Forward Fabrics' Hometown Ts
Businesses don't get much smaller than Forward Fabrics, an online T-shirt shop launched this spring by Milwaukee writer and sports blogger Tyler Maas, who prints his shirts at Redwall Custom Screen Printing in Bay View and works mostly alone, save for a little design help from friends he pays in drinks and T-shirts. The company's pun-based shirts play on local sports references, with Brewers-themed products including a “Weekend at Bernie's” shirt that subs out the deceased party animal from the '80s comedy for mascot Bernie Brewer, and an “I Heart MKE” shirt that uses the scruffy mug of right fielder Corey Hart as its heart symbol. They're available at www.forwardfabrics.com.
Is there good money in the novelty T-shirt business?
I wouldn't say very good money. It's not move-away or buy-a-new-house money. There is money in it, but unfortunately I'm in the red still, because I'm building up my stock. I want to make sure that I order enough of each shirt, so I don't have to keep reprinting them. I'm typically ordering about 50 to a 100 shirts per design, and overall I've sold a little more than 100 shirts total.
So it's not a T-shirt empire yet.
Not yet. And it probably never will be, but it's worth it if I can use this as a way to have some fun and to make a little bit of extra money on the side, since the writing game isn't really the safest or most reliable way to make money. The business is satisfying, though. It's great when you're at the games and you notice somebody wearing your Weekend at Bernie's shirt and you think, “Hey, I made that.”
Do you have any plans to expand?
I want to make some football shirts eventually, as well as some regionally themed ones, ripping on Illinois and Minnesota and some of the regional traits that make our state unique. Right now, though, I'm mostly just trying to get the business out there. It's pretty hard, actually. With the Internet it's a lot easier to expose people to your ideas, but it's harder to make them stick, since everybody else has an article that they've written or a business that they're pushing, too. So I've been doing this promotion on Facebook where I've been giving away my Brewers memorabilia, all my bobbleheads and stuff, to random followers as I hit levels of 100, 150, 200 fans. Once I hit 300, I'll have given away every Brewers bobblehead I have.
That's a bold strategy. It seems like there must be ways of promoting a start-up business that don't involve giving away all your personal relics.
That's true, but I felt like it was time to get rid of all that stuff, since it begins to pile up. I just realized that I'm a man, so I don't need little bobbleheads of other men at my place—that's not something that impresses women. The way they do bobbleheads doesn't always make sense to me, anyway. They've made multiple Hot Dogs, yet Yovani Gallardo still hasn't had one.