We are very excited to debut the first edition of our newest column, Creative Corner. Each month, Creative Corner will spotlight a business leader with a knack for innovation and a flair for creative thinking. Our goal is to provide our readers with some helpful insights and thought provoking ideas straight from those who have found success in their field of expertise.
Kicking off Creative Corner we have Jeremy DeFilippis, co-founder of South Jersey-based lifestyle clothing brand Jetty. Despite its humble beginnings in 2003 as a startup company between high school friends, Jetty has expanded to be a nationally-recognizable surf and skate apparel brand while still maintaining strong ties with its Jersey roots. We asked Jeremy, one of the two remaining co-founders still with Jetty, about starting a business as well as how he continues to get creative and stay motivated.
What motivated you to start Jetty?
Jetty was born on a snowboard trip to VT that my 4 friends were on. I was broke and couldn’t make the trip. When they came back they cut me in because we had talked about starting our own company, but they brainstormed it to be surf apparel. We felt there was a niche to be filled on the East Coast, had a meeting, threw $200 each into a hat, and the rest is history.
What did you not expect about starting a business from the ground up?
You don’t expect how long it takes in some cases to sell enough and create enough profit to make it your solo gig. Cory & I are the only two original co-founders left at this point and we have always worked additional jobs. It’s a necessary thing because you have to reinvest in the company – more space, more people, better equipment, etc. We have both tended bar on LBI for 10+ years. I also run a tax preparation business with 250 or so clients. You also don’t expect or know what you know 13 years later about the industry that you are getting into. The Surf industry is incredibly competitive and has its nuances.
How do you continue to foster creative thinking at Jetty?
Our mantra is Draw Your Own Line. We have always been self-motivated to create our own opportunities. Work hard, play hard…and that facilitates flexibility, travel, etc. We go on surf trips annually and step outside of the business completely. Daily operations can suck you in and close your mind, so we make sure that we stay creative and passionate by doing what we love (surfing, fishing, discovering new music, traveling, etc.) and staying true to our roots.
What can you tell us about Ink’d by Jetty?
Ink’d by Jetty is really the backbone of the company. The brand is what everyone sees whether it is a sticker slapped on a bumper or the apparel on somebody’s back, but we design and screen print daily. We use an Eco-friendly, water based screen printing process and really take pride in producing comfortable, “go-to” apparel for clients. We treat every job as if we were printing our own gear, and that is exactly how the Ink’d division was born – we needed more control over how our stuff felt and looked! We’re a one stop shop because we also offer design, embroidery, Direct-to-garment (DTG) printing, and plenty of other services. We’re also somewhat of a consultant to clients because we’ve been through all of the ups and downs of printing our own apparel. We have great suggestions on what brands to source, how much to print, and we’ll always create those complimentary assets like order forms and web graphics.
Do you have any unique rituals to fuel your creative process?
We have somewhat of a standard PLM (Product Life Cycle Management) calendar, but the unique part is the limited resources that we work with, both from a personnel and financial standpoint. We have a third operating partner, John Clifford, who is the Creative Director – he does the work of an entire design firm – tech packs, line layout, website & print advertising, etc. He curates the look and feel of Jetty and manages a handful of artists who contribute to each line that we create (2 per year; Spring/Summer & Fall/Winter). Like I mentioned, we get inspired by what we know, live, and love – growing up surfing year-round in the Northeast and being surrounded by all sorts of influential nautical items and culture.
How do you get yourself out of a creative rut?
To begin with, we design a line a year ahead of time. It just has to be that way considering the creation of samples, our selling season, etc. So the minute we finally get done creating a line, it has not even hit the market yet. We move directly into the next line or year and at that time we have spent a year on the gear that is about to be released to the world via our retails, Flagship Store, and website (Jettylife.com). At that point, we build on what we just did, keep the roots and theme basically the same, but tell the story in some new and different ways, and through new designs obviously. Any time that you hit a true rut, you need to get outside of your normal work day / atmosphere – go play a round of golf, take the boat out, go for a surf, travel to Nicaragua!
