Two years in, Feo still quacking

Ugly duckling Jesse Wallace, cofounder of Feo, displays several T-shirt designs produced by the growing company. Feo’s shirts are available at Midwest Skate in West Ridge Mall and at The Looking Glass, located at 21st and Washburn Ave.

Justin Shepard

With their laid-back style, Jesse Wallace and Randy Morgan may not look like your typical suit-wearing CEOs. But after two years, they still have one thing that many other new business owners don’t. Namely, their business.

Wallace and Morgan are the cofounders of Feo, a company that designs and makes clothing. In an economy where some statistics show that 80 percent of new businesses fail within the fi rst two years, Feo is still going strong and getting stronger.

The company, whose name means “ugly” in Spanish, was originally conceived in February 2006 when the two were both still Washburn students. By that December Feo had already distributed somewhere between 50 to100 shirts to the public, expanded toLawrence, and even managed to get Midwest Skate in West Ridge Mall to carry eight of their designs. Since then nearly every aspect of the company has evolved.

“It’s really gotten a little bit moreprofessional,” said Wallace. “We’ve kind of upgraded.”

Wallace explained that when they fi rst started out they were simply drawing the designs on the shirts with markers. Now they use Adobe Photoshop and have developed a relationship with Justin Shiney, a screenprinter who operates out of Lawrence.

Feo’s methods aren’t the only things that have improved. They’ve tweaked the name to stand for “For Every One,” a motto that conveys not only that Feo can be worn by anybody but that its also specifi cally for the individual. Midwest Skate is now selling around 30 of their designs. The Looking Glass, another local store, has also started carrying Feo designs.

While they don’t have their own Web site yet, they are in the process of setting up a MySpace and are also taking requests on their Facebook pages. Originally sticking with just T-shirts, they have since developed hoodies, hats and bandannas. Even the logo has changed, from a full body duck with cartoon eyes to the more streamlinedpaper-bagged “ugly duckling” head that is currently found on their merchandise. They are growing in popularity in Topeka, Lawrence and now in Manhattan, thanksin part to the aggressive undergroundadvertising of friends.

“I guess you could say we have helpers. You could almost call it a ‘street team,'” said Wallace. “I got guys at KU, at K-State. It’s kind of cool because that way we have people that are involved in their schools that are more than willing to put up fl yers, rock out shirts … some really cool kids who just want to be involved any way they can.”

Dan Salazar, owner of Midwest Skate, says that customers have a good response to the brand.

“Jesse and Randy came to me and told me about their project. Those told me about their project. Those two seem to be trying to do their own thing, and its local, so why not support them?” said Salazar. “People expect the brands we haveand when they see it and we inform them, they’re like, ‘that’s cool.’ People like to see that it’s not just a company. It’s actual people doing it.”

Another part of the reason Feo has been so successful has been their sincerity.

“[When] interacting with customers, the best way is just telling them how it is,”said Wallace. “Just telling them exactlywhat’s going on and being real with them.”

Wallace’s degree in communication has also been helpful.

“Being able to approach people and being like, ‘I have this T-shirt that I’m making, and its a piece of me. Do you want to buy one?’ is diffi cult, but I think that without that background, it would be muchmore [diffi cult],” said Wallace

The future is also looking bright. Feo is constantly coming up with new products. They are currently developing a business plan that would allow consumers to customize their own designs, furtheringtheir emphasis on individuality. There istalk of splitting off their side logo, 1985, into a separate line of clothing and of opening their own screenprinting storeclose to campus. Feo has even followedthe example of other casual streetwear companies and started sponsoring localskateboarding prodigy Ryan Kaufman, aneighth grader at Jardine Middle School.Wallace even mentioned setting up a tableon campus sometime during the spring.

Despite all their relative success, theFeo crew remain grateful.

“I just appreciate all the support,” said Wallace. “As long as it’s around, I’m happy. It’s my yoga. It’s relaxing, it’sfun. I put on a CD, put on some good tunes, and just make some shirts.”

As long as Feo’s success continues on in the same direction, other brands shouldtake note: It’s about to get ugly.