Launching Joerts

The jean shorts start-up began as a “chuckle.” Then the founder committed to “doing weird things with weird people.”

Tim Cigelske
Jan 21 · 6 min read
“Your jeans are dead. Long live your JOERTS.”

In 2021 I’m featuring people on a Creative Journey during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is №4 in the series, featuring Joe Poeschl, founder of JOERTS.

Alright, so my new venture is called JOERTS (as in my name + jean shorts). It’s this ridiculous concept to create the first-ever fashion brand with no actual clothing inventory. I hijack the old jeans sitting in your closet and “upcycle” them into a pair of limited edition JOERTS. It’s a bit thrift, a bit DIY, and a bit punk.

How it works: When you buy a pair of JOERTS, you start by sending me a pair of your own jeans (you know, that pair that fits great, but you just don’t wear that often anymore). I take them, hack off the legs, and sew on a limited edition JOERTS patch on the leg. I keep the process simple by sending you all of the prepaid shipping materials and providing a questionnaire that allows you to select your preferred length and whether you want the fray facing up or down. Your new JOERTS even come with a hand-signed and numbered certificate of authenticity.

When you buy a pair of JOERTS, you start by sending me a pair of your own jeans. I take them, hack off the legs, and sew on a limited edition JOERTS patch on the leg.

Your jeans are dead. Long live your JOERTS.

As kinda absurd as this may all sound, I’m serious about the mission. JOERTS is a benefit corporation with an explicit environmental purpose to keep clothing out of landfills (nearly 13 million tons of clothing end up there every year) and support local nonprofit initiatives ($4 from every pair is going back to a Milwaukee org that provides clothing for those in need).

I’ve actually been sitting on this idea for over two years now. It all started as a creative exercise during a student innovation program I was running through The Commons. We were talking about a pair of jean shorts I was wearing when the name suddenly hit. The URL was available, I bought it right away, chuckled to myself, and went about my life.

But then it just kept coming back into conversations. Whenever I shared the concept, there was an unexpected amount of enthusiasm and support and people began encouraging me to actually pursue the business.

It wasn’t until this year that JOERTS felt right. Maybe it was COVID keeping me at home so much, but it definitely felt like a “now or never” moment. So I made a quick LinkedIn video, posted it, and then things got real.

There’s a really weird set of experiences and skills that have culminated with JOERTS.

Going way back, I basically grew up in the world of rummage sales and flea markets. I even worked at a thrift store all through high school, which gave me a solid collection of vintage clothing and a very eclectic sense of style. But I also witnessed firsthand just how wasteful fashion is. People got rid of so much and believe me, only a small fraction of donated clothing goes out to the floor.

And then at night, I spent far too much time in mosh pits at punk rock shows. The speed, energy, and attitude instilled a desire to challenge the status quo and give it my all. If you ever see me with my headphones in while working at a local coffee shop (post-COVID) you can rest assured I’m still listening to some fast, loud garbage.

I got a degree in advertising and design from Marquette and MIAD, started a tech startup design and development studio, co-founded Startup Milwaukee, and co-founded The Commons. The 16 years of diving deep into design, branding, startups, technology, and innovation probably helped make JOERTS happen too.

Designs for JOERTS

Procrastination, doubt, fear. They’re all purely self-imposed and internalized obstacles, but that’s all real stuff that every entrepreneur faces.

For a long while, I was legitimately afraid to create the brand. This was unusual because I’ve gotten pretty good at quickly crafting a visual identity, but this time… I mean, it has my name in it. I was worried it would all come across as conceited and then I didn’t even want to think about which direction to take because I thought I was “too close” to all of it.

That’s pretty dumb. I sat myself down one weekend, turned on some loud music, and just started sketching things out. I even wrote a little. Finally, I noticed some patterns and saw some themes emerge. From there, I went to the internet for some design inspiration and ultimately got out of my own head.

I sat myself down one weekend, turned on some loud music, and just started sketching things out.

What mentors, allies or friends helped along the way?

I’m really fortunate to have incredibly supportive coworkers, family, and friends. My wife has been really important in helping me stay focused and motivated. My coworkers at The Commons have been amazing cheerleaders and I’ve been floored by the support I’ve gotten from my network.

It was probably a year ago that someone suggested limiting the number of patches and that really opened up a whole new level. Otherwise, I’ve spent so much time openly talking about the concept that creating this first release has been fairly smooth.

I’m focused on selling out the first release. It’s a simple black and white patch, limited to just 500.

Once I do that, a lot of other doors open: new releases with new color combinations, materials, designs, unique partnerships, and scaling.

“My coworkers at The Commons have been amazing cheerleaders.”

I’m pretty proud that I’m able to blend something that I find challenging, entertaining, and meaningful. I’ve gotten to stretch some creative muscles, enjoy weaving in some humor, and am maintaining a focus on social / environmental impact.

It’s also been kinda cool how everyone wants to brainstorm ideas for what to do with the leftover legs. People have been messaging me with all sorts of ideas and I’m continuing to take any thoughts. Right now, all I’m committing to is keeping them out of the landfill.

I’m living my professional life with a few key principles right now:

  1. Get more comfortable being uncomfortable. Doing something that gets you out of your comfort zone is the only way to grow. I have no business starting a fashion brand.
  2. Say ‘yes’ and show up. This goes beyond your Facebook event invites. Commit and follow through to the best of your abilities in any way possible. I talked about it a lot and then posted a LinkedIn video that publicly committed me to doing this thing.
  3. Do weird things with weird people. JOERTS might be a little more solo than anything at this point, but it’s definitely weird and has started attracting other awesome weirdos that want to support.

I’ve probably said too much already. Congrats to everyone that made it to the end.

Tim Cigelske is the author of The Creative Journey: A Timeless Approach to Discovery, which tells the stories of creative paths from all walks of life, including farmer, children’s author, comic book artist, Pixar animator and many more.

The Creative Journey

A timeless path to discovery

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