Zach Dabrowski, 21, and Andrew Young, 25, have learned a thing or two about what it’s like to start your own business at a young age. I had the chance to sit down with Zach from HRTLS Clothing to chat about why we shouldn’t be scared to take chances.
Y57: So tell me about HRTLS
Zach: It all started on my first shift at Starbucks, I was hung over after a party the night before, and my shift supervisor Andrew was also hung over. We instantly became friends, and while we were chatting Andrew asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I told him my biggest dream was to own a clothing company and he told me his dream was to do the very same thing. We joked around a lot about starting a business together, but it was about six months after we met that we decided to really pursue this thing and well, here we are.
Y57: How is it working with a partner?
Zach: It’s great, having something that is 50/50 really allows us to work together towards a common dream. He’s a little more high-end and I’m more street wear but the styles meshed well and our personalities meshed well. Since we’re so young and we both have been in school and working at different points since we started HRTLS it has been great to have that one other person to lean on. When I get really busy with school or work he’s able to pick up the slack and vice versa. You need to work with someone you trust and who shares the same vision as you, we were really lucky to find each other.
Y57: Where did the name HRTLS come from?
Zach: We had a few other choices for names before we ended up on HRTLS. To me its more of a metaphor, you’re heartless because you wear it on your sleeve, you don’t have it in your body but its on your exterior. We decided to run with that and go with no vowels to give it more of an edge.
HRTLS is about finding your passion and not being afraid to show what you do and who you are. It’s about being fearless, which is a big thing for us and we’re trying to embody that in our clothing.
Y57: What challenges have you faced with HRTLS?
Zach: We found there were so many ill-fitting t-shirts that we wanted to create something that was focused on a nice fit, which is not something most upstart companies do, they just buy another garment and print on it. We didn’t want to be like those other companies that are just about the graphics, we wanted to be as much about our graphic as we are about our framework.
About a year ago we decided to buy a lot of stock and figured we would just sell it all easily. Well, we haven’t, and we’re working on restructuring and have built a collection now and are embarking on a cross-Canada tour of sorts to get our collections into the stores we want most. We’re hoping to be in stores by January of 2013.
We did men’s and women’s clothing for a while, but we’ve decided to go into just men’s wear for a little while and cultivate our groundwork that way. The biggest thing for us is a well-designed garment and something that tells a story without having a lot of effort behind it.
Everything worth going for is never easy, right, you don’t want to say its an easy road, because it never is, and when you want to do something your way you’re always going to find those bumps, and you just have to keep pushing. Every time you get knocked down, you have to get back up.
Y57: What other passions does HRTLS have?
Zach: We believe whole-heartedly in giving back to our community, our friends and to anyone who has helped us along the way. We met with these guys the Buried Life, and were so inspired by their story, they try to cross off the things they want to do before they die, and every place they go to they try to find someone who wants to do what they want to do and they help them cross it off. We love that idea, for instance we found two photographers and videographers who wanted more experience and asked them to shoot our catalogue and make a small video for us so they have that for their portfolio. It’s like our own little collective, we were also just able to hire a graphic designer and have given him creative control and while we can’t pay him yet, he is able to use it all for his portfolio and gets full credit for all his designs. We want to put the power in the people that want to put power in us. It’s all about the collective.
Y57: Do you feel there is a lot of room for collaboration?
Zach: I think its changing, everyone wants their own thing and are hesitant to get involved with other people, but I think there are some younger people coming in the game that are going to change that.
You embrace your own project, and the ones that embrace your project, you want to embrace what they do. It’s all about paying it forward, and for us, we’re going to take the help wherever we can get it, and we want to be able to give something back to them.
Honestly, I don’t think its going to change over the next five years, but I think its going to start evolving, but it takes players, like young guys like us to start doing that and I feel like the bigger we get and that mentality, the bigger its going to be and the people are going to want to buy into that movement.
Y57: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
Zach: Make a plan before you do anything, before you put a dollar into your business. Put your time into making a plan, that was the biggest thing we didn’t do and what hurt us the most. We have a plan now, and the best thing about having it is when you don’t know what to do next, you can always come back to your plan.
Also, try and find someone that’s influential in the business that you can talk to and build a relationship with. We were lucky enough to find our mentor in Amy Earle and she has helped us our greatly. She’s the kind of person that gives us the path but doesn’t give us the answer, and that’s what we love – we still have to learn ourselves. She’ll tell us a little bit about it and then tell us that we have to go out and experience it for ourselves. She doesn’t give us the contacts she already has, like she says, “just like I had to go out and earn them, you have to go out and earn your own”, and I appreciate that more than anything. It’s the same idea as that old adage, you give a man a fish and he eats for a day, you teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for life.
Y57: Do you find being young holds you back?
Zach: Retailers yes, don’t tend to take you seriously at first, but when you show them you’ve done your research they believe you more. We might be naïve in the design process, but it lets us experiment more where other companies tend to simply write off things that they think won’t be possible. I think it’s helped us in the long run, being young and naïve isn’t as bad as everyone says it is.
Zach: A lot of it I think is fear, but I think its also a lack of planning. It’s all well and good to realize you need to be creative in your designs and in your pitching, but they forget that there are so many expenses and other things that you need to be creative with. You can never forget about the back end, when you’re young and you’re just starting out, you have no money, and you need to think outside the box when it comes to every aspect of your business.
Y57: What’s been your biggest success so far?
Zach: Well, some of the Canucks wear our stuff which is pretty cool, I’ve seen Ryan Kesler, David Booth and Cody Hodgson wearing our shirts. We’ve had interest from some of the Ottawa Senators asking to wear our stuff as well as a few bands, most notable acoustic-folk-rock artist Michael Bernard Fitzgerald out of Calgary. It’s great to have these celebrities behind us, they show their passion in the things they do and we show our passion thrugh our line.
Y57: What advice would you give to other upstart clothing companies?
Zach: Be original and don’t be afraid to be different. When we’re out there selling our product, its all well and good to email and call stores and introduce your line, but you have to get in front of the people you’re trying to reach. You need to let them put a face to your brand, because its easy to lie and stretch the truth behind a computer screen but when you’re in front of a buyer and they can see your passion and see your truth as well as your product. Who we are is here, it’s all about this and its all about our passion.
Being a business owner, and especially a young business owner its important to show that to other people because a lot of young people just want that $25 an hour job that’s going to get them through and its about so much more than that. It’s about what do you want to do with your life; I hate working for other people and playing by other people’s rules.
Check out HRLTS at www.hrtlsclothing.com
All images from www.hrtlsclothing.com