Tony Vainuku is a filmmaker with a background in music and, now, fashion. Vainuku launched the clothing company Soulpro (MySoulPro.com) in late 2011 and has seen the response to the line go viral, with locals and NFL players sporting the brand. Vainuku sells his line almost exclusively at events around town, relying on buzz for promotion. And when he’s not promoting Soulpro at concerts or Pride and other events, Vainuku is working on a documentary about the intersection of Salt Lake City Polynesian culture and football.
What was the genesis of Soulpro?
I started a multimedia company in 2006 called Soul Profile Productions. We were shooting the souls of your profile. Our staff ended up wearing shirts called Soul Pros, cause we were the pros. After we started wearing Soulpro, people started identifying it with what they’re passionate about. We were soul pros at shooting people, and then people were like, “Well, I’m a soul pro.” It went into its own. It was all about who you are, and the fact that you can identify yourself to people outside yourself.
How has your brand taken off on such a viral level?
It does well with athletes, musicians, artists—because “passion is purpose” is an easy fit when people are following their dreams. But we’re getting house moms who are sending us pictures and are like, “Well, my passion is taking care of my kids.” We had a guy call us and his son had MS. He’d found us online and really identified with what the whole thing stands for. He asked us if he could tattoo Soulpro. I was like, “Whaat?” The only other clothing line I’ve ever seen (tattooed) was Nike, the swoosh. Getting that type of feedback is overwhelming, but it’s inspiring.
How did you find your way into fashion?
I got into music when I was 14, writing and producing songs. After high school, I ended up getting flown out to New York by some people who were affiliated with Mariah Carey. We went out there, me and my brother, we were starting a group. That kind of fell through. I went to college, and found film in my second year. I just had a knack for it. I’d written and done music for so long, that transforming that into pictures was just natural—another outlet. I started figuring out that artists, they’re creative, but the business side always lacks. I saw that in New York—they expect the artists to be so creative and not worry about the business side, and a lot of time they get sued. So I went to Westminster and got my marketing degree. When I was at Westminster College, they teach you that clothing lines are probably the worst thing just because it’s so easy to get involved and so many people are doing it, so you don’t want to go into that market unless you have an edge. We found our edge.
Why aren’t you in stores?
Most clothing companies want to get in a bunch of stores. You get out, people love your stuff, but I feel you’re watered down. You’re next to all these other brands. Nobody ever finds out that Soulpro means passion is purpose, thinking outside the box, being open-minded, all that stuff. So I thought, “Why can’t we just go to every show where we think our target market is?” So we started in concert venues, MMA, and then it was like putting it on the people in the concerts. And that way, I was getting exposure and attention. We’re able to explain this what we’re all about. Yes, you don’t get your weekends off, and you’re not just dropping stuff off to stores. That is the catch-22. But that’s why we’ve been able to do what we’ve done in 10 months. Our goal is to do three to four shows every week, and our end goal is to do a flagship store.
What’s your documentary In Football We Trust about?
The film is based on Polynesians and everything in the culture that we deal with here in America. It’s about family pressures with football, gang violence, poverty. Football has become a main outlet. In a lot of situations, it’s football or nothing: they’re bouncers at a club or they’re playing football. I picked four subjects for my film and I started following them in high school. We’re on schedule to possibly wrap it at the end of the year. One of them has a lot of talent and deals with a lot of pressure. Another deals with extreme poverty, another deals with gang violence. It just shows as a whole what this culture deals with in Salt Lake City.
How did you pick your subjects?
One of the families had a notorious name for being affiliated in gangs, but they had some talented kids at the time. So I thought, “Hey, let’s see what the story is behind why you guys have this notorious name. Is it deserved or is it stereotyped?” There was one other kid who was completely an all-star, and we needed to get that story and see where it went. And then we had another one who was brought to our attention. One of them is now at the U, one of the biggest recruits the U got. Another one went to prison, just got out, and now is being recruited by BYU. And another one ended up not even getting a chance to go to these bigger schools because of his grades, so he’s taking the Snow College route. You do have to sit back and be like a fly on the wall; the camera just has to be like another family member and just shoot and let the stories go where they will. And they have.