Values Partnerships leads a nationwide casting tour for ABC’s Shark Tank that is focused on bringing more diverse ideas and voices to the show. In 2017, we’re hosting casting calls across the country, giving diverse entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their businesses to appear on the ninth season of Shark Tank.
We also provide pitch prep, entrepreneurship resources, and access to capital discussions to entrepreneurs around the country, with the goal of every entrepreneur leaving our events better than they were when they arrived. At each stop, Brandon Andrews sits down for a Q&A with entrepreneurs from the casting calls and the organizations that support them.
On March 24, 2017, we visited Memphis, Tennessee, for the second stop in our nationwide casting tour. While in Memphis, we sat down with Pillow Tees CEO Chris Porter.
Brandon: What’s the Pillow Tees story?
Pillow Tees: The business started out as Christmas gifts to family members and close friends. I’m a crafter, and I make gifts for people every holiday season. That year I was laying on a really uncomfortable pillow watching soccer after a long day and it dawned on me that I could sew a much softer pillow. I put two and two together and started sewing pillows from T-shirts of friend’s favorite sports teams, memorable shirts of mom and dad, and all types of sizes. My mom and aunt said, “You need to make this a business because people need this!” So I went to work and launched Pillow Tees so everyone with a memorable shirt that’s stuck in the depths of a closet or drawer can be brought back to life.
Brandon: How does my T-shirt become a pillow? Walk me through the process.
Pillow Tees: Our website lays it all out for you. Once you pick a standard or mini size pillow and place your order, I’ll send you an envelope and a pre-paid label. You put your shirt(s) in the envelope, put it in the mailbox, and it comes directly to me. Now the fun part. I’ll cut your shirt’s design and add any accent colors or stripes you picked in your order while I sew. I line the pillow with high-quality linen, add a hidden zipper, and personally hand-stuff the pillow with a polyester/cotton blend making sure it’s plush and full. I safely ship it back to you and boom, plush memory. It’s an easy process, really. The hardest part is on you to decide how many shirts you want to become a pillow!
Brandon: What makes your product unique?
Pillow Tees: You might find another T-shirt pillow out there, but you won’t find one hand-stuffed the way I make it. The lining, stitching, and stuffing are done so that no matter the wear and tear you put your pillow through, it’ll never slouch or lose the iconic pillow shape you see in our logo. Plus, you can add/remove the stuffing, change out the stuffing for down or memory foam, and you can feel safe putting it in the washer and dryer if it comes down to it. No other pillow is given as much hands-on treatment as ours.
Brandon: You pitched at our Memphis casting call, how was the experience? What does the opportunity to be on Shark Tank mean to you?
Pillow Tees: The pitch was more fun than I imagined! Pitching comes easy becomes I’m passionate about this. The crew is really friendly, and it wasn’t an intimidating experience. Being on Shark Tank is something that you dream about. It’s like hitting the game winning shot or scoring the winning goal. I can’t think of a better feeling than the chance to inspire someone like one of the Sharks into becoming a business partner and them feeling as strongly as I do about my business. It’s a thrill.
Brandon: Memphis is home to Shark Tank alums Mo’s Bows and Angels & Tomboys, how is the Memphis entrepreneurship ecosystem growing?
Pillow Tees: I remember watching all of their shows and being so pumped for them. Mo, Madison, and Mallory are excellent examples of what hard work, creativity, passion, and dedication can do for a good idea. It’s not surprising they all have Memphis in common. Our city serves as such a great platform for entrepreneurs and creatives. There’s a fantastic support system that continues to grow and everyone is somebody else’s biggest fan. That means a lot when you’re trying to make your way.
How do you plan to grow Pillow Tees in 2017?
Pillow Tees: This is a big year for Pillow Tees. I had to take time off from my business last year as I finished my five-year tenure as a part-time high school head soccer coach and for family. Now, I want to continue to get my pillows in stores at every corner of Memphis, instead of just one. I also hope that I can begin a mentorship program in one or two urban outreach programs I’ve been involved with since 2012. I want to teach Memphis youth the skills of sewing and give kids another way to build character, manage funds, and have some fun. Once I can get those balls rolling in 2017, the Pillow Tees mission will begin to make the impact I’ve dreamed of since I started the business.
Visit www.sharktankdiversitytour.com to apply for Season Nine of Shark Tank.