Umano won’t be the first clothing company to pitch Shark Tank on Friday night, and it won’t be the first company with a charitable outlook. But Umano stands out from past entrepreneurial ventures because of its unique artistic focus: children make the t-shirt designs.
They aren’t just any children. As Vogue reported this past June, the kids behind Umano’s product lines also benefit from the company’s giving back initiatives. For every product sold, the company donates a backpack full of art supplies. A child uses those art supplies to draw pictures, some of which are then transferred to the t-shirts. Everyone who buys a t-shirt gets a tag with a photo of the child behind it.
The company was started by brothers Alex and Jonathan Torrey, who told Vogue they were inspired by their parents, who are teachers. Their love of inspiring kids in the arts also came into play.
“Our parents are school teachers, and the art budget in schools has been cut. Art education is more than learning how to draw, it’s learning those important thinking and problem-solving skills.”
Umano’s website features video profiles of the young artists along with their unique pictures. Vogue reported that production takes place in Haiti and backpacks are delivered to Peru, Mexico, and the United States, notably Harlem and the brothers’ hometown of Athens, Georgia.
This week Alex Torrey told the Athens Banner-Herald that the design concept was central to their company and its mission.
“The one rule we have is to protect the integrity of the drawing. Those imperfections are what we love. They draw it with such confidence.”
Also in June, Umano launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise $30,000 for a new warehouse. In its letter to potential backers the Torrey brothers said they had donated 10,000 backpacks last year and wanted to double that number by the end of this year.
So will the sharks bite? One thing that has been made repeatedly clear on past Shark Tank episodes is that the investors won’t take the plunge on a good cause alone. It will depend on Umano’s past sales and potential for future growth. Carter Matt, a television blog, noted the t-shirts are pricey and the brand is not yet well known.
The company’s website sells a dress, track pants, sweat shirts, muscle shirts and classic t-shirts, among other styles. Prices range from $36 for a basic shirt to $98 for the track pants.
But according to a profile on Pando, Umano’s t-shirts did not just come off a random assembly line. The Torrey brothers spent months creating their own custom fabric. Putting the line together took more than a year.
Their first major retail success, getting into Bloomingdale’s, came through persistence. It was despite their ignorance of the fashion and apparel industries. In an initial meeting with the iconic retailer, they even forgot to bring product samples.
“We didn’t have a background in retail or design or manufacturing or anything.”
Speaking to Pando, Alex revealed what could be one weakness in their chance to get a Shark Tank deal while describing the giving trips they take to deliver the backpacks.
“We don’t have proprietary anything but our secret weapon is as cutthroat and competitive as the fashion industry is, these giving trips keep us focused and grounded.”
Usually, not having a proprietary product puts a Shark Tank entrepreneur at a disadvantage, but not always. Earlier this season, Lori Greiner invested in Simply Fit, a fitness board that is not proprietary, although the complete system — board with platform — is patented.
Shark Tank fans can see how Umano makes out starting at 9 p.m. on ABC.
[Main photo courtesy CNBC]