Republic & Company
If you haven't seen this on a shirt yet, well I'm glad to introduce you. The "Damn It, Gina" t-shirt has been circulating for only a few months and has already unanimously received positive feedback and demand for more from Republic and Company 83 out of Chicago. I noticed the Martin themed garment about a month ago from a former classmate. Republic and Company 83 was recently relaunched in July after completely rebranding and improving their products, concepts, and image after an initial attempt to begin a clothing line garnered hardly any interest. In August, Richard Gray, Jason Gray, and Robert Greer and their Instagram page only had 6 followers. Today they have 1,640, recently participated in a Industry Standard Fashion Show in Chicago, will be traveling to Dallas to be a vendor for the Natural Hair All Star Expo, and has received the support of well known fabulous beauty & fashion bloggers such as Taren Guy, Ms Vaughn, Melissa Chanel & Meechy Monroe.
I recently spoke with Jason Gray, and he told me a little bit more about the brand.
Richard Gray, Jason Gray, & Robert Greer
So there are three creators behind the brand. What roles do each of you play, & outside the clothing line what do you do?
My brother, Richard, is actually our Business Transaction Coordinator. Pretty much what he does is if someone wants to do business with us, I send them through him. Like speaking with you, normally I have my brother contact the person, but sometimes I take it upon myself to handle it. Then it's my best friend Robert Greer, he is our Production Manager. He keeps track of inventory, after we create the designs, he'll put the designs on the clothing. So it's just us three. I am in the process of getting my second Masters for Business and Sports Management. My brother has a year left of law school at Washburn University and Rob is wrapping up his Bachelors in Business Administration at the University of Phoenix.
I know you talked about recently rebranding, so when were you actually established?
What happened was we started a clothing line in May of 2012. We started it, but we didn't really put it out. We were just trying to get a feel of what we were doing, because we didn't really know what we were doing. We would put clothes out, and nobody ever ever liked anything that we did. It was a real struggle. So pretty much what happened was one day in July of this year, I just woke up and I was like "Ok, we're not getting any where." We probably had five people go to our site. We literally, of that whole year, sold ten articles of clothing. We were giving stuff away, but nobody really paid attention to it or anything. Like I said, one day I just woke up. I didn't even plan it, and said we're going to redo everything. So I changed the name, I changed the logo, I kind of changed our direction as far as what we wanted to do. How do we present something different. So I just changed it. Then we just exploded. Like a week after I changed it, we just exploded. We started getting a lot of attention for the stuff that we were doing. So it worked out for the better.
So what is the origin of the new direction that you decided to take it? How did you come up with the ideas for some of the new designs for the Martin theme?
This whole Martin theme happened by accident. It was the middle of the summer and we were just looking at basketball, and I said, "You know what I'm about to make me a Martin shirt," because we love Martin. So I wanted to make a Martin shirt and just put it on Instagram. I wasn't going to sell it or anything. I put it on there, and then Vaughn, she saw the shirt. She's one of my good friends and she called me and said that it was going to explode. I just said whatever, and people who follow me, I only had about 100 followers on my personal page, people were like 'I want that, I want that'. I was like wait a minute, we may just have something special here. Vaughn said "Give me the shirt and I guarantee you it's going to explode". I gave it to her and two weeks later I had 200 emails saying 'I want this shirt. Can I get this shirt". We had an Instagram page, but we only had six followers, but I posted the shirt. [Vaughn] posted the shirt, then a couple of other popular bloggers, Melissa Chanel and Taren Guy, asked me if they could get one. When they got one, all of a sudden, boom, it exploded. So it was like a month, it was just chaos about the shirt. It happened on accident.
Speaking on creativity, the swift success of the newly branded clothing line, & Customer Loyalty
Well for customer loyalty, what I would do was look at other brands and see what they do. & I thought of what we we could do different, because it's really hard to do something extremely different when everyone is getting their clothes from the same place. So if we focus more on customer experience & customer interaction, people will start to buy into us as people. So what we do that I think has people gravitate towards us is, we actually interact with the people that interact with us. We're very down to earth. If you ever go on our Instagram page, you'll see that I speak to everyone. The other day I posted something & said 'If you like this say hi". Forty people said hi, and I individually said hi to everybody, and I think that's something that we do that many brands don't do. They don't interact with their customers, so customers feel as though they only want them for the money. For us it's not about the money, it's about unity and people. People write on these brands pages and don't get a response. When I'm emailing people I try to respond as soon as possible and people aren't used to getting a quick response from someone who is running a business. We don't feel like we are bigger than our brand.
We rarely see that as well. One of the brands that our blog heavily supports, FOS Lifestyle Co, they recently celebrated 2 years of business & they interact with people just like you do. Which is why you both are so successful.
What are your thoughts on Chicago being nicknamed "Chiraq" & being named 'The Murder Capital'?
For one, I really dislike that because you really are promoting & encouraging, especially people that aren't from here to believe it's really that bad. People say 'Well I'm never coming there' when actually, when it comes to murders, it happens everywhere, it's just in certain areas. I don't like how it's putting out there that it's just the whole Chicago, when it's really not like that. I've been living here pretty much my whole life, and not once feared for my life. So I don't take too kindly to people using Chiraq. I just don't think we have enough leaders here to get out there and help promote non-violence. We need to find a way to come together and help each other. That's what it really boils down to.
Once your brand grows more, what would you like to do to reach out to your community & the youth?
Once I figured out this was our lane and this was what was going to be my stepping stone to do something that I think would be good like going out and speaking to schools. Educating kids on starting a business, going to school, the importance of educating themselves. So that's the point that I want to get to. I know that once I'm able to get to that point, we'll be good. We all come from the worst neighborhood in Chicago, grew up in it, and that's the thing that kids are missing. Someone they can relate to. A lot of the kids don't have someone who can say 'I've been where you are right now". We are definitely going to use this platform to speak to kids, and travel, and do lectures on entrepreneurship, education, doing better for yourself. That's the ultimate goal.
People often have a misconception of what it's like to build something new from scratch. They tend to see, or only what to see the benefits. What do you think is an important factor when trying to be an entrepreneur?
It's funny that you said that. That's what happened with us. When we first started, we had so many people that were with us with this whole situation. But when we were putting out the designs and people didn't like it, all the people just faded away. Nobody supported us anymore. We lost our whole following, it wasn't that many people but it was people that we were really close with. My whole thing is that, if you're starting a business you need to get a few people that you can trust and just have to let them know there's going to be some very hard times. You just have to work hard. That's the best advice hat I can give, and read. Read, read, read. Read as much as you possibly can. If you don't read, you don't understand stuff, and can't comprehend your business. It makes everything much harder. Learn as much as you possibly can.
We have Chicago Fashion Week October 13-15th. Our photo look book. We were invited to do an expo in Dallas that I will be going to. So right now that's what we have going on.
How do you stand out & remain individualistic & original in the fashion industry?
When everyone is zigging, you have to zag. We took this preppy street wear, and we made it into something. We're all in college, we have Masters degrees, my brother is in law school, but we like to have fun and we like to party. We didn't force it, it represents who we are. You have to find something that you really believe in, and that's all you, and it will work out. Don't be scared to put it out there. With the whole Martin thing I kind of compare it to music. This is the analogy I use: When I put the Martin shirt out, it's kind of like when a rapper or an artist puts out a hit single. People gravitate to it, they like it. While our clothing would be like the album, our body of work. The Martin shirt brought them to see everything else.
Personally, my favorite pieces are the jogging pant, the Rose crew neck, & the "Cuz I'm A Lady" crew neck. What's your favorite? When you can finally decide, lol.
Connect with Republic & Co
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