Justin Lawrence and the Oklahoma Shirt Company are entering their sixth year of operation with a revenue stream of more than six million dollars, 39 employees, and a 45,000 all-time peak in subscribers to his monthly t-shirt service.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Lawrence was dabbling in graphic design and working his way through medical school. It was at around this time, when a friend offered him a job to create a design he could print on about 300 t-shirts for a church camp. His friend also asked if he could recommend a good screen printer for the shirts. Lawrence replied, “How about I do it?”
Going all in
In the same way that he was able to teach himself organic chemistry, Lawrence learned the screen printing process and techniques by watching YouTube videos, from industry greats like Ryan Moor. When word got around the community that he had made the camp shirts, more business inquiries started to come his way. Lawrence had a friend front him the money he needed to upgrade his equipment and move the business into OKC. “That’s when I realized that I had gotten myself into something really terrible,” he chuckled. His wife had just had their second child, whilst Justin was attempting to juggle a growing business, family time, and finish medical school all at once. That’s why he ultimately decided to drop out of med school and pursue developing his business; it gave him the freedom to create his own schedule, work for himself and be with his family.
Catching the wave
As far as Justin Lawrence is concerned, subscription-based boxes are not sustainable business models for the future, whereas screen printing models just might be. “To me, it’s indicative of being at the front end of a wave,” he says about his early success. In Oklahoma Shirt Company’s first month, they gained roughly 100 subscribers. Followed by an additional 100-200 each month for the next six - with no traditional advertising efforts. It took only Facebook, Instagram, and a buzz in the community to get their word out and stay ahead of the curve.
Lawrence and his team knew they needed to stay on the wave, so they started attending trade shows and recognized a new, but now popular trend in “loving local” and this renaissance of Oklahoma state pride. “Gildan's soft style was really a trailblazer at the front end of the ringspun cotton craze,” Lawrence says. “People would say like, ‘oh my gosh, it’s my state shirt’ and ‘oh my gosh, it’s the softest thing I’ve ever felt. I need to get this shirt’ and people would pay twenty or thirty dollars for them.” He took the products online and quickly realized that a majority of their sales were actually coming from smaller towns outside of Oklahoma City, that didn’t previously have access.
Creating Sustainability in the Digital Age
But with e-commerce behemoths, like Amazon, creating more opportunity for consumers to buy custom prints than ever before, the demand for the higher quality local products is being driven way down. Lawrence combats this by diversifying revenue into three streams: the more sustainable custom printing shop, the shirt of the month subscriptions, and retail. In addition, he knows the importance of integrity in business. “Treat people with kindness and integrity. Try to stay humble, and when you mess up - own it. Partner with people and your business will grow. We’re excited to partner with Oklahoma City. This place is growing like crazy. Businesses are thriving, and it’s our honor and privilege to partner alongside them. I think that’s where the majority of our optimism comes from. We’re not just providing a service, we’re providing a partnership and an opportunity.”
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