Updated: Apr 26, 2018
Hi guys. Welcome back for a new entry into The Social Expose` where you get to know people that I think are pretty freaking cool. I do hair yes, but I have always had a passion for fashion. When I was 20, everyone I knew had a t-shirt company, drew designs and printed them in their garages. Well they don't quite do it that way anymore. I myself have always wanted to start a clothing company. I have been working with, and inspired by the man we are here to meet today, Chris Kerr. He started a company that you may or may not have heard of called Fifty5 Clothing. His clothes have been worn by celebrities, models in photoshoots, on the cover of tattoo magazines, and continuing to grow. Graphic and logo tees aren't going anywhere. If anything they are more prevalent with people putting political/social messages on textile advertising. He has given me the amazing opportunity to offer his shirts from my website. We hand picked a few designs that are available for purchase in My Collections, helps support a local company and clothing made in the USA.
1. If you don't mind introducing yourself?
C: Hello, I am Chris Kerr owner of Fifty5 Clothing.
2. You now live in Southern California but aren't from here originally correct?
C: Correct Originally from England but have been State Side since 1995 Spent 10 years in South FL, 4 1/2 in Nashville and here in SoCal since 2010.
3. What fashion trends inspired you growing up in England?
C: Fashion trends were all over the place when you hit the 80s, still lots of rock n roll influence and mods, skin heads etc, Skinny Jeans were in although in England they were called “Drain Pipes” Lots of leather in the 80s also.
4. In your about me on your website you talk about bringing a little British Heritage into contemporary designs, how do you think that's reflected in your clothing?
C : As far as what reflects in the fifty5 brand well we go for a more athletic cut with the shirts, NO boxy basics here and also some of the designs tend to be on the edgy side. We tend to push the envelope a little, especially with the whole politically correct BS thats all the rage right now. We support equality and LGBT rights as seen with some of our shirts.
5. What is the biggest difference in living in the UK vs US? (Food, weather, driving lol?)
C: Main difference from UK to US especially here in SoCal is the weather, food yes a huge difference, opportunity is far more abundant here and it’s ok to fail and get back up and go again. Laws in England tend to be a little different when it comes to business, once you file Bankruptcy thats it you are done, no more business for you. This of course can be a positive for those who are merely out to con people. America tends to be far more forgiving in this respect. Driving, hmmmmmm this is a big one, I doubt that any person in this country would pass a driving test in England. Not due to the fact they drive on the other side of the road but because nobody is truly taught how to drive here. We let 15 year olds behind the wheel of a car with little to no real driving experience, basically giving them a 2 ton weapon. The physical driving test in England is about an hour and they put you through it with Parallel parking, hill starts, emergency stops, 3 point turns etc all in a stick shift and all with your hands at 10 to 2 on the wheel no crossing over of hands. fail one thing and you are doomed for about 3 to 4 months before you can get a re-test date. Yep it’s hardcore compared to America and you also don’t get a provisional license to learn to drive until you are 17. Ok enough about that :)
6. Now as an entrepreneur 55 clothing hasn't been the only company you started correct? Can you tell us a little bit about some other Industries and businesses you've been in? After that why clothing, textiles?
C: I started my first business back in England at the age of 19, a 20,000 sq ft waste reclamation / recycling facility. It was a great experience especially dealing with city officials etc when I was told I didn’t need a license to operate but as soon as I opened they threatened to shut me down because I didn’t have a license. Bureaucracy at it’s finest. I was told it could take 9 to 12 months to get a license so I did what I always do fought back. Got the environmental minister involved from the house of commons, made front page news in the papers and had a license in 3 weeks.
When I came to the states in 95 with $250 to my name and 5 bags I did what anyone does, worked restaurants, sold satellite TV, remember those huge dishes that went in the back yard LOL. I met an English guy that knew an English guy in Ft Lauderdale who had an Internet company looking for help. I visited and 3 weeks later moved to Ft Lauderdale to help this company called Global Shopping Network (GSN) They were selling cars for sale by owner on “The Internet” in 1996. People still didn’t know what the internet was and most thought AOL was the internet. I quickly became involved in all the day to day and expanded us into homes for sale by owner, boats, planes etc. Unfortunately he didn’t see what I saw and we parted ways after almost 2 years. Realtor.com and all the other sites we have today never existed back then and I am sure now he is kicking himself for not listening to me.
I spent the next 12 years involved in various dot com start ups, watched as the bubble burst and helped some pivot their business models into more sustainable models not solely reliant on advertising as a source of revenue. I sold real estate in Nashville while building another dot.com didyoufindadeal I moved out to CA in 2010 to seek some angle funding to put the site and mobile app together. By early 2011 we were launched and operating in the “Groupon” space but with an entirely reverse business model and revenue model to them. We took the best of their marketing and the best part of Money Mailer and merged them into a self contained website and mobile app. Unfortunately Groupons rush to IPO after shunning Googles incredible offer showed the writing on the wall. We were against the clock once their offering documents were released because upon reading them it was clear that the numbers they were reporting were not their try numbers because they split the gross receipts with the local businesses. Sure enough they went public and literally overnight the market shifted and the industry was in a downward spiral. SEC started to investigate and investors ran for the hills far away from any business remotely resembling Groupon.
