It’s difficult for Erik Prowell and Josh Hindson to pin down exactly why they were so drawn to starting a T-shirt empire. Was it the pursuit of wealth? Not so much. Status and power? Nah. Those things don’t matter much in Portland and Boise (where they live, respectively). Could it be a shared loathing for punching clocks, scant paid-vacation time, and casual dress limited only to Fridays? Perhaps.
“Actually, mostly, we just thought the world needed more T-shirts,” says Erik, tongue firmly in cheek. “I’d always been into thrift-store shopping for random T-shirts, and I thought, ‘Hey, I bet if we print up some shirts, they’ll end up in thrift stores someday!’”
Their company, No Star Clothing, began eight years ago over beers and basketball in Boulder, Colo., and has become the cool kid of Portland’s busy fashion scene. Last fall No Star expanded beyond its wildly popular line of T-shirts adorned with nonsensical images and ironic captions (Sample: “Guns don’t kill people. People with mustaches kill people.”) and added a higher-end—and dare we say grown up?—line of duds called La Merde.
This collection of men’s jackets, designed by Erik and Josh, bridges the gap between contemporary men’s wear and street wear by borrowing from the best elements of hoodies, cargo jackets, and blazers, and using sophisticated men’s suiting materials. La Merde’s spring 2009 line recently earned a shout-out in the Portland Mercury newspaper for being “both interesting and utilitarian,” which, for gents living in the soggy, super-hip Rose City, is paramount when talking wardrobe.
The road to La Merde was paved with hard business lessons. Good pals while students at Puget Sound, Erik and Josh reconnected at their friend Chris Leonard’s wedding in Colorado in 1998. The two discussed their shared love for Ts, casually throwing around the notion of maybe starting up their own biz. After a couple years of executing a partial business plan and dealing with the challenges of their geographic separation (Erik was doing freelance computer programming in his hometown of Bend, Ore., while Josh had teaching stints in Ecuador and Boise, Idaho), the two moved the entire operation to Portland and made a full-time go at it.
“We knew we were comedic solid gold, it was just a matter now of convincing the global market,” says Josh.
No Star’s online empire of irony-meets-absurdity themed shirts was thriving by 2003, and Erik and Josh were, despite what they say was a “total lack of business experience,” at the helm of a blossoming enterprise. By 2004 No Star’s goods were for sale in Portland, Los Angeles, Seattle, and New York clothing stores where, today, sales remain brisk.
These days Erik minds No Star’s headquarters full time in Northeast Portland, while Josh telecommutes and visits frequently from Boise. (He became a dad to his first child, a daughter, Elliot, last October.) They say that, between the launch of La Merde and the continuing success of their T-shirts, they still pinch themselves, and even one another at times. “It blows our minds that people would wear anything we designed. It’s a huge compliment, and we feel very fortunate,” says Erik. — Stacey Wilson ’96