24-year old Jeremy Parker has always been interested in the idea of creating something out of nothing.
“I’m sure this could be applied to many other jobs as well, but it definitely applies to being an entrepreneur,” says the president and founder of VoteforArt.com, “After producing films, I wanted to get involved and challenge myself by starting company in an industry that I had no prior experience in.” Jeremy had graduated from Boston University in 2007, majoring in film production. During his time in university, his feature-length documentary One Per Cent even won an Audience Award at the 2006 Vail Film Festival. After graduation, Jeremy started a high-end T-shirt line called Tees and Tats, featuring designs by world renown tattoo artists.
“I am now hooked (on being an entrepreneur).”
Drawing On a Good Idea
The idea for Vote for Art came, ironically, after his earlier T-shirt venture Tees and Tats lost out in University of Maryland Cupid’s Cup business competition run by Kevin Plank, founder and CEO of Under Armour. “We didn’t win, but after the competition I went to the campus bookstore to buy a magazine for my train ride home to NYC.” When Jeremy was looking through the bookstore, he realized that the T-shirts available looked pretty much the same. “If college students were the ones buying the T-shirts, I’m sure they would want some variety and maybe they would want to show their school pride with a little more style.” During the train ride home, Jeremy wrote up the business plan for Vote for Art.
Vote for Art, Jeremy admits, is similar to Threadless, but with a collegiate focus. Vote for Art is partnering six major universities to host graphic design contests, where winning designers will get their artwork printed on T-shirts and sold through university bookstores. The winners earn a cash reward as well as a percentage of T-shirt sales.
“What sets us apart is the opportunity we give our artists to use licensed logos for institutions that Threadless doesn’t have licensing agreements with,” Jeremy explains. “For example, Threadless couldn’t legally sell Purdue T-shirts designed by their community, while we can because of our parent company’s licensing contracts.”
“Additionally, we’ll be selling the winning T-shirts in the college bookstores.” Vote for Art will only sell designs that get voted for. Jeremy says other sites may have similar voting mechanisms, but are not always committed to the winning designs.
It helps, of course, that Vote for Art is backed large apparel company David Peyser Sportswear, which owns brands such as Weatherproof and MV Sport. “David Peyser Sportswear is an amazing company run by an amazing family. I met Alan and Eliot Peyser when I was doing work for Tees and Tats. They really helped me out and introduced me to many people in the fashion world, from manufacturers to PR people.”
“I approached Eliot with the Vote for Art idea and he set up a meeting with Josh Peyser and Alan who run MV Sport.” It was an ideal partnership for the apparel chain with its established sales channels in college bookstores, resorts, golf shops, and military exchanges. “MV Sport already has deep, vendor relationships with many university bookstores, allowing the Vote for Art platform to take a large bite out of the cool, crowd-sourced T-shirt market,” Jeremy explains. He roped in Michael Weber, a 23-year old recent graduate of University of Maryland, to do marketing and who has since become an integral part of the team.
Opportunities and Challenges
Jeremy believes that their biggest achievement so far have been partnering with some of the best universities in the country, as well as well-known art sites such as Myartspace.com. Of course, it’s also been fulfilling building and launching a robust site for Vote for Art. The biggest challenge facing the site, Jeremy admits, has been trying to getting all of the pieces and fitting them in place, from the site to the partnering school bookstores to university licensing.
As part of its growth strategy, Vote for Art will focus on partnering up with more major universities and appealing to graphic artists from all over the world. Jeremy says their platform has the ability to help artists from all over the world make money and earn national exposure for their work.
Vote for Art is currently hosting a contest to design its logo. Members of the community will be able to design and vote for the actual logo to be displayed on its site, with the final design emblazoned on all of the tees sold online and in book stores around the country. “Not only will Vote for Art members create all the products sold in our stores, but they’ll also create the brand of the entire community!”
The site will officially launch in November. In the meantime, you can follow Vote For Art on Twitter.
Views on Entrepreneurship
Jeremy advises would-be entrepreneurs to be really sure that they love their idea before starting a company. “You need to love the idea and believe that you can make it successful. Because if you don’t, the first set back will make you discouraged and make you question your business.” If the market research shows potential and you’re convinced, Jeremy says, be prepared to work.
“Nothing is going to be given to you. You have to make your own success.”