Although Nikola Tesla may not currently be on your radar, Paul Leonard is aiming to make sure Tesla and other unsung heroes of history become staples in your wardrobe.
Leonard, a medical student at Jefferson University, recently funded his project, UnderRepped, through Kickstarter. UnderRepped Clothing, a business aimed at promoting the lesser known greats of the world with men’s and women’s T-shirts, has successfully raised more than $10,000 in 30 days.
The idea came to Leonard and his father while walking down the street, looking at all the passerbys wearing shirts with the same familiar faces repeated on each one. He and his father decided it was time for a change.
“Why is it that in our culture, we don’t celebrate more people that have done good things in our society?” Leonard said.
Leonard began raising money by himself to print T-shirts featuring famous scientists, musicians, politicians and more. And though his father supported his project, Leonard took this on for himself with help from his girlfriend, Hannah King.
With no previous formal business experience, the process was overwhelming in the beginning, Leonard said.
“It was moderately expensive, and it was completely out of pocket. Once you really put your money where your mouth is, it’s a game changer. There’s no guarantee of getting it back,” he said.
Initially, he decided on five people to be put on the shirts: Adolph Rickenbacker, who invented the first electric guitar, Rene Laennec, who invented the stethoscope, Roald Amundsen, who headed the first voyage to the North Pole and discovered the South Pole, Victoria Woodhull, who was the first woman to run for the presidency of the United States, and Nikola Tesla, who created alternating current.
“That was probably the hardest part. In essence, they were going to brand my brand,” he said.
When he would come up with an idea, he’d consult a group of friends who would help him decide whether or not to go through with the design. The difficult part was picking people who were under represented but also known to more people than just him, he said.
Leonard also said he felt it was important to have a diverse set of people. Picking those in the medical field was easy since that’s what he studies, but he wanted to choose people that others felt needed to be represented as well. So he and his friends did some heavy duty Googling.
“It was fun. You’re going through stories and learning history,” he said.
After the idea was on paper, it was time for execution. Leonard decided upon a discharge process for printing on the shirts as opposed to plastisol for quality purposes, he said.
The discharge absorbs into the shirts and leaves less room for chipping or peeling, whereas plastisol lies on top of the fabric and has more potential to chip or peel. However, finding a company that manufactured shirts this way was almost as difficult as deciding who would go on the shirts themselves to the point where he finally partnered with a screen printing company in Camden, N.J., where each shirt is handmade.
“I wanted a good product. I didn’t want to have a good idea and sell a cheap product,” he said.
Printing with discharge allowed for a softer shirt and worked better with darker colors.
Though Leonard said he would have loved to design the images on the shirts himself, he instead looked through freelance artists that best represented the idea he was looking for.
After the grueling process, Leonard’s idea started to take off on Kickstarter. With intial support from his family and friends, the young entrepreneur started to notice support from not only around the country, but the world, including a donation from an Australian pharmacy student.
“It’s very flattering when people from across the world contact you,” he said. “Why not? Why not have people in California wear your stuff?”
As an incentive, Leonard promised that after he reached his goal of $10,000 he would add a new face to the line.
The most popular shirt continues to be the one of Amundsen, not because of his contributions, but because of his mustache, Leonard said.
To promote himself, Leonard began sending out emails left and right, the majority of which, he said, went ignored.
There would be days where there would be multiple backers, and days where there would be no backers at all, which Leonard calls a “day-by-day adventure.”
“I was confident that if I kept pushing until the end, things would come together. If you give up easily, Kickstarter isn’t the place for you,” he said.
The day before the end of the funding, UnderRepped was at $9,000; still a grand short of its goal. At just an hour before the end, Leonard’s campaign finally reached the goal, hitting $10,010.
As promised, a new face, Ada Lovelace, who is often recognized as the first computer programmer, was added to the line.
Most of UnderRepped’s supporters have been individuals with one or two stores, but Leonard said he hopes to change this in the future with more sales to shopkeepers.
“I think this is more of a brand and could use help from stores and their ability to show the product, but I don’t want to lose the story behind it,” he said.
Leonard said he hopes to develop an official website in the future, as well. Nonetheless, he said he is confident the business will continue to grow in the coming months.
“It’s encouraging people to expand their horizons for knowing and thinking of what other people have done and expressing their own interests,” he said.
To purchase the shirts, visit kickstarter.com/projects/underrepped/underrepped-clothing. Anyone can submit ideas for who UnderRepped should represent next.
Patricia Madej can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.