If One Dream Dies, Dream Another Dream.
Letting go of old dreams to make room for new ones.
It’s hard to believe that it has been 15 years. While still in college, I set out to develop one very wild idea that kept brewing in my head. I wanted to find a way to sell t-shirts all over the United States that represented my nationality . I wanted to create a brand (not having a clue what a brand was then.) A clothing line that would allow me to create products for immigrants like myself. Like many immigrants in the USA, I felt the need to represent where I came from. The island of the Dominican Republic. I wanted to build a line of products for people that hold a deep passion and connection to the country they are proud to be from.
While visiting cultural festivals in my then hometown of Boston, I realized that the apparel that was being sold was of very low quality and the designs were just lame. Ironed-on, lame! Yet people keep buying them. It made me wonder why it was so hard to find a single dominican t-shirt that was high in quality and that I would be proud to wear in public, any given day and not just at festivals.
So after many months of brainstorming, designing ideas and mapping out a plan to hit the warm summer streets of Boston, DeezShirts was born. A tiny local t-shirt brand with nine designs representing most major nationalities in the city. The designs covered Dominicans, Haitians, Puerto Ricans, Colombian, Mexican and Cape Verdeans.
The name ‘DeezShirts’ came about as a play on the phrase “these shirts”. I wanted the name to rhyme, like: “hey, I got deezshirts for sale… Check them out!”. One of my closest friends (Prieto) jokingly kept calling it DeezNutz and made fun of it for months. Eventually all the jokes left catchy and I kept thinking that DeezShirts idea didn’t seem that bad. So I ran with it.
I believed in this idea like nothing else I had ever worked on and I put all little bit of money that I had into it without a single ounce of doubt. After my car was stolen and the insurance money came in, I invested it all in DeezShirts. It was $4000 to be exact. I used $2000 to buy a used van from my uncle, $1500 went into t-shirt blacks and printing cost and I used left over $500 on cellphone payments, web domain name and hosting, flyers, posters and business cards. Yes, business cards were a hit back in those days.
I will never forget day one, waiting outside of the printing shop thinking about what I was about to do. The loading dock doors opened and I packed my van with fleshly hot-off-the-press t-shirts. That was a summer to remember. Every day after work, I was out selling t-shirts out of my van until 1:00 am. I drove through every playground, every basketball court, every park, every bodega (Spanish corner store) and I sold great t-shirts, pinned up posters and gave out business cards. I vividly remember how every time I drove away from a spot, I always go called back because other people wanted to buy my products.
It was a magical feeling to stand in front of an unknown crowd and watch them all smile from learning that a product you created existed.
Now, before I go any further and share why I am letting go of this dream, I want to mention how grateful I am for the journey that putting together this little business has given me. I would not be where I am today, had it not been for the chance I took on myself and all the things I learned while developing and running this t-shirt business.
I learned about starting a business from scratch, trademarks, copyrights and all that legal stuff most people tend to fear. Rightfully so, I can relate because I have been through that. I managed to somehow, without any knowledge, build a successful business with very little help. I took on an endeavour of a lifetime where I branded, marketed and sold products all over the United States and eventually internationally.
Without a choice, I became an entrepreneur and picked up business skills that no school could have helped me learn. I am talking management skills, budgeting, business relationship skills, products development and marketing campaigns and killer grassroots/gorilla marketing skills.I got to meet people from all walks of life. A lot of beautiful people that inspired me and provided me with support and confirmation that the wild idea in my head was a good one. It sure was.And with all the responsibilities that come with running a small business, I was able to become a better designer as I grew with the company.
I’ve been struggling with letting go for a while
This business was so good to me and it has been part of my life for a very long period of time. I even automated the entire business so it could run on its own completely without very little effort, but even then, I still wanted to let go. Heartache and all, I still wanted out. Here is why:
I started this t-shirt business back when t-shirts + cool designs weren’t a business and the market is now very saturated. Even my mother has a t-shirt business somewhere, I am sure.
The more time I held on to the business the more I felt like I was cheating myself out of stepping out of my comfort zone as a designer and entrepreneur to do bigger things. In order words, I kept wanting bigger challenges.
I grew out of wearing t-shirts with funny or cultural messages myself and I felt like a sellout designing t-shirts that many people loved but I wouldn’t wear myself. It’s kind of like if Michael Jordan was selling his famous sneakers, but somehow he only wore wingtip suede shoes.
It didn’t feel like running the t-shirt business was fun anymore. It felt more like an obligation.
I crashed and burned a few times trying to provide a great product and a good experience to my Latino community. A community that at many times expects nothing but the highest quality. These were frustrating times, but I kept at it.
I wanted to grow and every time I tried to do something new and explore other creative avenues, the t-shirt business kept pulling back to the repetitiveness that it had turned into. Ideas, designs, production, ship and repeat.
My heart just wasn’t in it anymore. It’s kind of hard to believe that one can fall out of love with something they loved doing so much. Come to think of it though, this could happen with many things, not just with a business journey. I absolutely loved this. I loved it to a point where I looked forward to long nights and very little sleep. All for the cause of introducing new products on a regular basis and watching the love pour in from all the fans, old or new.
If you find yourself still yearning for some good ol’ and classic Latino and Dominican joints, I recommend checking out The Peralta Project. Peralta is hands-down one of my favorite artists (I wish he would sell his amazing canvases) and he has been pushing out great artwork for as long as I can remember. His work is uplifting, inspidring and it’s sure to raise an eyebrow while putting a smile on your face. Huge fan!
Wait, so what now?
In the last four years I have been lucky to find myself working at some amazing companies as a Senior Product Designer and User Experience Architect.
Starting with MATLAB, where I worked with a very talented group of people while building and shipping products to market. This was an unforgettable experience that paved the way, allowing me to further understand the digital world we now live in.
I then went on to implement my product design and entrepreneur expertise to help build a number of startups (Rokk3rLabs, Juana La Iguana, Hyp3rApp and AdMobilize). This ultimately exposed me to a whole new world. A world that is constantly growing while solving problems. A world I dove right into, head first.
Today I am at PWC Digital, where as part of The Experience Center of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, I work with creative teams to build experiences for global brands. These are exciting times for sure and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
My main plan now is to focus all of my energy in building digital products. I want to build products that are going to solve problems. I want to use my talents and challenge myself to develop products that can provide a solutions around the world. Solutions that can hopefully help a lot of people.
Wish me luck!