When you live in a climate where it's below 50 degrees for half the year, hoodies tend to become a frequent wardrobe choice, if not a permanent fixture in your closet most of the year. Finding the best hoodie can sometimes be a drag, and often you don't quite find what you're looking for. However, the creator behind LOTH Hoodies is looking to correct that, at least within the nerdy community, by offering these multi-colored designs and specialized creations with extra long hoods to give warmth and a sense of nerdy style. Today we chat with founder Bill Rogers about starting the company from scratch and quickly gaining international recognition. (All pictures provided courtesy of LOTH Hoodies.
Gavin: Hey Bill, first thing, tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in Texas, and as a kid grew up in Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania and New York. My parents had nine kids and I am the fourth child. We were raised to believe we can accomplish anything we put our minds to. My father was always supportive and encouraging of my ideas. Being an entrepreneur himself, he wasn't afraid to work hard for something worthwhile. My mother taught me the importance of quality. Quality in our work, quality in our creations and quality in our life. Having so many siblings taught me the value of life and to help others. I like to believe some of that rubbed off on me. I am currently married and have four kids of my own.
What got you into arts and animation as you grew up?
When I was about seven years old, I got my face painted as Spider-Man at the zoo. I remember thinking, "This is so cool!" I really think that is where my geekiness and creativity started. Since then I have been drawing Spidey and other heroes and always trying to entertain. There was a long period of time where I wanted to be an actor. I decided against that my senior year in high school, but I think the pursuit of that interest taught me certain skills and traits that have helped me in my current occupations. Growing up, I was always interested in drawing, dancing, acting, voices and costumes. As an adult I attended the Art Institute, studying animation; it seemed to satisfy all of my creative interests.
Prior to starting this business, you had been an animator for a few different production companies. What was it like working in that field?
I thrive in creative places. Production studios, art school and even places like Disneyland. I love those types of environments. They tend to bring out my inner kid and also my best ideas. Prior to LOTH Hoodies, I worked as a Television Host for some of my dad’s TV shows. But I also had jobs like a Cold Stone Creamery worker and landscaping. I love to work hard and see results.
You currently run a business called Quick Draw Services. How is it for you doing whiteboard animations?
A former Disney animator, Scott Petersen, and I started Quick Draw Services, the same time I started LOTH Hoodies, in the spring of 2013. At Quick Draw, we get to create custom videos for so many different types of companies. I am involved in creating the scripts, doing the voice-overs and editing the videos. The videos are so fun, and it is great to work with former Disney artist. Previous to Quick Draw and LOTH Hoodies I was working full-time, managing a store called Down East Home & Outfitters. I was also going to school full-time while also juggling the responsibilities of a husband and father. In 2013, I quit my full-time job to start LOTH Hoodies and Quick Draw Services. And it has been quite the adventure since!
During that time, when did you start thinking about designing hoodies?
I had the idea to create our adventure style hoodie in 2002. I watched Lord of the Rings
and played Zelda and thought, “Man, I want to buy a hoodie with a cloak hood!” But nobody made such a thing. Ten years later, after a mission for my church, marriage to my wife and starting school I thought, “I should probably make that hoodie.” So there I was in the middle of college and had just quit my job and I decided to start my own hoodie company.
Was there any particular kind of catalyst that made you decide to create your own business? Or was it more a matter of “now or never” kind of attitude?
Thinking back, I have always had some entrepreneur blood in me. Since I was a kid, I was creating ways to improve things, and also loved to develop new ideas from scratch. I remember selling golf balls to golfers, making homemade pretzels for sale, and it continued on into my adult life. When I first moved to Utah, I came up with a TV show called theBRIDEidea
, a TV show that showcased brides and weddings. Even though it only had two episodes, it actually ended up paying for my entire wedding. And I think it also started a small snowball at the top of entrepreneur snowy hill. I have always come up with ways to bring in additional income. I definitely got that from my dad. Who was a meteorologist on TV by night, then a gas station attendant later that night. Or a security officer or a fishing pole salesman. Every place we lived my dad was a meteorologist but always had a second job to support the nine kids. It wasn’t until I was older that my dad stopped the weather business to begin his own companies. I don’t think of myself as an “idea genius” kind of guy but rather as, “Man we need food on the table” kind of guy. Here is the motivation behind any of my idea. My goal in life is to be a good man and provide for my family. And I hope to be able to use my talents to do so.
