Why 80sTees.com Exists
People often ask some version of "Why did you start 80sTees.com?". I used to answer that I was wearing a He-Man t-shirt to a theme park and a bunch of people asked me where I got it, and then I made a deal with the store where I bought it to get a bulk discount and it just grew from there.
But that doesn’t answer “Why?”, it answers “How?”.
Recently I realized that the “Why” is pretty crazy, because I think it was my destiny to start and run 80sTees.com. This realization is one of those “hindsight is 20/20” realizations. When I look back at pictures from my childhood and think about my life circumstances the dots begin to connect.
Right Place Part 1: House Without Many Neighbors
The house my parents chose played a huge factor. For one thing I was not in a typical neighborhood. I did not have neighbor kids to play with, and my brothers are 5 and 7 years older than me. So that meant I had to get good at entertaining myself.
As I got older the relative isolation of my neighborhood meant that I spent a lot of time watching movies on HBO and I loved renting movies. As an aside, remember going to the rental place with wild eyed optimism that maybe you’d get lucky and the new movie you wanted would actually be available? Eventually Blockbuster came out and would have 30 copies of new movies, but back in the day the stores around here only had 1 copy typically.
Right Time Part 1: The Dawn of the Action Figure
It helped that I was born into a golden age of action figures. Being born in 1977 meant that Kenner was kickstarting the action figure craze with Star Wars shortly after my birth.
It took Hasbro and Mattel a few years to figure out how to launch their own franchises to compete with Star Wars, but they eventually came out strong and in perfect timing for me to get sucked in. The Masters of the Universe line was first and became my obsession. I had just about every figure, playset, and vehicle that came out until the time when I became too cool to like kids toys.
In addition to playing and watching He-Man I watched the shows Transformers, GI JOE, and ThunderCats. I never had a single GI JOE figure, but I had quite a few Transformers including my favorites; the Dinobots and Constructicons.
I’ve Always Loved Graphic Tees
It’s very difficult to find a picture of me wearing anything but a graphic shirt of some kind. The one exception I remember being ok wearing was LaCoste polo shirts, which I was willing to wear because of the alligator.
Although I eventually hit the "too cool for character shirts" stage it didn't last long. By the time I was a junior in high school and no longer feared getting beaten up by upperclassmen I started showing my personality again with character tees. This time it was Wolverine shirts and back to an old fave, Spider-Man.
Small Business is in the Blood
My Dad was a hustler. He maintained a full time job as a mechanical engineer despite not having an engineering degree AND he did consulting work on the side AND our house had a laundromat in the front yard. My parents used the proceeds from the laundromat to pay for college for myself and my brothers. The laundromat was a great teaching tool for me as well.
I started out very young with responsibility of emptying out the garbage can every night. This doesn't sound too bad until you learn that my dad was too "frugal" to pay for garbage bags or garbage hauling and the idea of a separate container for aluminum cans was unheard of at this time. So by hand I picked all the garbage out and put it into paper grocery bags and sorted the aluminum cans to take to the recycler. As I got older it became my job to burn the garbage in a barrel every night too.
By the time my middle brother went to college I was mostly running the show in the laundromat. I had a nightly responsibility to sweep the floors, clean up the washing machines, load the change machine with quarters and collect the dollar bills, and take out the garbage (luckily my dad eventually sprang for plastic bags but we still burned it until the very end). Every few days I would have to load up the candy and Coke machines and deal with the money as well as collect the change from the washers and dryers.
So early on I learned responsibility, customer service, how to be frugal, and most importantly running a business "on the side" seemed perfectly normal to me.
Right Place Right Time Part 2
Fast forward to 1997 when I went to the main campus of Penn State University and found The House of Kashmir. Here's a picture of what it looked like in 2011.
It's located in an alley between the two main roads in downtown State College, PA. That alley was my preferred route to get to classes. And that storefront window had a He-Man t-shirt in it, and of course I bought that He-Man shirt.
Right Place Right Time Part 3
In the summer of 1999 I was doing things I had never done before. I had a girlfriend, which for a guy that was tall and gangly and socially awkward and always wearing He-Man and Spider-Man shirts (actually I’m still all of these things) was not something that happened too often. I took my girlfriend to an amusement park. It was there that six people asked me where I got my He-Man shirt, and it was then that I realized I had some inside information. And I had been hearing a lot about Ebay and the idea entered my brain to consider selling these shirts there.
Right Place Right Time 4
But not all the stars aligned yet. I caught another lucky break. I didn't graduate in 8 semesters. For most people this would be terrible. I would not graduate until December of 1999 so I would have to wait 7 months and my parents would have to pay for another semester of college, and I doubt the laundromat funds were still in tact by then.
But for me it was great. It meant that I would be going back to House of Kashmir. I doubt I would have driven to State College just to make a test buy of t-shirts.
In December of 1999 I made a deal with Saghir to give me $5 off each shirt if I bought 10 or more. Then I built a website, and then I launched an auction for a size large He-Man t-shirt. That auction sold for $32 and drove traffic to my rudimentary website where I didn’t even take credit cards. I was hooked!
My ambitions initially were to make a few bucks on the side while I pursued a job in environmental engineering. But eventually our selection grew as I found more suppliers besides House of Kashmir, and by 2003 I had quit my job and was running 80sTees.com full time.
It's been a crazy ride since then. We grew like crazy for a few years, but lately the giants of the internet are making life much harder than it used to be. We aren't as big as we used to be in terms of sales or number of employees. But there are many things I enjoy about having a smaller business. One of the best things is I have more time to chat with customers about our memories.
In It For The Long Haul
I plan on offering retro t-shirts for as long as I can, and not just because the alternative is to get a job. After all, I am where I am supposed to be and doing what I am supposed to be doing. It is, after all, my destiny.