In July 2012, I was out of a job and I needed interview clothes, so I learned how to tailor the wide neckties hidden in the back of my closet. Later, with still no cash flow all thanks to a recovering economy, I decided to take up refashioning wide neckties as a side hobby and see if I could make a little money off of it. I called the new endeavor SKINNYFATTIES, which I thought was a clever play on words because it could be pronounced, “skinny fatties” or “skinny fat ties”. I posted before and after shots on Instagram, and once hashtagged, the images instantly became popular with men’s fashion enthusiasts. The “likes” gave me an adrenaline rush. There I was, 24 years old and sitting in my small Brooklyn apartment doing some really neat stuff that people around the world actually seemed to like. Receiving that positive affirmation from people that I had never met was a boost of encouragement.
I took some altered vintage ties to a local artist market, selling a few here and there. I even set up a table on the side of the street selling the ties. While people seemed to like them, I realized that they were more interested in SKINNYFATTIES as a service for their own ties. I reached out to a graphic designer, one of my new Instagram followers, asking him to make a logo in exchange for some tie tailoring. I put together a website and posted photos. Taking SKINNYFATTIES a step further, I was inspired to partner with a charity after reading Start Something That Matters, a book by TOMS Shoes Founder, Blake Mycoskie. I decided to donate a portion of each sale to Career Gear, a non-profit organization that provides business attire and professional coaching to low-income men ready to enter the workforce.
Mind you, I had no idea what I was doing. I knew nothing about eCommerce. I guessed when it came to marketing. I barely knew how to sew. Something in the back of my mind just kept saying, “Joshua, just run with this.” It was so bizarre. I never second guessed bringing SKINNYFATTIES to life. I was flying by the seat of my pants and loving every moment of it. Each night, I went to sleep feeling fulfilled, and woke up early feeling excited to do more.
I tailored free of charge for anyone that could promote SKINNYFATTIES and my little website was getting some foot traffic. I started researching and emailing magazines to see if they too would mention SKINNYFATTIES. Hardly anyone responded to my emails until an editor at Time Out New York did. They loved it and put it in writing.
Around the same time, I inquired with a local coworking office about volunteering in exchange for a place to work on SKINNYFATTIES. The space was a few blocks away from my apartment and it gave me a professional address to ship and receive packages. I worked alongside writers, photographers, website designers and even a catering company. I was surrounded by a vibrant community of freelancers and entrepreneurs like myself. That gave me a sense of security and their support and friendship motivated me to keep going.
“Joshua, just run with this.”
About six months in, my friend (an old Airbnb guest of mine) connected me with one of his coworkers from Gilt City New York about running a sale on the site. SKINNYFATTIES eventually signed a contract to run a three month promotion. Once that went live, DETAILS Magazine took note and brought SKINNYFATTIES to a national level. Then Men’s Journal published a piece. A producer at CBS News read that article and sent out a film crew to talk shop and interview me for a national news segment.
As amazing as all of the press that I was receiving was, it wasn’t producing enough money for me to pay all of my personal bills and all of the expenses that came with running a business. I remember interviewing with CBS News while my bank account was overdrawn. It was really difficult for me to stay positive when I had been at this for so long but hardly getting by. The toughest part of progressing SKINNYFATTIES was earning credibility through positive press, but not making enough money to make ends meet. A lot of people in my life had treated me like I had made it. At first, even I measured the value of SKINNYFATTIES by press bites, but reality had set in shortly after when I realized that I couldn’t pay my bills. I remember internally struggling with this whole angle of being an entrepreneur and it was very frustrating for me.
CBS News aired the five minute segment on November 8th, 2013. Everything changed for me. I received countless emails from all over the country offering support and wishing me success. Sales began pouring in and SKINNYFATTIES was finally profiting from a national audience. This allowed me to move in to a private office that I love coming to each day.
While SKINNYFATTIES is nowhere near it’s peak, sales have tripled since just last year and is gradually tapping into international markets. Our partnership with Career Gear has remained a staple and is still deeply rooted in the SKINNYFATTIES mission. The business continues to evolve each day and I still feel a sense of joy when waking up in the morning. I’m so glad I listened to that voice in the back of my mind and am actually making possible what I set out to do.“Joshua, just run with this.”