Do You NO?

Theres some wear and tear involved in successfully launching a T-shirt company

Ten years ago, New Orleans resident Ayo Y. Scott and three college friends each put in $35 and launched a small T-shirt company just for fun. “The only thing was, “I was doing everything, and I got tired of that.”

Three years ago, Scott tried again. Taking it more seriously he began making custom screen-printed and hand-painted T-shirts. His design shows tree roots sprouting beneath a stylized fleur-de-lis (a symbol used in European and especially French heraldry that is popular in New Orleans). “I originally created it as a tattoo for myself,” says Scott, who began selling the hand-painted T-shirts for $50 to $60 a pop. As the T-shirts took off and his capital grew, Scott used $3,000 from friends and family to incorporate Noyo Designs and promote his graphic design and artwork, trademark his logo, and mass-produce a line of T-shirts to sell for $35 each.

Enlisting the help and business acumen of his good friend Marc Lundberg, the now 29-year-old Scott launched Noyo clothing in April 2008. Scott says he aspired to make Noyo clothing representative of the “language and culture of the city” by incorporating terminology, people, places, and foods that are uniquely New Orleans.

Translating customer wants into fresh designs that lure buyers away from established brands is critical for any apparel company, says Mike Black Yussuff, vice president of product development and brand management for Headgear Inc., a Virginia Beach, Virginia-based parent company for apparel brands Blac Label Premium and Blac Label Pink. But keep in mind, most customers want what other streetwear companies already sell. “If you just copy that idea, what’s the point?” Yussuff says. “The customer will continue to get that aesthetic from the brand they’re already buying.”

And the Noyo brand has resonated well; Noyo clothing earned $20,000 in 2008 solely through word-of-mouth alone. Scott has since stepped up his marketing efforts but keeps costs low; sending product updates via Facebook and paying $50 to $1,500 for booths at local arts festivals. He also barters graphic design work for help designing and maintaining the Noyo Websites. Currently sold in two retail shops in New Orleans and one in Atlanta, the streetwear line includes embroidered hats and thermal shirts as well as  bandanas. This fall, Scott hired an assistant (on commission-based pay) to bolster his marketing and retail efforts. Year-end revenues approached $30,000; Scott says he’s just past breaking even. Looking at Noyo’s efforts and returns, Scott says, “It might not seem like a lot, but it’s a start.”

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