Kevin Shoemaker and Skylar Bennett both attended Arizona State University, graduating in 2014. Kevin earned his degree in Business Administration and Management from the W.P. Carey School of Business, and Skylar a BS in Accounting. While they may have been able to sport a casual, sometimes not so spiffy look while still in college, once they started working in the business world they had to dress professionally. This didn’t really pose a problem for either of them, but after they got married and had children something changed.
It’s common knowledge that infants have the tendency to “spit up” on whoever is holding them and toddlers have messy hands and dirty faces! Both Kevin and Skylar loved being dads and wanted to feel free to pick up their children anytime, even if they were dressed for success or were just coming back home from the office. But they got tired of having to send their expensive ties to the dry cleaners, or even worse having to toss them away!
Skylar and Kevin wondered why good quality ties, probably the most common accessory for any professional man, were expensive but didn’t hold up to a minor spill. In their minds, such an important item in a man’s wardrobe should resist stains and be durable enough to withstand machine washing. The friends consulted with a local fashion designer and spent much of 2016 researching all the critical financial, manufacturing, and marketing aspects of starting a business.
By the end of the year, they were ready to launch their company, Tough Ties, and initiated a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $15,000, in January, 2017. The campaign ended with 78 backers pledging $15,328. Both Skylar and Kevin took the big leap and left their professional jobs to promote Tough Ties on a full-time basis.
Tough Ties are manufactured by combining printable and repellent fabrics with a patent-pending substrate core and IronLockTM stitching. Each tie also has a microfiber patch on the back so it can be used to clean phones or glasses—something that most people know we aren’t really supposed to, but most of us do anyway! Ties are available with an optional buttonhole on the tail so it can be fastened to a button-up dress shirt, keeping the tie close to the body.
The ties are liquid-repellant and machine-washable in their own laundry bag (included with each order). The ties can then be washed separately or with other clothing and household items. When clean, the ties are hung to air dry for a few hours, after which Kevin and Skylar say they will look “just like new.”
After promoting Tough Ties and experiencing success with their sales, Kevin and Skylar added belts to their inventory. The canvas or leather belts come in a variety of styles, colors, and buckle designs. Realizing that tough and durable clothing and accessory items of many kinds would be in demand, in August of 2018 they changed the name of their company to Tough Apparel. On October 23, 2019, Tough Apparel announced the purchase of a brick and mortar store in Gilbert, Arizona and on November 15, 2019, Fox10 Phoenix News published an article by Christina Carilla, in which Kevin and Skylar described their custom sock line. Kevin explained that a new app would allow customers to upload any design (including their own face) to create custom socks. As with the ties, Tough Apparel will do custom orders for businesses or special events and offers a bulk discount.
Kevin and Skylar say there is no secret formula for starting a business, no magic set of skills or partnership that will guarantee success. Their advice to new entrepreneurs is to just take an idea that sparks passion and run with it. “Life is short,” they remind everyone, so you might as well spend it pursuing your own goals rather than just existing.