What made you decide to launch a Kickstarter for it?
The Kickstarter was a result of, “I don’t have any inventory” and “I don’t have much money.” It seemed to be the perfect answer. Entrepreneurs are very lucky to have such a thing like Kickstarter. It used to be, save up, buy 100 hoodies, sell, save up, buy 200 hoodies and so on. With crowdfunding, it not only speeds up the process but also creates a TON of awareness about your product or idea.
After you got the word out and got funding, what steps did you take to making the company a reality?
After the Kickstarter was funded it was time to get to work. I took the money that was raised and poured it into materials and manufacturing. I ordered all the fabric, zippers and tags and sent them to our U.S. factory to assemble our hoodies. This was my first experience manufacturing clothes. I went to school for art and I was raised with a TV background. So clothing was very new to me. I felt like a chef that was tossed into the boxing ring and the bell just rang. I had to learn the ropes pretty quickly.
How's the process for you in designing the hoodies and cloaks for each line?
I love designing these hoodies; I could do it all day. The process for designing these hoodies is the same for designing anything cool. First, I saw what was out there. Then I researched. Gathering reference pictures and inspiration. Then, I started drawing many concepts until I got it right. Once I got the final drawing, my pattern maker created a “prototype.” We would make some adjustments then send the pattern to our factory in Provo. There they created a “sample” of what their factory could produce. I took those samples and did photoshoots and filmed our videos. Meanwhile, I sent our pattern to a “grader” who creates all of the hoodie sizes based on the one pattern. This technical process I had to learn myself.
What was the first year like for you after launching? What lessons did you learn early on?
The first year for LOTH Hoodies was a blast. Tons of people all over the world were interested in the one Hoodie I created. And when we introduced the hoodies at Comic Con, we also had a great response. So the response was great and definitely put some fire in the engines. We had more requests than we had product. So, even though I had tons of fire in the engines, I felt like I was laying down the track as the train was passing over it. But it was such a thrill, and it is great to have a GEEK-based product because of the many excited fans. I learned so much the first year of LOTH Hoodies. Most of it out of necessity. I had to learn all the ropes of being a business man. Accounting, taxes and all of the “boring stuff” that most people refer to. I, of course, learned how to better develop and manufacture new products. I learned how to survive on lots of money and no money at all. But the thing I learned the most was to depend on the wisdom of others. That might sound like a line from Yoda, but I found there are so many people that know so much more than me. Some have learned how to lay down the train tracks well in advance, some have been in “boxing matches” and already know the ropes. I imagine they learned it from others and I am sure I will inform some along the way as well.
Since that time you've gotten some major recognition, even had celebrities wearing them. How is it for you seeing your hoodies branch out across the globe?
It is great seeing people love an idea that you’ve had. I mean it was great even as a kid when people said, “Great idea.” The recognition from our hoodies has been great. It has also been very fun. We have had many opportunities and met great people along the way. Celebrities and even fans! It has been a great adventure!
You also donate 5% of the profits. What made you decide to do that, and what charities have you been able to help out?
Yes, with every sale we donate 5% to Humanitarian Aid. And we love it! We have also branched out and donated to Primary Children’s Hospital, as well as Extra Life, which is a way to play video games and heal kids from Children’s Miracle Network. I use my experience of being in a flood growing up to tell why we donate. But the real reason is, I love to help people. I have come to understand the value of a life and to be the one who can improve a life is a part of what life is all about. We could have used that extra money to support our own family and buy tons of stuff. But knowing we have helped others and using our job as the vehicle to help others has been a very rewarding experience.
Do you have any plans for new lines or specialty designs coming up? Do you take requests from people for custom designs?
This mind is always churning and we have a lot of ideas for the future of LOTH Hoodies. We have some new ideas for hoodies, cloaks and accessories. A lot of our designs come from fan suggestions. I love to hear the ideas of the fans and when I hear a lot of the same request, that’s when I start on the drawing board.
What can we expect from you and LOTH Hoodies over the rest of 2016?
There are some secret projects that we can’t talk about yet (hush-hush) but the biggest thing you can expect from LOTH Hoodies is a great adventure in 2016! We have many people who need to be clothed in cool clothes and we have a lot of people to help around the world.