THERE is a hint of ambivalence in Unit Clothing’s latest T-shirt slogan, ‘we’re slaves to money and then we die’.
This financial year, the action sports apparel company that started in a Benowa garage with $600 in capital, will turn over more than $20 million.
But for owners and brothers Paul and Ian Everest, Unit is more than a clothing brand, it’s a voice for a new generation of go-getters.
“I believed I could create the best action sports brand in the world,” says co-director Paul Everest.
“We framed our first ever T shirt and gave it to our parents because we believed we could do this. Too often we see business people interviewed and they say they ‘can’t believe their success’, but that’s just so they pay a higher psychic price. We had the belief that we could be this big. We had it back when we had $600 in the bank. I’m a big believer in visions coming to reality.”
With two concept stores – one in Harbour Town and another located at Maroochydore on the Sunshine Coast, plus a funky office in Los Angeles – Unit has stamped its mark on the world stage. In fact, around 3000 stores stock the brand as it exports to New Zealand, Pacific Islands, Canada, US and France.
“When we were in the States and told people what we were turning over, they thought we were full of it,” says Everest.
“We have not done one trade show and we’re in close to 3000 stores worldwide. We still think we can boost sales in Australia by 20 per cent and then we will concentrate on the US. We have already made more than $1 million in sales over there in a short time, but we see that figure growing much bigger.”
Everest says the heated Aussie dollar has not hindered the brand’s export operations and is predicting 120 per cent growth across all markets in FY11.
“The dollar has been a good thing for us, because most of our sales are in Australia. We have an office and outlets in the US, but most of our overseas products are made in Mexico and China,” he says.
As the head designer, Everest is responsible for some of the more controversial Unit designs that are now emblazoned on the backs of thousands of extreme sports and motocross youth world-wide.
“I’m the head designer and still do a large portion of the art, but we have accumulated some of the best action sports people in the world in design, production and marketing,” he says.
When two of its print adverts were banned by the Advertising Standards Bureau, sales of the banned slogans on T-shirts went through the roof. One of the prints featured a naked woman bathing in a large bowl of fruit loops.
“We used it to our advantage and printed the statement from advertising standards on the tags,” says Everest.
“We’re putting up a mirror to society and society doesn’t always like what it sees. The world is such a stilted place; mediocrity is common. We’ve always had something to say, an axe to grind with society. Unit likes to rock the boat and shoot the messenger.”
The Unit concept hatched when Ian and Paul started printing T-shirts to sell to friends. They quickly realised there was a whole demographic that wasn’t catered for as motocross mad teenagers and extreme sports fans identified with the messages and designs.
“It took us five years to get brand recognition. We never borrowed a cent to start the business, but our parents gave us their garage and rumpus room without charging us electricity. Three years after we started we borrowed from the bank to expand because we couldn’t keep up with demand,” says Everest.
“Unit appeals to outgoing Aussies, those that get out there and do it. We decided on the Maroochydore concept store because there are tons of two-wheeled enthusiasts on the Sunny Coast.”
“We were motocross riders from a very young age, so we understand our market and our athletes have been with us since the start of their careers. We fly them around the world to compete. One of our riders Levi Sherwood is one of the best freestylers in the world, if not the best.”
Counterfeiting has been one of the ugly sides to Unit’s success, so the company stopped printing its infamous stickers. It will also launch its own motocross hardware range next year.
"We hope that Unit can be a beacon for other who come out of university and have big ideas,” says Everest.
“The human brain is a reality projector. The school system too often teaches kids to turn it off. Unless we change how kids are taught in schools 1 per cent of the world will continue to have 90 per cent of the wealth. Those numbers are sad but true.”
Everest says several offers have been put on the table to acquire the brand, but the timing and the numbers have not stacked up.
“We have had a few offers and turned them all down. There’s too much fun to be had right now,” he says.
Young Entrepreneur Profile
Paul and Ian Everest
Ages: 31 and 29
Business Est: 2002
Growth: 120 per cent
Turnover: $18 million
For a full profile list on the Gold Coast's 2010 Young Entrepreneurs, including interviews with all of the finalists, get a copy of the special annual edition of Gold Coast Business News – out now in more than 450 Gold Coast newsagents.
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