Chase Gaewski | Asst. Photo EditorPulp
Clothes minded: SU entrepreneur showcases feel-good fashion at J. Michael Shoes
Blending in seamlessly with his surroundings like an average J. Michael customer, James Barrett stands next to a rack of clothes. Among various designers and styles, beside him hang multi-colored pinnies, the front of each decorated with a large hand making a peace sign. Next to the original design is a scribbled signature, to mark who had a hand in this — Barrett.
He holds a small white sign that says, “500 sold at J. Michael.” Memorializing the number of pinnies he’s already sold in the store, this numeric value is fleeting. On Friday, Barrett returns to J. Michael to sell his collection through a trunk show. Beginning at noon, this will be his third one through the store.
Although currently J. Michael only sells his pinnies, Barrett will showcase more of his self-described “feel good” apparel from James Barrett Co. His two main designs are the hope design — hand with two fingers crossed — and peace design, both of which are on everything from T-shirts to tanks and hoodies to V-necks.
Some people have a lifelong dream for a start-up or an idea; the dream is all they work for. And, for some people, it just happens.
For Barrett, it was the latter. As a freshman, the business model came to fruition after taking a printmaking elective course.
Barrett knew he wanted to make a shirt whose design took up the front of the shirt, not just a logo in the chest area, and that had a feel-good vibe to it.
Although at the time he thought little of it, he posted a Facebook event asking if anyone would want this peace T-shirt. He anticipated making around 20 shirts and ended up creating 100 for the project.
Fast-forward from April 2010, and Barrett, now a senior, has seen his peace crew neck T-shirt worn in Aer’s music video, “What You Need.” An orange peace tank makes a brief cameo at the end of Humor Whore’s viral video, “Cuse Is Cray.”
He has an e-commerce website to show off and sell the products, a Facebook page with roughly 3,400 “likes” that he updates frequently, and has sold more than 4,000 items from his collection in about 31 different states.
Quite a change from a mere Facebook event.
Yet numbers don’t hold much meaning to him. He frequently shies away from mentioning them or any sort of financial gains; he tries to be modest.
April 2012 was the first time in two years that he received funding through placing third at the Panasci Business Plan Competition. He also won Student Entrepreneur of the Year and the Whitman Alumni Club Student CNY Business Start-up Award.
To this day, he’ll only mention that he got third place.
The magic number was seven — the number of pinnies that originally hung in J. Michael. In November 2011, on a whim, Barrett walked into the store with samples of his collection. After meeting with the buyer and owner, he left with a deal for a trial run with seven of his pinnies. Nervous and on edge about whether or not they’d even sell, in less than two days they were gone.
Despite his position as a full-time student, Barrett’s tasks extend much farther than mastermind or figurehead of the company. Taking inspiration from his time as a communication design major, he works with promotions and advertising. He makes all of his posters himself, previously seen in the Schine Student Center or outside J. Michael.
With the awards under his belt, during this past summer he had a kiosk in Rockaway Townsquare Mall in New Jersey for most of July and August. Due to a time commitment with an internship in New York City, he relied on 16 friends, or friends of friends, that manned the kiosk, one at a time.
Most, if not all, of the individuals seen in advertisements or on his Facebook page are either friends or family members. His dad acts as a “business partner” and contributes what he can from home.
And Barrett has stayed hands-on throughout everything; he screens the T-shirts within a makeshift workshop in the basement of his New Jersey home.
“So, that’s where all the magic happens,” said Barrett and laughed.
Magic. In a way, it was, with how quickly everything took off since his collaboration with J. Michael.
And compliments from J. Michael help. Barrett said it’s amusing when he’s in J. Michael and someone’s looking at the pinnies and the owner says, “The designer is here!”
Although he has other ideas in mind, and wants to create a new website, he’s not in a rush. But, he named his company after himself so that he has the potential to branch out — the possibilities are endless.
But will this always be his job?
He pauses for a while, reaching and putting his hands behind his head.
Said Barrett: “If you do what you love, you never work a day in your life.”
Contact Colleen: email@example.com
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