Great Salt Lake Clothing Co. entrepreneurs talk fear, failure and success

Story and photos by NATHAN ASTILL

Young, fresh and active, entrepreneurs are the embodiment of Utah’s new spirit. That same spirit is also everything that Great Salt Lake Clothing Co. stands for.

“There is a voice in everyones’ head and as soon as you come up with a new idea, as soon as you say something to yourself, it tells you that it’s stupid,” David Marquardt says. He pauses briefly, thinking about his phrasing before continuing. “Ignore that voice at all times, it is never an entrepreneur’s friend.”

Marquardt, left, stands side-by-side with Martin.

Marquardt, 28, and co-owner Michael Martin, 37, sit at their desks, working from behind their computers while they casually talk about the business they started in November 2014, Great Salt Lake Clothing Co.

For the time being they are working out of an old church, which is currently being renovated, located on the northwest corner of 400 S. and 300 East in downtown Salt Lake City.

And downtown Salt Lake is exactly where they want to be. They are bulding their company around the heart of the city.

“We wanted to model ourselves after the Cleveland Clothing Co,” Martin says. The Ohio-based company was also started by two friends and is locally owned. According to their website, their mission is simple, “Spreading Cleveland pride, one T-shirt at a time.”

Jumping back to Marquardt and Martin, it’s easy to see the parallels. “From skiing to hiking to Utah Jazz shirts, we wanted to represent everything that makes Salt Lake City awesome,” Martin says.

But to those on the outside looking in, starting and running a business is not as easy as it may seem.

“To succeed at any small business you have to wear a lot of hats,” Marquardt says.

Both men are wearing multiple hats — one is in the form of the other jobs they work. Martin comes into the office early so he can do his part-time job, writing computer software for a company on the East Coast, while Marquardt is busy running his other business, Beehive Sport and Social Club, on the side. This sport and social club offers a casual, no pressure environment for people looking to hang out with friends and/or make new ones.

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Some of the more popular Great Salt Lake Clothing Co. shirts, with the “mistake” Utah Jazz basketball shirt (at bottom right of photo).

A casual and fun yet alluring environment is also what Martin and Marquardt are creating with Great Salt Lake Clothing Co. But make no mistake, a casual atmosphere and hard work can, and should, go hand-in-hand.

The two men have worked extremely hard to create options. Customers may buy directly from them at their office or at their website. Now they may also find Great Salt Lake Clothing Co. retailing in stores like Sports Den, Uintah Standard and the gift shop at the Great Salt Lake State Marina.

Not only that, but Martin and Marquardt are also funding everything out of their own pockets. “The first six months [are] tough, you only have a certain amount of money,” Marquardt says. “It can be very stressful, if people don’t buy shirts, if you go a week and sell just one or two there is the thought, are we going to have to stop?”

But runaway trains don’t stop. Neither of the men have a background in clothing or design, yet they still design, and more importantly sell, all of their own shirts. Neither of the men have managed Fortune 500 companies, yet they still send out feelers to connect with other businesses while continuing to fill online orders. And lastly, neither of the men started out as social media gurus, and yet they still manage to successfully promote themselves online through their social media, such as their visually striking Instagram account.

“Instagram has been our best resource by far,” Martin says. “I have a lot of fun connecting with people through social media. But it’s hard not to get burned out trying to come up with new ideas every day.”

But persistence is important, said Ann Marie Thompson, program director of the Salt Lake Chamber Women’s Business Center. “You can do it. Continue to be studious, look for opportunities. Not only would I be looking for opportunities, I would be willing to do the work and homework.”

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The Sundance Film Festival LOVE shirt, which was designed to be included in the 2015 swag bag.

And their work has paid off in unique ways. They landed the contract for designing “LOVE” T-shirts for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival Swag bags, which are given to directors and producers, thanks to a Twitter follower who recommended them to the Utah Film Commission.

Not only are they putting in the work, but they also are constantly learning.

“I mean we kinda had to learn everything from scratch,” Martin says. “I had to Google a lot of stuff to learn how to do things.”

But Google isn’t the only way the two men learn. They also learn from each other. Take for example Marquardt, who pauses in between sentences, asking Martin for help with updating the web design on their site.

Like most people, both men also realize that hindsight is 20/20. “Looking back on things, in the beginning, maybe it would’ve been smart to research the whole T-shirt printing method and the cost,” Martin says.

Marquardt agrees, but says making mistakes and learning is all part of the process. “You just need to start, break it down into small steps and keep it going,” he says. “If you stop learning you start failing.”

Marquardt laughs as he thinks back over some of their recent mistakes. “Our basketball shirt was a pretty decent failure, at the time. I mean, the timing for the T-shirt was wrong. It was winter and the Jazz were doing bad,” Marquardt says pausing. “But if you’re not failing you’re not pushing the envelope far enough.”

He mulled it over for another moment. “But if it was easy, everyone would do it,” he says.

Nevertheless, the rewards have the potential to far outweigh the risks. Martin and Marquardt both enjoy the freedom that allows them to create their own products.

Church

Downtown Salt Lake is exactly where Marquardt and Martin want to be. For now they are working out of the Central Christian Church building, which is being renovated to accommodate more small businesses.

“It’s more rewarding than the average 9-to-5 job,” Martin says, “because it allows you to see the end result of what you’ve worked on.” Martin leans back in his chair, continuing, “It’s really cool to see people using something that you’ve created. I remember this time when I was riding the lift up at Snowbird. I was chatting to this kid about Great Salt Lake Clothing Co. and the shirts we made. Then this kid goes, ‘Oh like this?’ and raises his jacket up and he was wearing our ‘church is in session’ shirt. It was a really awesome moment.”

So even though they may not be selling shirts every day right now, and even though every new day may present more challenges and questions than answers, both men are assured that they are doing the right thing.

Besides, Marquardt knows exactly how to handle the hard times. “At every dead end you encounter,” he says, “you’ve either got to find another door to open or you need to bash your head through the wall.”

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