ISHPEMING — To fully appreciate how Upper Michigan is impacting the apparel industry, we explore how social media is helping many small businesses expand to a global audience, and Yooper Shirts is one of the fastest growing companies in the area. The customer-base they have built extends beyond Cleveland Avenue in downtown Ishpeming, MI, across the entire Midwest. How did they do it?
Facebook has officially been live and influential for over a decade. 11 years of socio-economic pioneering created a platform for local pioneer Jeremy Symons to share screen printed U.P. pride with an ever expanding clientele. How expansive? In terms of economic success, Facebook is the fifth most successful startup company of all time, and has largely impacted the global community. With roughly one billion users, about 10% of the world’s population logs on to the site daily. Symons’ target audience – the entire U.P., about 300,000 people, already raking up a similar ratio – one in every ten Yoopers follows the company’s Facebook page. Statistically, it means over 90% of Facebook users from the Upper Peninsula already follow the company.
Five years ago, Yooper Shirts was a pipe dream, started in 2009 by an unemployed 30-something year-old with a $100 personal investment, some fabric-paint, and blank tee-shirts. Fueled by nothing more than artistic creativity pumping through his veins, Symons says he had no idea it would grow to where it is today. “This is my dream. It’s where I belong,” he said. “I started with nothing, painting tee-shirts in my living room.” There was no business loan, no line of credit, no incorporated investors, Symons began the company truly as a grass-roots campaign. For the first year and a half, he printed with a company in Iron Mountain, and purchased a 4-color, 4-station press in 2011. A press, some paint, blank tees, and a domain name. He used Facebook and Twitter to market, and relied on true social engagement to spread his craft to the masses.
By the time word of mouth exposure exceeded a Facebook audience into the thousands, he set up shop a small shop in West Ishpeming, three months later they moved to a 1200 sq. ft. space shared with the Ishpeming Chamber of Commerce off US-41. On September 6, 2013 (9.06) Yooper Shirts relocated to downtown Ishpeming after renovation. Today, they rank as one of the most popular pages in the U.P., with nearly 50,000 authentic, genuine followers. The company has 100 custom branded tee-shirt designs, a team of five, and are approaching unit-sales into the 100,000s. They’re still expanding. “This is just the start,” said Symons. “We have many plans, and we grow every day.”
In a previous story, highlighting the company’s creative roots, Jeremy was described as a mogul in his field.
Jeremy Symons is arguably the undisputed local mogul among these commercial based design and print companies. Owner of Yooper Shirts in Ishpeming, MI, he’s more than a local expert screen printer or a graphic designer, Symons is the creative powerhouse behind the entire company. He keeps ahead of his competitors by offering numerous, uniquely creative custom prints. By design, offering a variety of different styles targeted to a vast array of Yoopers.
Staying innovative by using U.P. themes as a core value and not as a core image, Yooper Shirts is paving the way in how these companies show off Yooper pride. Tee-shirts are less of a logo-stamped marketing product, and more of an artistic canvas, displaying ever changing kaleidoscope of seasonal, trending, and traditional U.P. graphics.
At his downtown shop in Ishpeming, MI when asked about his official title within the company, it was his crew who eagerly spoke up and called him the “D.O.C.” Designer, owner, and creator – adding that on some days a more accurate acronym is O.C.D.
From meticulously choosing fabrics that are comfortable, wearable, and durable, the process involved in pressing a shirt is customized from design to delivery. His new location in Ishpeming at the Old Gossard building, otherwise known as Pioneer Square includes handmade screens, eco-friendly water based paints, its own dark room, art / decor by local artists, and displays that celebrate the U.P. In fact, you’ll find Symons equally passionate about the local arts scene and other U.P. businesses, feeding off the local economic spirit of fellow-entrepreneurs around him.
Symons’ eye for design and art spans through an entire career in creativity, but only recently did he find his niche with the 2009 foundation of Yooper Shirts. He’s been involved in music and art his entire life, creating things for the sake of creativity. With Yooper Shirts, he finally hit a U.P. gold mine, branding his love for the Upper Peninsula. Using Social media and Facebook to advertise, brand, and promote his business, Symons attributes much of the company’s success to the World Wide Web, and sites like Facebook and Twitter.
“We create shirts that we would wear,” said Symons. “We pick materials that are comfortable and try to create unique designs that appeal to everyone. We have shirts, and sweatshirts, hats, onesies for the kids. We can create new designs and have it on a shirt within a half hour.” Although it’s their Yooper-themed designs that help their brand grow, Symons says he’s most passionate not about what is on his shelves, but by the opportunities to work with other local companies. Currently they are finishing up a batch of shirts to benefit a local charity fundraiser.
“We want more organizations to look at us as a resource for custom screen printing.” Symons and his crew are now looking to sports teams – high school and college athletic clubs from all across the U.P. to expand even further into the field. He says his crews’ capacity is limitless. “I love that I can give back to my hometown of Ishpeming and offer jobs to qualified people in our community.” He had one employee in late 2011, added another in 2012, adding two more employees in 2013. The company continues to grow. Jeremy says, “It’s all about growth and jobs, too!” Growth and jobs! Growth and jobs!
Yooper Shirt’s ultimate goal is to be a trusted go-to for screen printing in the community for years to come. Born and raised in Ishpeming, MI, setting up shop in his hometown was a natural Yooper fit. Using Facebook, a mobile friendly website, and online outlets, from Cleveland Ave. in downtown Ishpeming, Symons says he can reach a massive regional audience. Plans to keep his pipe dream alive and in high-demand involve continuous innovation, creativity, and retaining the audience he’s built through social media, and real life community relationships in his beloved hometown.