Story Behind ‘If… Then Well’ – How we landed at the audacious goal of perfecting the T…
We launched ‘If… Then Well’ on January 20th, 2020. The journey towards that point began more than two years ago. While we wish we could say that creating the ‘Perfect Men’s T’ was a lifelong dream, our initial step was fueled much more simply by the desire to start a company of our own, without a clue of what it would be. Our first misguided attempts ended up being successful failures, providing us the insights needed to see beyond our initial desires to merely be our own boss. Realizing inspiration from a personal need, we evolved into a value-based company whose (hopeful) success story is still very much being written.
The entrepreneurial drive was not always present – at least not in the traditional sense. Both of us worked for over 12 years at a cell-phone company having worked our way from the bottom frontline ranks to roles with substantial executive responsibility. While ambition and work ethic propelled our corporate careers, there was an unavoidable reality settling in: the further our careers progressed, the less personal satisfaction we were gaining. While the pay increases were nice, we yearned for the freedom we had working closer to the customer and leading teams that directly impacted their experience on a daily basis. Working your way up the corporate ladder of a large organization, meant you were also being evaluated from a distance. This inevitably meant the dreaded necessity of ‘corporate politics,’ where appearing effective, was not always the same as being effective. This is not meant as a criticism of the company we worked for – as they managed this better than most – but just an acknowledgement of the necessary evils that come with success at a large firm. Having created some financial wiggle room for ourselves over the years, it was clear that starting our own company would be the only way to continue growing personally and professionally while still maintaining an inherent joy in tackling the task at hand. It is also not a coincidence that we experienced the greatest satisfaction with our jobs when we got to work more directly with our employees and bosses. In fact, we met each other under this dynamic – I was a store manager working for the person who is now my business partner (and was the best man at my wedding). We not only shared the same motivations in our quest to become our own bosses, but the potential of working together in of itself was a primary motivating factor behind establishing an LLC back in April of 2018.
While the formalities of forming a company were taken care of, we were missing a key ingredient to our soon to be written success story (blind optimism was not lacking!): what the hell was our company going to do? Having both come from a sales background – and with no technical skills to speak of – we figured selling something would be the obvious way to go. We did some research on trade shows and discovered that the largest and broadest trade show in the world was taking place in China that same month – it was fate! Our initial misguided instincts were to find a product related to cellphones, since we were after all “experts” in that field. Of course, what we thought of as expertise was completely devoid of the actual technical knowledge required to confidently assess the quality of given product. Nightmares of frying someone’s phone quickly dissuaded us of that option. In the end, fast forward a couple of months, we brought our first product to market… Zip Ties! In terms of sales success, this ended up being a major dud for a lot of reasons. We chose zip ties based on the simplicity of the product, figuring it was impossible to screw up! We wanted to strike while the motivational iron was hot and we moved quickly in booking our flights for the trade show in an effort to not stand still. The zip tie experiment allowed us to get our feet wet and learn first-hand all the logistical challenges of selling a product online. The key things we learned:
- We will never be happy selling a product that we cannot confidently say improves on similar ones in the marketplace (sadly, our zip ties did not revolutionize the fastening of cables in any way…).
- We needed to be hands-on with any factory that manufactures our product; this means being able to get there with short notice and communicate without a translator.
- We only want to work with factories who pride themselves on superior quality as opposed to just competing on price.
- Pursuing a product based on financial gain was not going to provide the satisfaction we were craving and would feel as empty as navigating company politics in pursuit of the next promotion.
So how did we land on selling t-shirts? The idea had been floating in our heads for a while. A personal effort to declutter my closet earlier in the year, left me surprised at the difficulty of identifying a t-shirt that I truly loved. How could something so simple, be so difficult to perfect? I assumed that I had just not been purposeful in my search and began researching/shopping t-shirts literally around the globe (note: this period coincided with a world-tour of sorts). I pretty much bought every T listed on “best t-shirt lists” across the web and while each seemingly had something I liked, none felt quite ‘perfect’... The primary inspiration for our T-Shirts eventually came from a visit to Japan – a country who is widely acknowledged as having been at the forefront of the so-called minimalist fashion movement in the world (great article on this here). I discovered a t-shirt that was made of Peruvian pima cotton. The softness of the fabric was unlike any other t-shirt I had come across and it was clear that there was an opportunity here. We took design elements that we had not seen combined in other T-Shirts: slightly shorter length so it would not stick out untucked underneath a jacket or blazer and a double-stitched narrow neckline that added a subtle touch of elegance, further adding to the versatility of the t-shirt. I am fluent in Spanish and my partner actually has family in Peru. Also, with living in Miami (hence, the need for a perfect t-shirt!), direct flights were plentiful. We visited and worked with numerous factories in Peru, until we had finally achieved what we believe to be ‘the Perfect T.’
Obviously, perfection in this context is going to be subjective. We remain very aware that we are not the first company – nor will we be the last – who claims to have made the perfect T-Shirt. The fact that so many rush to this claim, indicates that we were not the only ones to feel like we had yet to discover a T worthy of such praise. We are still in our infancy as a brand and commercial success is by no means a given. We do however feel that we have achieved a significant degree of personal success in our effort. We created a brand that stands for pursuing something full-on without compromise, regardless the endeavor. The T-Shirt itself is in many ways a metaphor for this idea – as simple as something may appear, does not mean it should be taken for granted and cannot be improved upon. It is also an example of looking at things through the lens of their intended purpose. Our story is not one of multiple generations of tailors who painstakingly developed their craft over the years, generously sharing our ‘gifts’ with an undeserving public... We very simply wanted to find a t-shirt that we loved wearing every day. When we couldn’t find it, we made it by taking parts of t-shirts we liked and personally seeking out factories who have the expertise to combine them into one. Obviously, the reality was a bit more complicated – but no more than it had to be. That also applies to how we run our company, not a bit more complicated than it absolutely has to be. Of course, we hope that our business is successful. It is exciting to think of others sharing our enthusiasm for the T-Shirt we brought to life. It is however nice to know, that even in a worst-case scenario, we are still left without ever having to search for a perfect T again. We’ll chalk that up as a win!