Let’s face it: Detroit has seen better days. To support the city in its time of need, more and more entrepreneurs are starting the engines of their new businesses and putting them in drive.
Custom shirts by Down with Detroit. Photo from downwithdetroit.com
Michigan natives Matthew Zebari and Patrick Duggan did so in 2006 by starting their apparel company, Down with Detroit. What sets it apart from other apparel companies is that it sells merchandise exclusively online. There is no store. Customers can choose from hundreds of custom T-shirts, tanks, hoodies, sweatshirts and more on the company’s website, downwithdetroit.com.
Down with Detroit was conceived during grade-school bus rides in 1986 by the two future businessmen who developed a plan to sell clothes online, but the Internet did not yet exist yet, according the company’s Facebook page. Today, the driving force behind Down with Detroit is the owners’ desire to support the city they know and love.
“We wanted to support Michigan but didn’t want to buy the generic shirts,” Duggan said. “So we marched to the beat of our own drum and started Down with Detroit.”
Starting a company in Detroit is not easy, and the hardest part for an entrepreneur is securing an initial investment. To take a fledgling business like Down with Detroit to the next level, it’s important to put its name on the radar by advertising.
“Any entrepreneur who started something is going to have a tough time to get an initial investment,” Duggan said. “We thrive on advertising. If you don’t have advertising, it’s hard to move your company forward.”
When Duggan and Zebari started Down with Detroit, the two of them operated it in Zebari’s basement and still do to this day. The founders wanted their company’s name to be funny and hip and a pun that captured the varying public attitudes toward the city of Detroit.
“We thought it would be fun,” Zebari said. “People have a negative attitude about Detroit but love us. Down with Detroit means you like it. We like the way it sounded.”
At first, responses to the name Down with Detroit were mixed. But by advertising merchandise and supporting Detroit on social media, the public eventually changed their mind about the name. Today, the name is well received.
Businesses come and go in Detroit, but Down With Detroit isn’t going anywhere. The secret to surviving in such a hard-knock city is working hard while taking risks when the time is right, Zebari said.
“Hard work, that’s what Detroit is all about,” Zebari said. “We’re a hardworking city. We grew up with hardworking dads. For us, it was all or none. We’ve got to take risks out there. We put an endless amount of time into it, and it paid off. It’s perseverance that everyone in Detroit had.”
Working in Detroit does have its advantages. The city is renowned for its restaurants, and Duggan and Zebari take full advantage of them, often chowing down at popular places like Slows Barbecue, Vinsetta Garage, and Lafayette Coney Island. And after work they love to watch their favorite professional sports teams: the Tigers, Pistons, Lions and Red Wings.
“Having the flexibility to work around the city [is great],” Duggan said. “We’re crisscrossing the city, taking pictures and going to restaurants and events, and relaying to our followers. It doesn’t feel like work. It took about four years to get to that point.”
Like most Detroiters, Duggan and Zebari are proud of the city, even though it has been the butt of jokes in other parts of the country. They care deeply about the local economy and the people who keep it running. And to show its gratitude, Detroit has returned the favor.
“Sometimes it blows our mind when people recognize us,” Zebari said. “We’re somewhat popular. The emotional image of the city is negative. So we think it’s fun to be positive. The love of the place is tremendous.”
Giving back to the city is important to Down With Detroit, and Duggan and Zebari show their love by donating money to small charities in the area. Earlier this year, the company made shirts to raise money to honor James Van Horn, 66, known as the “Eat ‘Em Up Tigers” guy, then donated the proceeds to the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. For those who don’t know, Van Horn, along with Michael Alston, 55, was the victim of a hit-and-run accident July 27.
“We contribute to a lot of small charities,” Duggan said. “Every week, we get emails asking for donations, whether it’s schools trying to raise money or people asking for money. Lately, we homed in on Capuchin Soup Kitchen. Our message is to promote the city of Detroit to give back.”
What more can two entrepreneurs do? They benefited the economy by hiring employees and broadened their horizons. Down the road, Down with Detroit has big plans. What’s next? Only Duggan and Zebari know.
“Grow the business,” Duggan said. “This last year was the first time we had part-time jobs. We love to benefit the economy by hiring more people. We created a brand for Chicago. We love it.”
Thanks to companies like Down with Detroit and entrepreneurs like Duggan and Zebari, Detroit is LOOKING UP.
For more information about Down with Detroit, please click on to their website or visit their social media pages.