Retail and Small Business & Startups

The Mitten State looks to branch out to wider audience

Graphic T-shirt company sets sights on becoming branded clothing company.

January 6, 2017
| By Pat Evans |
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The Mitten State
Rebecca Clark is helping The Mitten State with shirts designed for women with lower necklines and a better fit through the torso. Courtesy The Mitten State

When The Mitten State opened its first retail store in Eastown, ownership received some immediate feedback about its women’s fit.

The employees at the store said women were shocked at the sizing, where a large wore more like a small.

“The tag was not in line or near what the women were wearing,” Mitten State co-owner Scott Zubrickas said. “For years, we were selling a women’s cut a lot of customers weren’t happy with. They’re not very flattering, as our sizing was always seen as too small.”

About a year ago, Zubrickas and the company’s co-founder and co-owner, Will Bransdorfer, set out to find a woman who could create a custom fit in the company’s material aligning with standard female fittings.

Zubrickas and Bransdorfer found Rebecca Clark, owner of Michigan Fashion Proto in Lansing.

Clark helped The Mitten State with its first custom design and the first run of women’s cut “with a lower neckline and flairs out to be a better a fit” than what they had before, according to Zubrickas.

“It’s two guys that own this company; going out to find a woman to design it was necessary,” Bransdorfer said. “We would have botched it up royally if we tried to do it ourselves.”

Having a better product for female customers was important to the company, as women make up 60 percent of the customer base, Bransdorfer said. Those customers, however, generally are buying the unisex cut T-shirts for themselves or others as gifts.

“To cater to that customer base is a huge point of progression for us to get where we want to be,” he said. “It’s taken us several years to get here, even though we’ve known it to be an issue. We just didn’t have the financial resources to do anything about it.”

More custom designs are soon to follow, with women’s long-sleeve thermal and male and female polo designs set for release early in 2017.

The polo shirts will be the company’s first real foray into being a branded clothing company, as The Mitten State will look to build on its base as a company known for its graphic tees, with designs from Michigan universities and colleges, Michigan brands and sayings.

Zubrickas said he hopes a little red outlined Michigan will resonate with customers the same way a small polo playing horse rider works for Ralph Lauren or a tiny pink whale works for Vineyard Vines.

“A lot of our business has been graphic tees, and that’s great because everyone loves them,” Zubrickas said. “What we’re beginning to see is a desire to progress more into a lifestyle brand, so customers can take the feel of the shirt they love with them when they can’t wear a T-shirt.”

The Mitten State often is approached to print shirts for companies, organizations and events, but the company doesn’t even own a printing press, so that has amplified the need to shift from solely a graphic tee company, Zubrickas said, but the designed shirts aren’t going anywhere.

“We’re an apparel company, and we want people to know that,” he said. “Anyone can be a T-shirt company pretty quick. We have no end of designs for T-shirts, but we want to be more. We want to be true retail brand.”

As The Mitten State attempts to move from a T-shirt company to a branded apparel company, Bransdorfer said they’ll try to capitalize on the pride Michigan residents have regarding their home state.

Eventually, Bransdorfer said he hopes the company will offer a full line of clothing to allow customers to wear the brand throughout all four of the state’s seasons.

“We’re trying to tell a story that being from Michigan is a unique experience,” he said. “If people are to take anything away from us, our products, our store, our website, we want it to be that you’re lucky to be from Michigan.

“We want the Mitten to become a symbol for life in Michigan.”

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