Larkshead is a Philly athletic apparel start-up that wants you to own less apparel
"There's a whole industry around promotional clothing which, for the most part, ends up being a lot of times just a race to the bottom," said Tyler Magura, founder of Larkshead.
Closets and dresser drawers are crammed with them — T-shirts bearing event logos, from fund-raising walks and runs to product promotions and company celebrations.
Most of it, says Tyler Magura, is part of a wasteful marketing competition.
"There's a whole industry around promotional clothing, which, for the most part, ends up being a lot of times just a race to the bottom — low-quality apparel, T-shirts, things like that," Magura said.
Odd as it sounds, the MBA graduate of the Wharton School has founded a Philadelphia apparel company, Larkshead, with a goal of reducing apparel sales.
"Part of why we came up with this is you can go to any event and get a T-shirt," said Magura. "Not that there's not a place for that, but we want to offer another alternative."
That alternative is interchangeable embroidered patches on apparel that is made from 100 percent polyester, which Magura acknowledges has "some drawbacks" given it's made from petrochemicals, but notes it can be recycled and is not as water-hungry as cotton, the standard T-shirt fabric.
It is apparel that people are more likely to wear, Magura said. The result is more promotion for a company or an organization than would be achieved through a T-shirt that spends most of its time in a stack of other T-shirts not being worn. Advocacy work is a priority for Larkshead, Magura said.
"It's about creating a beautiful platform for apparel that's like a chalkboard/eraser board," Magura said.
The customized patches, or "removable branding" as Magura refers to them, are affixed with Velcro. For the Philadelphia-based staffing company PeopleShare, it's a logo on sweatshirts given to new hires to help foster employee engagement in an industry where turnover is "so high," said cofounder Ryan Clark.
"People determine whether or not they are going to stay with a company long term in the first 60 days," said Clark, who in 2005 formed the company of $160 million in revenue and 120 full-time employees with David Donald. Getting and retaining quality employees, Clark said, "is the single most difficult thing and the single most barrier to our growth."
How did a 33-year-old Canada native, Harvard University economics graduate, and former finance specialist at Morgan Stanley in New York wind up in the apparel business in Philadelphia?
It started with an M.B.A. from the Wharton School in 2014 and something he noticed when he looked around the classrooms.
"We just had an immense amount of clothing," he said. "We had T-shirts from different clubs, organizations; then different clubs were ordering their own fleeces and button-downs, you name it. I walked out of the first year and I must have had 10, 15 different pieces of apparel. I said, 'Well, this is crazy.' I don't really need 15 different pieces of apparel to support all of these. … It was a big, wasteful thing for me."
His answer was to start a company specializing in higher-quality athletic wear made to accommodate interchangeable patches — enabling the wearer to promote a series of causes without requiring the purchase of multiple items of clothing. His wife, Pari, a financial adviser at Wells Fargo, helps with marketing. Magura would not disclose sales since the company's launch in February, saying only that he thinks revenue will reach $1 million in about three years.
Larkshead is named after a knot, selected for its symbolism as a strong bond — what Magura says he is offering businesses, organizations, and communities through promotional patches. Businesses pay $5 for each patch they have Larkshead make for them; patches available for purchase on Larkshead's website, www.larkshead.com, to benefit nonprofits — such as the ALS Association Golden West Chapter, the Ocean Cleanup, the Reef Restoration Project — sell for $15, with $10 from each sale donated to the charity.
"I always wanted to do something where I felt I was contributing something positive to the world," Magura said.