Almost a year ago, Austin Thomas came up with an idea to help his friends during the winter: sherpa lined jeans.
A year later, his product surpassed $44,000 in revenue.
Thomas (senior-supply chain management) started JERPA Jeans in October 2019 in an attempt to fix a problem he said he noticed during football games and tailgates.
“Some of my friends would wear thermals under their jeans... to kind of layer up so they're not cold,” Thomas said.
According to JERPA’s website, its “signature product” is jeans lined with sherpa, a fabric that resembles wool.
Thomas said flannel lined jeans and baggy fur lined jeans were already available, but this is not what he had in mind.
Moreover, Thomas said a baggy fit wouldn’t relate to the demographic he's trying to reach. Instead, he thinks younger people prefer a more tailored fit, but the jeans are still for everyone.
Thomas said he noticed sherpa was quite popular among celebrities, especially in jackets and other clothing — but never in jeans.
Early on, Thomas said he faced many challenges trying to find the right product, and it was a process of trial and error.
“One problem was that the jeans would keep you warm outside and sweaty inside, so we needed to find that balance,” Thomas said.
After finding the right supplier, Thomas said the next step was tweaking the color and fit.
Another challenge Thomas said he faced was storage for the products, so he tailored the brand’s business model around that.
Thomas said different types of clothing, like shirts, are released at once in a bundle. After this product sells out, JERPA moves on to the next idea. However, some items are restocked, such as the hoodies, because there is demand for them.
Thomas said he hopes to have the jeans in stock year-round in the future to help people who experience winter at different times of the year and to prevent losing potential revenue.
To spread word about the brand, Thomas launched an ambassador program with the help of his friend, Bradley Kraut.
Kraut (sophomore-advertising and public relations) saw an Instagram post from Thomas asking for help developing the brand last September and decided to join in.
Kraut said he was not sure how it would go initially, but quickly became excited at the jeans’ potential.
Kraut said he started by showing the jeans to people on his dorm floor — and this was a hit.
“I kind of wanted to make it like a community in a way,” Kraut said.
Kraut would hand-deliver the jeans to students and give them shout outs. He recorded the process and tagged the purchasers on his social media.
“With any new product or new company, people are skeptical like ‘Hey I don't really know if I want to buy this product,’” Kraut said. “But once people started seeing me post this person and that person and football players they're like, ‘OK, what's all this hype about?’”
The ambassador program initially started with around 30 people where only three members were active, according to Thomas. Now, there are 55 active ambassadors of 70 total.
JERPA has reached Ohio State and other large schools as well.
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Matt Moody is a student at West Chester University and is a current ambassador for JERPA.
Moody (sophomore-health and physical education) got involved with the program after his first purchase, because he was impressed with the product.
“The following that we've already developed in a year’s time is crazy,” Moody said. “If you think about where we can be a year from now, and a year from then, it could just keep on building and building.”
Moody said he is dedicated to the program because of his love of fashion and the connections he has made along the way.
Kraut said the opportunity has given him skills to apply after graduation. He said it is almost like an internship.
“I'm not in this for the money, I’m not in this for the clout… We’re not just in it to say we started this brand. I’m in it because we want people to see the products, and I want people to experience these products,” Kraut said.
Kraut said the coronavirus pandemic was initially a scare for the small business. However, the group meets daily through Zoom.
The brand released T-shirts in the summer as a new product and also now give free masks with every purchase, according to Thomas. He said the masks are for safety, but also to promote the brand since the masks display JERPA’s name.
Thomas also said JERPA doubled in growth in August.
“We're heading in the right direction, and the growth trajectory is looking in our favor,” Thomas said. “It's just a matter of continuing to innovate, but also [continuing] to provide value to our customers.”
Thomas said he wants to expand beyond universities, and hopes to invest in JERPA full-time to see the growth it can generate. He said he thinks this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that can lead to a dream job in the future.
Additionally, Thomas said JERPA has done a lot over the past year, but he knows more can be done. Thomas wants to turn JERPA into an overall clothing brand and venture into new products made with sherpa.
“Just go for it if you have an idea or have something,” Thomas said. “The worst that can happen is you fail, but if you don't go for it you're gonna also fail, and you're in the same position that you would have been if you did go for it.”
JERPA Jeans can be found here.
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