Admit it– at one time or another you’ve had dreams of starting an apparel line. It seems like a simple concept that would be easy to pull off, right? Find a cool name, create some killer designs, print a few t-shirts, and get local grassroots movement going. Next thing you know, you’re the next Volcom…
I can tell you first hand though, it’s not quite that easy. With a few friends, post high-school, I tried exactly this… and failed. It was a great learning experience though and one reason why I have major respect for any brand that can breakthrough in our industry. Enter ERGO (formerly Ergophobia).
Although I had seen the brand name a few times before, they really caught my attention about a year ago when I was researching a trip to Nicaragua and came across this incredible video of the ERGO team in Nica. Since then I have enjoyed watching this brand explode on the scene and it seems now as if they’re everywhere. They’ve done a hell-of-a-job making noise and my hats off to them– starting a brand and breaking through is tough, especially in this economy.
I had the chance to ask ERGO Co-Founder and Vice President, Pete DiSpirito, a few questions and came away more impressed with the brand and their message than I already was. Check it out….
First off, can you give our readers a little background on Ergophobia– How you guys got started and what you stand for?
We are still Ergophobia, but now shortened it to ERGO for several reasons. In 2003 we had plans on opening a shop and the name was going to be Ergophobia. We were sick of going into shops that were horribly merchandised and quickly losing the core business that they were known for. We thought we could offer something that wasn’t happening any longer in our area. After putting our heart and soul into the business plan we were ready to go, but had problems picking up some of the bigger brands. This was a problem that we knew would arise, but not to the extent it did. Our location was about a mile away from another shop that was quickly going down hill. Needless to say, that shop is no longer in business and we never opened.
Two years later still wanting to be involved in the industry, we started printing shirts with the name Ergophobia. The shirts sucked, our logo sucked, everything pretty much sucked. At the time, knowing nothing about what it would actually take to build a brand, we thought it was sick. Some time passed and our stuff was getting tighter by the day. We started making contacts, secured a healthy budget and hit the road in a wrapped coach. We spent about a year on the road from New Jersey to Florida. We gave away tons of stuff and got involved with everything we could. At the same time we started to develop our first cut and sew line that we planned on showing at Surf Expo. Surf Expo went great! We walked away with a good number of accounts and a Surf Expo best booth award. Three expos and a couple ASR’s later our company is really taking shape. Our product is really defined, we have a solid surf and skate team, our ad campaign is standing out, our sales team is gaining floor space and most important our back end and customer service is solid.
As for what we stand for… First, I will tell you what we don’t stand for. Mall stores, accounts that don’t share our core values, accounts that are not in our target demographic, making promises we cannot pull through on, and screwing people over. We don’t really push the dictionary definition of “ergophobia” which is “the fear of work” because it’s way better when people find out what it means on their own. The message that we try to portray is… Follow your true calling in life. If you have a vision of how you want to be perceived in this world, go out and get it done. Don’t let anyone or anything stand in your way. Do everything in your power to become the person you want to be in life. Wake up and be stoked on how you are going to earn your living everyday… Don’t take the easy route and settle for anything less than the best for yourself.
What makes your brand stand apart from the million other clothing brands in our industry? In other words, why should we buy your stuff vs. the other guys?
This is easy. As a core surfer, skateboarder or shop owner, why would you want to support a brand that has lost their vision and is back peddling to regain the customer that their brand was built on? No matter what, these companies will continue to go vertical with direct online sales, placing product in places that have no relevance to our industry and building stores next to their key retailers. Why would you want to wear something that the jock that lives next store to you already bought at Macy’s? Granted, these are the companies that we grew up supporting, paved the way for younger brands like ERGO and inspired us to do what we do. Unfortunately, they have made many decisions based on making their pockets deeper and share holders happy. At ERGO, we are not even close to having to make decisions like that. Our plan is to stay focused on why we started this company. To offer core quality products to core quality retailers and consumers. We are thriving off our natural progression and building a classic… A line that will mature over time.
Do you view our economic situation as an opportunity or are you cowering in the corner with everyone else? Explain…
Barack said it best– Change we can believe in. This economic situation puts ERGO in a great position. Shop owners are realizing they need change to become specialty again and groms are realizing that what their wearing now is mainstream. This is a great time for ERGO and other great small brands to step up and take some rack space.
I think I suffer from Ergophobia, literally– how would you suggest I cure this without ending up homeless?
I think everyone does. For me, I saw my life going down a path that I hated. I was working a structured job, answering to several bosses, missing waves… It sucked. At the point where I could not live with myself anymore, I gave myself a serious life check. My business partner and I made a promise to ourselves that we can make this pipe dream happen. Now, we love our jobs and look forward to making shit happen everyday. My advice would be step back and evaluate your situation. Continue earning a living, but every second that you have free… you should be putting it towards your dream, the one thing that will make you happy every day.
You guys seem to be having a fair amount of success since exploding on the scene– What are some things you would attribute to that success?
There are a number of things, but the most important… and the one that sticks out the most is not taking “NO” for an answer. If someone tells you “NO”, refine your plan, go back to them, and keep trying until they say yes. Other things that have helped are sticking to our plan, listening to feedback, our team, our employees, face time with key retailers, our marketing campaign, paying our bills on time and pushing full speed ahead while others are pulling back.
What is the hardest thing about starting an action sports brand and breaking through?
Finding people to believe in you enough to get your product developed and produced. You can have the best designs or ideas in the world, if you cannot find the right support, it will be a rough road. The other hard thing is convincing shop buyers or owners that you are not a fly by night company and that you have a solid, yet realistic plan that you intend to follow through with.
Where does ERGO go from here? What are some goals you have for the company and what would you like to accomplish?
Staying focused on our plan and not the prize… We want to strategically expand our distribution, add athletes to our team, expand our marketing campaign, give back to the core community and most important… Never forget who we are, and why we are here!