Today we’d like to introduce you to Randy & Jeff Vines.
Hi Randy & Jeff, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
We always knew our hometown (St. Louis) was a cool city. From an early age, we were enamored with the history, the architecture, the cool characters and quirkiness that gave this city its original flavor. If there had been St. Louis themed t-shirts we liked we would have been the first to buy them, but there weren’t any that appealed to us. So after graduating from college in 2001, we couldn’t ignore this passion any longer. We teamed up with a good friend of ours who was a graphic designer, and together we created a small line of STL-centric t-shirts that we weren’t embarrassed to wear. It wasn’t long before we knew we were onto something because almost immediately we began getting requests for more shirts and more designs. People were thirsty for cool and offbeat St. Louis gear, and we soon found ourselves increasingly preoccupied with our new side hustle.
We worked normal jobs during the day for many years but always looked forward to heading to our tiny production studio in Soulard every day to print shirts after hours for our burgeoning audience. With our growing brand came some media attention. The idea of twin brothers making irreverent shirts promoting their beloved St. Louis was apparently buzz-worthy, and various local media outlets jumped on the story, which led to more coverage. By 2008 our moonlighting passion project attracted national attention when we were featured on the front page of the Sunday New York Times in an article about how something as simple as a t-shirt can transform beleaguered old cities like St. Louis, Detroit and Pittsburgh. After that, it was no longer a sideline gig and we had no choice but to take it more seriously.
A friend of ours who owned a building at the corner of Cherokee & Compton offered us a dirt-cheap storefront, and in 2010 we took a leap that would forever change the course of our lives. We quit our jobs and opened a retail shop and workspace called STyLehouse, which became the epicenter of our unhealthy obsession with our city. Almost immediately, we knew our shop was much more than just a retail store– it was a gathering place for all kinds of people and ideas and events that make St. Louis so easy to love. Beyond our ever-expanding line of original and locally-sourced STL goods, we also provide a full spectrum of custom graphic design, screenprinting and ad specialty services for companies and organizations large and small all over the St. Louis metro area and beyond.
Fast forward 11 years and we’re still here— same corner storefront, a talented and devoted crew, and the same old passion that inspired this dream in the first place. And we’re in it for the long haul!
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
If any small business owner says it’s always been easy, they’re lying. This kind of work requires thick skin, perseverance and some true grit if you want to succeed. While there are so many awesome things about running your own enterprise and building a brand, there are a gazillion things about it that you wish you never had to deal with. In our case, we were never hardwired to be business-minded. We are naturally more creative and social, so it was a rude awakening to learn about all the unsexy elements of the trade, like financial planning, tax structure, HR administration and a lot more. At the same time, it’s always easier said than done to let go of control when we need to. But over time, we realized that we need to focus on what we’re best at and delegate the functions we aren’t good at to others who are. That has made a huge difference because we can be much more efficient that way, and we trust that our crew has the well-rounded chops to keep everyone busy doing what they’re best at.
There will always be challenges that we can’t foresee or control, and we have to be able to roll with the punches and adapt or else we’re in the wrong business. The recent pandemic was the ultimate test of the endurance and resiliency of our brand and overall operation in so many ways. We had to shift from our tried and true face-to-face relationships to a mostly virtual approach, which really forced us to think outside the box. We are lucky to have an incredible staff who all stepped up and stretched themselves beyond the limit to not only keep things going but to really strengthen the foundation of our business and identity. By most measures, we are on more solid ground now than we have been since we started the company.
As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar, what can you tell them about what you do?
We are known mostly for our cheeky, irreverent St. Louis-centric designs. We want our designs to reflect the cool, quirky and funky soul of the city in a way that’s authentic and honest and unpretentious. We don’t consider ourselves a “fashion” brand; we’re more focused on expressing the true personality of St. Louis in a way that is accessible and relatable to a diverse, city-based audience. You won’t see too many sports-themed items in our shop, but you’ll find all kinds of neighborhood references, colloquialisms and kitschy catchphrases that any St. Louisan can appreciate. We also love working with local artists and makers to keep our inventory fresh and current. We aren’t afraid to espouse our progressive politics or support for certain causes we believe in. It is this design philosophy that has led to our wide variety of partnerships with local businesses, organizations and special events that want our “STyLe” reflected in their own swag, including City Museum, KDHX, Ted Drewes, Schlafly, Great Rivers Greenway, Washington University, among countless others.
At the end of the day, we just enjoy sustaining a brand that celebrates all the endearing elements of the city we love in a way that isn’t too serious or phony. STL-Style is really our love letter to our city, and we express it in ways that resonate with others who also love St. Louis for what it is.
Before we let you go, we’ve got to ask if you have any advice for those who are just starting out?
Don’t think you need to have everything figured out before you get into it. We never had a business plan or seed funding or even a clear vision of where we wanted this business to go– we just started creating designs we liked and it took on a life of its own. Organic growth is what allows us to learn as we go and adapt to changing trends and dynamics. Our business isn’t one that easily fits into a box, so we’ve never been too structured, and of course that comes with all kinds of pros and cons. The best advice we can give is to lean on people you trust to help with the stuff you don’t know, and concentrate instead on what you love that keeps you motivated. Don’t try to be everything to everyone, just be real. And we can’t understate the importance of good customer service. The success of any small business isn’t only about the product or service you’re selling, it’s about relationships and the value add of knowing you’re a part of something greater than just your own interests. If you’re passionate and honest and learn from your mistakes, you will earn a ton of respect and support, and it’s that authenticity that feeds your success.
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: www.stl-style.com
- Instagram: @stylevines, @stlgasm, @stlstylehouse,
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/STyLehouseSTL
- Twitter: @stlstyle
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCk6d3Z1qo0dx0pT81K3TYNw/featured
- Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/stl-style-saint-louis?osq=STL-Style