Selling online was a completely new experience and it was very fun. I was still working at a pizza restaurant downtown while I spent every spare waking second working on improving my site, designing new shirt prints and figuring out ways to reach more people. I spent so much time in front of my computer screen working that I soon needed glasses (remember those crappy monitors in the 90s and early 2000s? Not so good for your eyes). Eventually I got my shirts into a local Halifax store called 305 Shoes. I met a woman working there who eventually became my wife and the mother of my son, who was born in 2000. In 2001 I launched a new site, zeroboutique.com, which had a much slicker look, and offically change the name of the gear to Zero Boutique. There was an up-and-coming skatewear company at the time also called Zero and my stuff was starting to get confused with theirs, so a change was needed.
In 2001 my marriage fell apart after only a year and I had to make the transition to life as a single father. It was a tough pill to swallow, but at least Zero Boutique was doing well. I decided that ZBQ was a catchy way to shorten Zero Boutique and so started using that as the unofficial company name and logo. And by 2002 things were going so well that I was finally able to stop working part time and dedicate all of my time to ZBQ and my other custom screen printing business. The dream was really taking on a life of its own and I was super happy about it.
But there was something that bothered me, and that was the method I was using to print shirts. Up until that point i had been primarily using the heat transfers to make my shirts. They looked great, but were not super durable. I remembered that screen printer back in Montreal and decided it was time to start making the transition to doing exclusively screen printed shirts and say goodbye to the transfers for good. I'd been playing around with screen printing since taking a course at the local community college back in 1998, and had done some screen printed shirts for local rap legend Buck 65 and a few other people. By 2004 I had made the switch and I sold my last transfer printed shirt sometime around April of that year.
Well the transition was a rocky one, because while before all of the shirts were made-to-order (meaning people had basically unlimited selection of sizes and colors to choose from), when I started screening I switched to an "in stock" system. Suddenly the selection was a lot more limited. At first it was OK, because I had pretty good stock numbers starting out. But by the end of the year I was losing the battle to keep things in stock and sales were taking a hit. I had to get a courier job by Novemberr in order to make ends meet and get through Christmas.
It was while on standby during work one day when I had an idea. What if I were to go back to the in-demand system of ordering but with the screen printed shirts? The idea had crossed my mind once or twice , but it didn't seem feasible due to the time and mess involved in setting up individual prints. However, I thought if I set it up so that each print had a specific window of time in which to order, then I could gather together a bunch of orders up to a certain deadline and then print them all at once. I decided it was worth a try, and set to the task of building a new in-demand store with the screen printed designs.
By this point I had gotten the hang of multi-color screen printing and thanks to connecting with some very talented artists online such as Robin Antiga (1984), Fatso (Respect) and Klutch (Col. Feratu) I had some really dope designs available. Shortly after Christmas 2004 I launched the new store and held my breath. There was no way I could have predicted what happened next.
The site, at least in context of what I had become used to up to that point, basically blew up. That first month I sold about 700 shirts, which was far and away my best month ever. I got access to a conveyer dryer, which I was badly in need of if I was going to keep up with this kind of volume. And for the entire year of 2005, the pressure didn't stop- the orders kept coming in, not as fast as that first month, but averaging about 500 shirts a month. Meanwhile my custom shirt business was also doing so well that I could barely keep up with those orders. The money was good, but I was putting in 12 hour days at the print shop, and sometimes all nighters too, and it started taking its toll on my health and mental stability. Add to that trying to balance my duties as a father and it was a recipe for disaster. By the end of the year I had 2 part time people helping me with printing and shipping, but I was still trying to do way too much myself. In the end, what happened next was probably inevitable given my inability to properly delegate and actually take a break once in a while. In 2006 my world unravelled apart, and it would take me a very long time to pick up the pieces.
Next: I find out what happens when you fly too close to the sun.