May 30, 2022
On May 30th, 2017, I started an online t-shirt company. When I launched RotoWear five years ago, it had one part-time employee (myself), zero investors and was run out of my house. It was a passion project that I started from scratch, and looking back I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Any business model I thought I had quickly went out the window, and honestly after a few months I wasn’t sure it was ever going to take off. I had a house full of t-shirts and I was losing money, but I was also having a lot of fun with it. And it was so rewarding to see people enjoy the shirts. So I kept going.
The original idea was to just make shirts about fantasy sports, but RotoWear quickly evolved into what it is today where I’m making sports-related designs in real-time. During the first few years I was still working a full-time job, but whenever I saw something going on that would inspire a good shirt, I made the time to work on the designs. Some of them kinda blew up, and in the middle of 2019 I took a leap of faith and quit my job so that I could focus on RotoWear full-time. I’m proud to say that decision has worked out so far.
RotoWear has grown a ton over these past five years, but believe it or not it’s still a very small company – it has one full-time employee (myself), zero investors and is still run out of my house. I’ve kept it small for a bunch of reasons, but the main one is that I get to always be around my family. Being around my kids while they grow up is way more important to me than trying to become the next Fanatics. And staying small allows me to not have to stress about selling X amount of shirts a month just to keep everything up and running. Stuff like COVID and the MLB lockout could have put me out of business if I had a high overhead.
A few years back, I committed to only screen-printing the shirts. I wish the quality of DTG printing was just as good (it would make my life a million times easier if I used one of those print-on-demand dropshippers) but compared to traditional screen-printing, the quality is just nowhere close. So basically all the shirts you see on the site are screen-printed locally, and packed and shipped from my house. This limits me from being able to offer different color options and styles, and many older designs are never going to be restocked. It also means I have to print a minimum number of any design I put out, regardless of how many sell. But the quality of the shirts is not something I’m willing to sacrifice.
Any mention you see of RotoWear is 100% organic, and it’s one of the things that I’m most proud of. I worked in advertising for 15 years and if there was one thing I learned, it was that I fucking hate ads. I never wanted RotoWear to be seen as an ad, and don’t really care if I’m leaving a bunch of money on the table. That means no social media ads. No promoted posts. No #ads. No affiliate programs. So when you see people shouting us out or wearing the shirts, it is because they genuinely believe in the product and the brand. That’s way more important to me than sales.
I will always run RotoWear as a fan and artist first, and as a business person second. By keeping things small, I have the creative freedom to focus on making the shirts I want to make. I’m not really interested in having some venture capitalist overlord telling me to make this or that because it will sell more “units”. Some shirts sell, some don’t. All I try to focus on is putting out great designs, and let the internet decide if it’s meant to blow up. Process over results.
I am blessed to say that I am truly living my dream. I am able to make officially licensed designs about my favorite players, and it’s wild to see so many of the shirts being worn all around baseball – both on the field and in the stands. I’ve experienced RotoWear being mentioned on my favorite podcasts, and even during the middle of Yankees broadcasts. I’ve been able to help raise money for causes and charities that are very important to me. I’ve been able to get to know some incredible, amazing people. And almost every day I get to see people posting pics enjoying the shirts.
None of this would be possible without all of you who have helped and supported, and I can’t thank you enough. I never would have gotten to this point without your help, and to anyone who has ever bought a shirt or helped spread the word, I am forever grateful. RotoWear is still just some dude selling t-shirts out of his house, but I promise to keep on grinding and to keep on trying to make shirts you will enjoy.
– Kenny (RotoWear)
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