Five Pound Apparel: “Everything we sell gives back.”

“I was in college and driving to coach soccer in Fair Grove and my friends and I saw a guy stranded on the side of the road. We helped the guy push his car out of danger and he used one of our cell phones to call for help. It was a good feeling to help that guy and my friends and I thought about how we could incorporate helping people into the rest of our lives,” said Bryan Simpson, who will earn a Master of Business Administration from Drury on Sunday.

That event, while Simpson was a college undergraduate, was the inspiration for Five Pound Apparel, a social business based in Springfield that donates five pounds of food for every one of the branded t-shirts it sells; but Simpson and his partners had a rocky start.

Simpson playing soccer during his Drury undergraduate days

A 2006 graduate of Kickapoo High School, Simpson came to Drury to play soccer. A broken foot in his sophomore year put an end to his soccer career and sent him to another local college where his father worked and Simpson could attend for practically nothing. After helping the man with the broken down car in the spring of 2010, Simpson and his housemates bought a screen-printing starter kit and began watching how-to videos. Simpson and his partners started a business called Global Tees, and they were taking orders and making t-shirts, but they didn’t have a business license and weren’t supposed to be manufacturing anything in a single-family home. Global Tees had a choice, shut down the t-shirt production or get fined for every day it continued to make t-shirts.

“We should have thought about quitting. One of the realities with screen-printing is that college kids can start it in their living room. Entry is easy, but profit margins are low,” Simpson said.

Simpson and his partners did not quit, and Simpson’s dad helped them out. He pushed back his retirement and bought a building, which Simpson and his partners lease, so the business could have a legal, appropriate location. When the company re-opened as Five Pound Apparel in December of 2010, it had a new vision.

Simpson in front of Five Pound Apparel with his girlfriend Bethany Forrester

“Our message is that everything we sell gives back. For every shirt we sell from our brand, we provide five pounds of food to Nepal nutrition,” Simpson said. Nepal Nutrition provides food for children in Nepal and was founded by a fellow Kickapoo graduate Mark Arnoldy.

Simpson is the first to admit, that he did not have a business plan and got lucky, “I’m actually glad I hadn’t gone to Drury for my MBA before I started Five Pound Apparel because I learned how stupid it was to start that business,” Simpson said. “If I had evaluated everything, I probably wouldn’t have done it.”

Now, Five Pound Apparel is profitable and Simpson and his partners are ready to expand to an additional location and a more robust online presence, and he’s prepared to succeed with the knowledge he’s earned from his Drury MBA.

Simpson has come back to Drury to speak to undergraduates about how to start a business, “I tell them to take a low risk first step. They’ll either be successful and can build on that idea or they’ll fail, but they won’t lose their life savings,” Simpson said. “But they should do it while they’re young. I don’t even have a dog, no one gets hurt if I fail.”

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Story by Mark Miller, associate director of marketing and communications at Drury.