This week, I’ll be featuring two different clothing brands in two different Indie Tee Spotlights – to make up for missing last weeks post. First up this week is a brand that I featured in Glorious Nonsensities Episode 6: Crazy Bananas, Endgame Clothing and Chess.
I was lucky enough to chat with John OBrien, the founder of Endgame Clothing. He discusses why the game of chess is so important to him and what prompted him to start a clothing company that is focused on the chess playing community. Despite having such a defined demographic, John has made his niche in the clothing industry and hopes that the opening of his new online store will take his brand to the next level. For John, it’s all about bringing exposure to the game he loves and is so passionate about. Also, Endgame Clothing is the newest addition to our Attack of the Coupon Codes promotion so you can now save 20% off of your entire order with the coupon code “COTY”.Â
Coty: How long have you been playing chess? Do you compete professionally?
John: My father first taught be to play chess when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I was a casual player for many years before becoming more serious with the game. I play in tournaments and online, but I’m nowhere close to a professional player.
Coty: What is it about chess that inspired you to create your own clothing line around it? How would you describe the typical attire of the average chess player?
John: Because I was a chess player, I wanted some chess clothes. But the only chess shirts I could find were totally lame. And I’m not talking about nerdy chic, I’m talking straight up lame – the kind of lame that gets your ass kicked! So in 2001, while writing a screenplay with a buddy of mine, I had this funny idea for “Hardcore Chess Apparel.” It was really just a joke. But when I came across a friend of a friend of a friend who silkscreened shirts in his garage, I asked him if he would make a shirt for me – this was the start of Endgame Clothing. It’s been Bishops and Bentleys ever since!
The typical chess player’s attire is pretty typical to anyone else: jeans and t-shirts.
Coty: You opened up your online shop last month, after 6 months of planning and preparing for the launch. What was that 6 month period leading to the launch like? What were the most important lessons you learned about starting an apparel company?
John: The 6 months of preparation before the launch of the online store and the new designs was quite an education! I was starting from scratch. I had one crappy handdrawn shirt that was printed on and off in some dude’s garage for several years, but I didn’t know anything about design or suppliers or e-commerce. I basically wandered around in circles for a few months until I found a little website called Emptees. This changed everything! Suddenly I had instant 24/7 access to the most talented people in the industry. I still had a crazy time putting everything together, but there is no way I would be where I am today without the Emptees crowd – thanks, guys!
There are many lessons I learned along the way, but I will give you one specific example. Since my launch, I have been very happy with the sales of all of my shirts except for one, the one I call Trophy. I basically wanted this design to be “light on the chess elements.” My rationale was that I wanted to offer a shirt for people who might not be comfortable with a whole lot of chess on their chest. I came up with the concept and the artist did an amazing job with it. I love the shirt, but it’s my worst seller!
After asking some of my best customers why they never chose the Trophy shirt, I found the reason. The reason is that if people are going to sack up and buy a chess t-shirt, they want chess on it!! So the moral of the story is to stick with your branding!!
Coty: Have you gotten feedback from other chess players? What has their response been like to your brand and your designs?
John: The response so far from other chess players has been great! I even have a few fans that have gone out of their way to help promote Endgame. So it’s really the players and fans that make everything worth the hassle. There have been many times when I have thought to myself, “Chess t-shirts? Chess t-shirts? What the hell am I thinking?” But then getting a really nice email or picture from a fan makes it all worth it!
Coty: Although you’ve got a very niche brand, your designs are so wonderfully crafted that they have appeal to non chess players. Do you design your own tees?
John: The ultimate goal of Endgame Clothing is to promote chess. I believe that this is a great way to promote chess away from the board. Millions of people wear Tapout and Fox without ever being in an octogon or on a motorcycle. Hopefully people can support the intelligence, beauty and strength of chess in the same way.
I do come up with most of the concepts for the shirts, but I am no artist. Once again, the artists on Emptees saved the day.
Coty: What have you done, both online and offline, to market Endgame Clothing? What have you done to attract chess players to Endgame?
John: Chess has a very large blogging community. In addition to my own blog, I participate in other chess blogs as well. Offline, I have started becoming a vendor at the larger chess tournaments. Selling directly to the players allows me to get a better idea of what works and what doesn’t.
Coty: Do you plan on maybe sponsoring a few chess players in the future?
John: I have the endorsement of Grandmaster Var Akobian. He is a top-ten player in the U.S. and was featured on an episode of MTV’s True Life series in 2007. In addition to that, Endgame will be co-sponsoring several tournaments in 2009, both online and offline.
Coty: Who are some of you chess heroes?
John: Not to sound corny, but all chess players are my heroes. How can you not admire people who dedicate their entire lives to something that gets no respect in the mainstream world? Do you realize that the top players in this country sacrifice and study everyday so that they can play in a few tournaments to fight for a top prize of less than $10,000? Did that sound corny? Well, I’m sticking with it! Those goofy bastards are my heroes!
I’d like to thanks John for taking the time to chat with me and also for sending me two wonderful tees to review on the site! I wish you the best with Endgame Clothing!