down to earth from time to time it may cause you to have mistakes, which I know from person experience.
Also, when I first started I was younger than I am now and had no idea how to handle the money nor all the taxes a business had to pay. I was completely lost. Thank God for my VP of Finance. After learning about all these things and more I made sure to spend time with business people I trusted to make sure I did everything correctly the next time around.
The best decision you can do is have a team you trust around you. It’s impossible to do everything by yourself and I’ve learn that (and a lot of other things) the HARD way. I tried to do everything by myself and as my company grew I realized that wasn’t possible. I was draining myself and I knew eventually it would start to affect my work. But I also had a problem with trusting people in my business so I took time to really focus on who was there for me and really actually wanted to help and see this business prosper.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
This sounds really bad but we haven’t used any tools really. Anything we’ve done we’ve tried doing ourselves LOL, that sounds really crazy to say out loud. But we are working on getting some of these platforms as we speak! Like Shopify!
We’ve been doing a lot of research on what ones are best for us and that platform is on the list! Reading others Starter stories have made me realize how much I need to catch up! Wish me luck, guys!
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The Breakfast Club: I like listening to The Breakfast Club because each episode is a different person talking about their testimonies and the obstacles they had to overcome to get where they are.
It’s really inspiring to me. Even though they may not be from the same city or coming from the same start in life I feel like their life struggles that they openly talk about is something I can resonate with.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Well some of things I learned or mistakes I previously mentioned can all be turned into advice. I would say Definitely don’t rush to make goals happen. I don’t think that’s just me that has that problem. A lot of people tend to give up if they don’t see quick results or things don’t happen overnight. People (including myself) will see others overnight success and start to wonder why that’s not happening for us. Not everyone has the same story and it took me some time to be okay with that. I know one day my team and I will be where I vision us to be. WE’ve come far and you will too. Just never give up.
Also, just because you make mistakes doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. Mistakes are honestly your friend and get use to it because opening up a business you’re going to run into some mistakes. There is no way to possibly know everything and if you wait to open up a business until you do then trust me, you’ll never start. Each mistake is a learning process to become better the next day. And now when I look back I am grateful for how they have shaped me and my company.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are looking for interns in Marketing and Sales. It is an unpaid, part-time gig.
Roles of Marketing Intern
Looking for a dynamic individual able to work on their own initiative across a small marketing department.
The role will consist of, but not limited to:
- Support marketing team in daily administrative tasks
- Assist in the production and distribution of promotional material
- Aid in the increase of our prescience on social media
- Help to monitor for new trends and feedback
Roles of Sales Intern
Looking for a dynamic individual able to work on their own initiative across a small sales department. The role will consist of, but not limited to:
- Support sales team in daily administrative tasks
- Accompany sales team on deals
- Contact schools to set up meetings for sales team
- Additional special projects as needed
Where can we go to learn more?
- Website: https://www.thecauseinternational.com/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheCauseIntLA/
- Instagram: https://instagram.com/thecauseint
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/thecauseint
- Email: [email protected]
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
I hope that I have answered in enough detail! I know I’m a lot smaller than the other companies you have written about in many areas and I am still figuring out all the the areas I need to fix in my business. Reading the other stories definitely helped me realize that. So thank you for the opportunity!
The Cause has provided an update on their business!
7 months ago, we followed up with The Cause to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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