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Choonimals Clothing Company Gets Distribution Deal

Melanie McIntyre Melanie McIntyre
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Just 21 months after its launch, locally bred Choonimals Clothing Co. has two of its screen printed T-shirts available for purchase at a major retailer. Nonetheless, the company’s founders aren’t resting on their laurels.

“Two of our favorite designs are in 81 Zumiez stores nationwide.” says Chris Theibert, 25-year-old co-owner and illustrator for Choonimals.

“We have worked incredibly hard to get to where we are and we would love to see every single one of our designs in all 350 stores,” he adds.

Prior to the partnership with Zumiez (a retailer that offers gear, clothing and accessories for skateboarding and snowboarding), Choonimals had a strong cult following in Columbus and New Jersey.

“Now, it has the potential to grow worldwide,” Theibert says. “I just got some fan pictures of a Swede wearing our ‘Gnarigator’ shirt in Sweden! Seeing and hearing the excitement in people’s voices when they get exposed to Choonimals is one of the greatest rewards. We wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t for those amazing reactions and words of encouragement, and Zumiez has just helped us spread the word.

“Zumiez came to us and before that, we had been preparing to make a really nice presentation to bring to stores and ignite talks about our line. I’m proud to say that presentation is now finished, and Joe and Alex are sailing full speed ahead into stores to show off our line.”

As Choonimals’ current distribution deal with Zumiez suggests, there is something to be said for going with your gut instinct.

About two years ago, Choonimals’ five founders spontaneously began drawing on fellow festival-goers with markers.

“It was a huge, huge hit. There were lines of people I had never met, waiting for me to draw a Choonimal on them,” Theibert explains. “So we recognized the potential of these creatures and, while we were on vacation, inspiration struck and we thought it could be a good idea to put them on T-shirts.”

So what exactly is a Choonimal?

“We started drawing these creatures back in high school and one day, we were eating at an Arby’s and our server’s name was Choon,” he says. “One of the guys, Drew Kilkenny, thought the name was hilarious, so the next time an animal was drawn, he dubbed it a ‘Choonimal.'”

The company’s founders “didn’t really have a [business] plan at all,” Theibert says. “We knew that the Choonimals themselves were an intriguing hit, so we founded the company for no reason other than to share these creatures with as many people as we could. We wanted everyone to enjoy them, like we do, and like all those random strangers did.”

Start-up financing also wasn’t a consideration.

“It was totally set up on a whim and a hope,” he says. “We have a really good relationship with my aunt’s promotional company out in New Jersey, so she literally took us under her wing, printed all these shirts without any guarantee that they would sell, and luckily they sold really, really well or else we would have owed her a lot of money.”

To date, Choonimals has six “contributors,” he continues. “Matt Peters runs our finances and legal stuff; I do all the designing and graphic artwork; Alex Weinhardt does all our PR and event bookings; Chad Long does all our logistics and shipping and store management; Drew Kilkenny is our life coach and helps us out at events; and Joe Goetzinger −our newest asset− is our salesman and marketing guy.

“We’re all very, very good friends and treat each other like brothers. Most of us grew up together, and have known each other since we were in [Lincoln Elementary School in Gahanna.] We’ve come across so many people that wanted to ‘help out,’ but most have completely let us down.”

In addition to T-shirts, Choonimals presently offers hoodies, undies, and onesies (printed on American Apparel clothing) for sale on its Web site.

“I guess you could categorize it all as ‘streetwear,'” Theibert says. “We wanted to use styles that people can wear anywhere at any time: to school, a party, on the street, a concert, et cetera. We don’t really want to make items that can only be worn at certain events, like dresses or something. We want our clothing to be versatile.”

However, that doesn’t mean Choonimals is averse to adding items to its repertoire.

“We definitely are always down for adding different stuff. Once we become more established and recognized, we can justify doing different styles…like a Choonimal Snuggie,” he says, laughing. “Just kidding. I would never…”

Zumiez is carrying the company’s “Sea Massacre of 1979” T-shirt and the aforementioned “Gnarigator” T-shirt− Choonimals’ top seller.

“At the Bamboozle festival in East Rutherford, New Jersey, we sold out of both of these designs, in all sizes, by mid-afternoon of the first day,” Theibert says. “And this was after Zumiez had already ordered them, so we were very pleased with their decision to pick up those designs.” (Turns out Bamboozle also helped seal the company’s fate with Zumiez; while browsing the festival’s Web site, a representative from Zumiez found a link to the Choonimals site. The rest is history.)

“The end goal is to have our own store, where people can walk in off the street and see what we’ve created, and bring it home to their family and friends,” he says. “We also would like those same people to order their very own custom Choonimal and shirt. We’d love for a random person to walk in, love our stuff, say they want me to draw them a penguin and put it on a purple shirt, and I’d love to be able to do that for them right then and there, and give them their one-of-a-kind custom shirt in the next day or two.”

For more information about Choonimals clothing, visit www.Choonimals.com.


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