LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — A pair of high school friends have turned their love of surfing into a six-figure business they hope to turn bicoastal.
Jeremy DeFilippis, 33, of Surf City, and his friend and business partner, Cory Higgins, also of Surf City, formed a business partnership in 2003 after graduating from college.
The two were surfers and classmates together at Southern Regional High School.
“We were all surfers. We wanted to start our own brand. We put a couple ideas together during a snowboarding trip and came up with Jetty,” DeFilippis said.
“Jetty is pretty universal. There are jetties all over the world. We had a logo, too, but we jettisoned it.”
Jetty launched with graphic designs on T-shirts and other surfer wear. Initially, the company contracted the screen-printing duties to other businesses. But this did not allow for the flexibility they wanted in their designs, he said.
“In 2003, we didn’t know anything. It was a long road of learning from our own mistakes,” he said.
They started printing their own shirts and clothing in their production center off Route 539 in Little Egg Harbor Township. But there was a learning curve to master this process, he said. DeFilippis said they made many pricey mistakes along the way.
For example, they had to scrap a line of board shorts they planned to sell after they realized the men’s fly would crimp open when the wearer tightened the drawstrings. But they have had success in keeping things simple, DeFilippis said.
“Our design is very clean and fashion-forward,” DeFilippis said. “The economy has progressively gotten worse. I think people respected the fact that we kept scratching to stay above water and pay our bills.”
Surf and skate retailers suffered large losses in the wake of the recession, according to the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association’s latest sales report. The industry posted sales of $1 billion less in 2010 than the $7.2 billion posted in 2009, according to its biannual survey conducted last year. Total sales dipped 14 percent. But most retailers who cater to surfing and skateboarding consumers were expecting sales to improve.
“Surfers and skaters view the industry as a lifestyle, not a passing trend. Thus the core of the industry remains strong despite the tough economic times,” the trade group’s report said.
In 2010, Jetty hired a creative director, John Clifford, a graphic-design teacher from California who spends time each summer on Long Beach Island.
Clifford said he wanted the clothing line to reflect the character and attitude of the company and its employees.
“Jetty is not simply a name on a T-shirt. We’ve tied our brand to a larger philosophy that people connect to in a deep and meaningful way,” he said. “Our message has always been to pursue your passion, do it in a positive way, and share that passion with others. Our tagline reflects all of our core values: Draw Your Own Line.”
Jetty has branched out to different types of clothing: hats, hoodies, fleece-lined flannel shirts, shorts and scarves.
Its products are sold at stores — mostly surf or skate shops — from Maine to North Carolina. The company has annual revenue of more than $500,000 and is hoping its reach is creating the needed critical mass to expand to the West Coast.
Characters on the NBC show “Community” have worn Jetty shirts. The company sponsors professional surfers, skaters and musicians, and sponsors surfing contests on Long Beach Island each fall.
After Hurricane Sandy devastated Long Beach Island, their hometown was in shambles just days after the company sponsored a surf contest, the Clam Jam, there in Harvey Cedars on Oct. 20.
DeFilippis decided to raise money for storm victims by selling a $20 commemorative T-shirt. He circulated word of the shirt over social media and has been swamped with orders.
“We’ve turned our company into a vehicle for charity,” he said.
Normally, their website sees about 35,000 hits per day. After word spread, they were getting more than 1 million, he said.
The fundraiser is helping to spread the brand’s name. By coincidence, Higgins made his first sales trip to California since the storm, where he is answering as many questions about the region’s recovery effort as about the company’s product line, DeFilippis said.
“We’re humble. We grew up surfing and skateboarding. We love travel, music and the beach — just like our customers,” he said.
Contact Michael Miller:
Location: 1435 Route 539, Little Egg Harbor Township
Owners: Jeremy DeFilippis, Cory Higgins, Paul Clifford and Craig Clifford.
Revenue: $500,000 a year