What are some of the most difficult obstacles you’ve had to overcome professionally?
I think the #1 obstacle is cash flow. We’re chasing a bunch of other small businesses for payment, and in the retail sphere, that is over a year after we invested in and made the product, so it’s a long time to wait for ROI in that scenario. We’re diligent in paying our bills, but it can get rocky, usually during Q1, especially since we are engrained in the Northeast where post-Holiday, everyone seems to hunker down. A more psychological obstacle has been how people view our company/brand. On one hand we have projected our brand to be larger than it really is, and on the other, there are less than 10 people running this company day in and day out. Sometimes the lack of an outsider’s appreciation for what goes into operating Jetty can be annoying – we work really hard and have a close-knit family here at the HQ.
What message, if any, do you try to convey in your work?
We try to inspire others to do what we are doing. Pursue what you are passionate about, draw your own line, work hard, play hard, etc. We’re blue collar peeps, and that shows in the type of apparel that we put out there.
What type of leader are you?
Something I’m proud of is learning to delegate. Luckily, I have operating partners and indy contractors that are trustworthy and care about getting their job done. For too many years, I folded the shirts, counted the inventory, shipped the online orders, etc. on top of the other important tasks. I still handle a lot and like to lead by example. Hopefully, the people that I work with are a reflection of my positive attitude and willingness to execute – ultimately, the company does not grow without everyone showing their dedication to the big picture.
Do you think you’re a born leader or you learned to be a leader?
Good question. Maybe a bit of both? Thinking back I think I like to take the reigns on certain things – organizing a trip, keeping track of stats/money (I’m an accountant by trade), etc. In this setting, you definitely learn about leadership as you go. I’ve had a few experiences that I regret, but they taught me how to deal with certain situations and/or types of people in the most professional manner.
What is something you learned about yourself – for better or for worse – at your very first job?
I was a supply clerk at NatWest Mortgage. I think I was 15 and also working at Dino’s Pizza on LBI. Work ethic, my parents instilled it in me. I knew from way back then that I was going to work for anything that I wanted, from baseball cards to a home, and I was going to do it with a positive attitude.
How would you describe your personal style?
As far as apparel? I’m sort of a scrub. I like to be comfortable. I’ve recently cut down on how baggy my clothes are and moved (a little bit) toward the trending, stylish fits. We have A LOT of clothing that we can take at any time, but I lean more toward the plain stuff. I like dressing up from time to time, but I like the fact that I can show up to work or a meeting with a hat and a flannel on. I’m a surfer and golfer who listens to a lot of Hip Hop, so basically, I’m confused!?
Do you remember the first time you saw a stranger wearing Jetty merchandise?
We always talk about this! In the beginning years those strangers were somewhat easily linked back to us in some way. “Oh, that’s Cory’s brother’s girlfriend”. It always feels good to see strangers supporting it. I like to believe that they buy the apparel and support the brand because they have heard us tell our story. Now we see quite a bit of strangers, and it always bring a smile to my face. Although, I have to tell you this story: A guy I used to work with texted me last week and said “Hey, I’m watching Northwoods Law and there’s a guy getting arrested for having a pipe in his car, and he’s wearing a Jetty hat”!
Living, dead, real, or fictional – name three people you would love to have on your team and why?
My Mom – To collect money from retailers
The RZA – To score Jetty films/videos, supply beats for me personally, and to knight Jetty with his Wu-tang sword
Mark Cuban – To take us unnaturally from A to Z just to see what it looks like at the end of the rainbow
Rocky Balboa had his epic theme song and Tom Cruise in Risky Business had ‘Old Time Rock and Roll’ – which song would you put on to get yourself energized?
Toxicity – System of a Down // Zombi – The Cranberries
What is the best piece of advice you’ve gotten since founding Jetty?
Stay humble, there’s always someone else out there doing it bigger and better then you are.