Welcome Shalomoji Friends to another round of our Shalomoji column where we interview Jewish influencers around the world to help inspire and support aspiring newbie entrepreneurs, creatives, and thought leaders.
In this week’s feature interview, we are saying Shalom to founders Joshua Morrison and Mark Helfman of Proud Jews, a swanky Jewish t-shirt line. The duo discuss the story behind their brand, marketing tactics, the impact Judaism has on their business endeavors and much more! Check out the full interview below!
Q: We here at Shalomoji are absolutely OBSESSED with your Jewish T-shirt line. Tell us about Proud Jews T-shirts for those who may not know.
Mark: We sell great shirts. We pride ourselves on having fits and styles for Jews of all ages and denominations. We even have a few shirts for non-Jews.
Q: How did the idea of Proud Jews T-shirts come about?
Josh: A long time ago, I sold some self-designed, Greek-themed t-shirts online. I wanted to do that with Jewish themes and asked Mark whether he wanted to start a t-shirt company with me. He said yes.
Q: Tell us about each of your roles at Proud Jews and what a day in the life looks like for both of you?
Mark: I have two young children, full-time job, rental property, and a book that’ll be published this fall. That keeps me busy during day hours, and once the kids go to bed and the housework is done, I work on Proud Jews – writing our blogs, updating the website, ideating for new shirts. I also handle the accounting and paperwork. Josh handles a lot of the day-to-day and we consult on strategy.
Josh: I have a decent amount of experience working in digital marketing so most of my focus has been marketing related for Proud Jews. Like Mark, I have plenty of other things going on — a toddler, full-time job, and another business keeping me busy throughout the week.
Q: What makes Proud Jews T-shirts different from other Jewish T-shirt lines?
Mark: The quality of our shirts. Our prices are pretty much in line with everybody else’s, but we spend a little more than other companies to make sure we have high-quality fabrics and durable prints. We create a lot of our designs in-house – Josh is a good artist and great with photoshop. For some designs, we rely on our global network of designers. They’re all good and super-responsive.
Josh: It’s important to us that you don’t get kitsch that’s going to fade or tear. Even our “Shabbat Shmata” top – that’s 100% pre-shrunk ring-spun cotton with top-quality print. You can wear that for years.
Mark: Our collections are designed to stay in your closet for a long time. A lot of our themes are “Jewy,” meaning, they’re not religious but they’re things that Jews everywhere will always recognize and understand.
Josh: I also think it’s tough to find a boutique clothing store with as much variety as we have. We have something for pretty much everybody — hipsters, moms, kids, bubbies, teenagers, whoever. Some shirts are simple text, some shirts are really intricate designs. Some shirts are funny, some are sentimental. And you’re not going to see a side-ad for coffee mugs.
Q: As the great Albert Einstein once said: “Failure is success in progress.” What have been some of your failures, and how has it helped propel you towards success?
Josh: We’ve had some challenges with trying to determine what our proudjews.com website experience should look like. We set out to create a new t-shirt design every month in order to present our visitors with a wide array of choices, but we realized over the course of a few months that we were probably presenting too many designs up front to visitors on our front page.
We decided to simplify things and we are now presenting visitors with the most popular shirts up front and then allow them to use the navigation menu to drill down into more specific areas of interest. From a marketing standpoint, we’re learning a lot as well.
We spent some money running social ads on Instagram and Facebook early on, but we weren’t seeing much return from those. Part of it could have been the targeting criteria we were using, the amount spent per campaign, so that’s been an ongoing lesson for us. What we’ve discovered works pretty well is using Instagram influencers to promote our band.
Find a few influencers in your niche who have a good amount of engaged followers (5,000+), direct message them and offer to send them your product for free and they might decide to promote you for free. No risk, no reward!
Mark: We did struggle a bit with our website. Not struggled in the technical sense – we know what we’re doing. We got a lot of great feedback on the purchasing experience, like, once you find a shirt, the selection and checkout process is easy. Really easy. But, we started with a really slick website with high-quality models and different collections, and we’d put up new stuff all the time like Josh said. It looked good and we could promote new shirts, but it required a lot of connections and some of our best stuff was hidden.
We’d see a very low conversion rate. It was tough to see traffic but no sales. Really frustrating, and we didn’t know why. Josh had the idea to switch to a really simple, white layout. We reconfigured some things. We’re doing better now. I think we were too focused on looking really professional, and in the end I think people really just wanted to get a cool shirt and checkout. It took us a little while to get settled on that. Now we’re not worried about the glossy, superficial stuff. It’s more about enjoying the experience and not stressing too much.
Q: How has Judaism played a factor in your business journey?
Mark: I love that I get to share a little connection with other Jews. My family is not very religious and my immediate network of friends and family aren’t really interested in synagogue and Judaic types of things, though my 7-year-old has started getting into it. I saw Proud Jews as one way to connect with my faith in a way that other people could really support. They might not like shul, but they like shirts!
Josh: Ditto, as far as what Mark just said.
Q: Do you have any habits, tools or business hacks you find useful to share with the Shalomoji readers?
Josh: For the business side of things, we use Slack, Google docs, and Trello to communicate and coordinate. And of course email and text. I live in North Carolina and Mark lives in Maryland, so we have to do a lot of stuff virtually and remotely.
Mark: And we screenshare when we work on our website. There are so many great collaboration tools out there. Trello helps us manage our designers. Google offers a shared calendar where we can put deadlines and events — really, the whole Google docs suite takes care of the vast majority of our needs.
Josh: We also automate as much as we can. I actively manage our Instagram but the Twitter, Facebook, and website updates, and order fulfillment is handled by computers.
Mark: The technology helps a lot, especially when it comes to managing time. For example, we schedule blog posts in advance. I can write 2 or 3 at once, then set our system to publish on a certain day. Same with our social media posts. So I can set aside a block of time to work and schedule around that.
Q: Are there any books, blogs, or podcasts you recommend that you believe helped shape your success?
Q: What marketing tactics did you use to develop your loyal customer base/create buzz around Proud Jews t-shirts?
Mark: We spent a lot of time on SEO, trying to get our website to appear at the top of Google listings. Still do.
Josh: We also picked up customers through Instagram. And also our collaboration with you guys.
Mark: It’s funny because we’ve gotten turned down by synagogue gift shops and guys running random dreidel contests, but Jenna Jameson and Loren Brovarnik post themselves on Instagram wearing our shirts.
Josh: Right now we’re just really trying to get out the word that we exist. There are so many other t-shirt companies, even Jewish t-shirt companies, and some of these companies are really big and well-known and they have a lot of money for advertising. We’re not there yet. For us, it’s a marathon.
Q: We here at Shalomoji would like to leave our readers with a nugget of inspiration. What has been your greatest inspiration? Is there a particular quote, life motto or mentor you look up to that has given you unforgettable advice that you’d like to share?
Mark: I don’t remember where I heard this but I really appreciate it. “You can’t control how you feel, but you can control what you do.” Life’s full of ups and downs, and you’re going to get happy and sad. It’s all about being grateful and appreciative for the things that make you happy, and for the things that make you sad, remember that you can usually do something about it. Life’s good if you want it to be.
Josh: Nike…”just do it.” I try to apply this to almost everything I do in life but in terms of entrepreneurship is concerned it’s vital. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people to help grow your business. Whether it’s a CEO of a huge company that you reach out to via Linkedin, or an in-person meeting with a small business owner in your area. Put yourself out there. Take risks. Don’t be afraid to fail.