Fifty5 was basically born from the ashes of Didyoufindadeal, I was burned out on Tech and dotcom and with no money or a place to call home I needed something I could put together quickly and use the old “fake it till you make it” routine. I focused on quality shirts, I was tired of the cheap nasty shirts that twist and shrink and look like shit after several washes. I spent several months searching for a quality T-shirt, not as easy as you may think but we found several manufacturers and started to put together a website and some initial designs and slowly we got orders. We started off with traditional screen prints but quickly realized the problems of inventory. We shifted to Direct To Garment Printing (DTG) and although much more expensive it allowed us to spin up more and more designs every day without ever printing a single shirt. Now we were a print on demand brand and things started to take off especially with Instagram in the early days before the FB takeover. Years 2 and 3 were significant growth and this allowed us to buy our own DTG printer, the worst thing in this business is having to rely on others, it was painful finding people that could print quality work, show up on time, or even show up at all when you had orders to fill. Some of the cool things of course is seeing people wearing your shirts, coming up with a new design that sells is always a good thing. Some of the hardest things besides finding partners to work with that align with you would be all the back end stuff nobody sees. Manufacturers are out of stock on your best selling item and you need more but they tell you 4 to 6 weeks for more product, machines fail and you have down time, the constant 24/7 work of costal media, it doesn’t sleep and you have to be constantly on top of it. Customer Service is key for us so I was answering emails at 11pm at night and 5 am in the morning; this is really the only thing besides QUALITY that sets you apart from anyone else especially when you are selling online. Our response rate is usually within 10 minutes if not instant and customers were so happy that somebody replied to them or called them back or even actually answered the phone. This is what made us successful. In the last 18 months many people reached out to us via social media when they realized we had a printer in house and started asking if we would print for them. This was never in our plans but it just took on a life of it’s own and for the past 15 months have been printing for other brands and clients under our subsidiary Sublime Printz. Quality Focused and Customer Driven is our motto and these two things have made us one of the go to DTG printers in Orange County. We are a 5 star business on Yelp and we are very proud of what we have been able to achieve in a short period of time.
7. Nowadays entrepreneurialism is on a rise, and everybody wants to be their own boss and start their own business. What are the sacrifices that you would warn people they are going to have to make in wanting to do that?
C: True entrepreneurs are ALL IN!!! there is no half in half out for them, they quit their jobs and do what ever it takes to survive and make it work. You should always be willing to listen to advice and I said listen this doesn’t mean its always good and you have to follow it but you don’t know everything. You should also always be ready to pivot because in todays society it’s moving so fast that things shift on a dime and smaller companies are far more nimble than the large ones and can pivot overnight. ou sacrifice everything if you are a true entrepreneur, I have met many people here in SoCal over the past 8 years especially networking and raising capital for the internet start up. There are a lot of people who just want to meet for coffee and talk, pick your brain and keep talking, months and years later. STOP talking and just execute, it’s that simple. You will fail every one fails but you can’t look at them as failures you have to view them as learning curves and milestones along the way.
8. We've spoken about it, but how do you feel the Internet effected your business?
C: Amazon is the 8000 lb gorilla and nobody is paying attention to whats going on. They are taking over and they aren’t just affecting Brick and Mortar companies any longer. We now live in a society of “I WANT IT NOW” and Amazon is practically there. I will say they are awesome as a consumer but as a business owner working with them to sell on their platform is a nightmare and I just severed all ties with them in the past 90 days.
9. What upcoming styles, materials, colors, etc. do you see making a presence this year? Any trends?
C: As far as upcoming trends Athleasure wear is still on trend as more and more companies look for a way to take a piece of this pie. I think you will see more and more modal being used especially in blends with cotton. You will see a lot of muted colors this spring and summer along with pastels. Greens and Blues will be big with many different shades. I think we will see more mens wear in the athleasure area, new styles of joggers and hoodies.
10. On a personal note what are your hobbies, and things you have a passion for?
C: Hobbies / Interests ….. Movies, cooking, red wine, motorcycles, cars, photography etc. I am a big believer in doing the right thing and a perfect quote from Lincoln “ When I do good I feel good, when I do bad I feel bad, that’s my religion” I tend to be passionate about doing the right thing and common sense politics. I won’t ramble on this but just a couple of things to ponder, we clearly have a gun problem, Military style weapons really? We also have a lot of work to do with the justice system, rapists and pedophiles are walking the streets while people for marijuana possession are rotting in jail. Illegal immigration isn’t complicated it is easy to fix!
11. You've been able to make quite a social presents for yourself. Over 50,000 followers on Instagram, online and magazine Publications, what has that process looked like for you? How hard is it to grow a social following?
C: Social Media is key to any business these days and it’s not as easy as some may think. The big NO NO is DO NOT BUY followers. I don’t care if they guarantee real followers, they are not real followers and eventually when FB or IG purges they are removed anyway. The best way to gain followers is to follow followers of your competition. This is how we built the IG following by following people that followed Obey Clothing and other clothing brands. We used to get hundreds and thousands of likes on posts but today it is all PAY TO PLAY. It doesn’t matter if you have 1m followers because if you are not willing to spend $$ with iG or FB not all 1M of those followers will see what you post.
12. Where do you see yourself, your business, and your personal life in the next 5 years?
C: Next five years well growing the Sublime Printz side of the business to include more than just DTG printing and maybe another venture or 2 along side it. Personally well if I win the lottery this would be a whole different answer :) Figuring out where I want to settle down and find a home to buy and hopefully with someone special. Relaxing more and hopefully a little less stress.
With monsters like Amazon, Wish, and Alibaba, it takes the fun out of starting and growing a clothing business like they used to 10 years ago. I get it, I get it, times change, and thank you capitalism for the chance for major corporations to streamline production and distribution so the little guy gets beat out every time. Fuck that. Organic market capture is extremely hard these days, unless you have an endless marketing budget to pay websites to advertise for you. Well I would like to help do what I can to change that. Stop shopping for the cheapest version of what you want. Why is everything made in China, because we want it cheap, not made well. Stop sacrificing quality for cost, especially when you'll spend more on fast food then you would on a shirt.