Today we’d like to introduce you to Christopher Coriale.
Hi Christopher, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
In 2016, I wanted to start a business that was outside of technology since I have been in the tech industry my whole life. Being from NY, I had been exposed to the fashion industry and the waste it creates, I thought that if I could create a more sustainable product that was domestically made, I could help to combat fast fashion, which is the cheap, foreign-made products we buy everyday at our favorite stores, only to throw out in 6-12 months so that we can buy more next year.
Growing up in the Northeast, where it snowed seemingly half of the year, I wore undershirts my whole life, but I have never had an undershirt that fit properly or felt comfortable. Traditional cotton undershirts shrink, get tight under your arms, and ultimately, pull out of your pants due to shrinking. To prevent this, most people buy the next size up to accommodate shrinkage, but then you’re stuck with an ill-fitting undershirt that bunches around the waist and creates a sloppy look. Therefore, I spent the better part of the next three years perfecting our undershirt, The Manhattan, so that it fits properly, stays tucked in, isn’t baggy, and is so soft, you’ll never want to take it off. Most people say that it’s so comfortable that it doesn’t feel like they are wearing anything at all. We have changed the pattern many times, tweaking every part of the shirt, from making the arms just long enough to catch the top of the bicep to tapering the shirt for a more slim fit and making it long enough to accommodate shrinkage so that it remains tucked even after many washes. In 2019, CJA was officially launched with a new website and marketing initiative for The Manhattan perfect men’s undershirt, and it’s only grown from there.
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Starting a business is never a smooth road, and this one is no different. After hiring a marketing team to work with, we kicked off 2019 with a new website design, social media campaign, pay-per-click ads, and press releases. Within the first month, I got a call from As Seen On TV asking about making a commercial for The Manhattan. This seemed like a great opportunity to get national exposure through a known marketing avenue, albeit not the demographic I was targeting, but the exposure couldn’t hurt, right? The process of being accepted went fairly quickly, and soon after our initial talks they wanted to move forward. The one catch of the deal is that you have to pay a partner fee of almost $15,000 to get started, ouch!
Being self-funded, this was a big expense, but after weighing the possible benefits, I decided to move forward. This was the Spring of 2019, and the whole project was supposed to be completed by August of that year so we could have the final commercial out by the fall. Unbeknownst to me, during this process, ASOTV was being acquired, so what was supposed to be a 90-120 day timeline turned out to be almost an 8-month project. The commercial wasn’t finalized until after Thanksgiving, almost totally missing the holiday shopping season. Unfortunately, the commercial didn’t air until the week of Christmas, and as it turns out, it only aired during the shows produced by the new parent company, which are basically talk shows for Lifetime TV. The shirts didn’t sell well to that demographic, so had to do something new in 2020. Turning lemons into lemonade, I reached out to the various people at the new company and was able to get in touch with one of the execs and explain my story.
After a few months of going through what had happened and discussing a new path forward, we decided to start a new contract together and move away from the ASOTV side of the house. Their side was more online marketing focused, along with having the full studio production capabilities, so it seemed like a great move. The new marketing team wanted to do a rebrand, photoshoot, social media campaigns, and find my demographic so that we could focus and build throughout the year. This all started pre-Covid and moved into the Covid lockdowns, which made everything more difficult, especially since they are located in FL, and I’m in AZ. Traveling was all of a sudden not an option, so everything we did was online. This made it a bit more difficult and slowed things down greatly. It took a few months just to get things moving, rebrand the website, and have the materials needed to create the ads that were used to drive traffic.
While the team was great and the new website looked amazing, we weren’t able to convert traffic into sales. The trust factor was missing being an unknown brand, and this was becoming more apparent. Therefore, late last year, I decided to bring everything local and do a big PR push in Phoenix to try to create a local following. I found a great PR company, Knife & Fork Media group who originally specialized in restaurants but have branched out and luckily for me, work with retailers and fashion lines. I quickly put out another press release and was able to land a few spots on the local morning shows on Channel 3 and Fox10 Phoenix. Those were the boosts I needed to get the word out, generate sales and build trust with customers. To me, the trust factor is what is greatly missing on social media advertising. It’s not a way to build a brand but more of a way to keep one going. Connecting with an audience that follows their favorite morning show was the key. So, in 2021, we are going to take a new direction and ramp up with new designs, media, and other outlets. It’s been a lot of trial and error and a lot of money to get to this point, but with the new designs for women created in 2020 and some publicity, I feel that 2021 will be the year for CJA.
Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I’ve been an engineer since college, working for software startups most of my life because I’ve always enjoyed the creation process and building products that people can use and benefit from. I try to find solutions to problems, which is why the tech industry was attractive, so I apply that same mentality to CJA. I take existing products and fix the issues that I see with them. Most people don’t think of software development as a creative process because you can’t see what happens behind the webpages and mobile apps that you use everyday, but you have to be creative in order to design and build software that works well and makes the customer experience intuitive and easy. Therefore, I wanted to apply that same creativity to men’s apparel and make something that I’ve been frustrated with my whole adult life. The Manhattan undershirt was born out of that frustration with current men’s undershirts. Men’s clothing doesn’t get the attention or love that women’s clothing does, and we have limited options, so I wanted to at least address part of that.
Therefore, I found the best fabric I could, Tencel, that was not only the most eco-friendly but also the softest fabric on the market. I think the thing I’m known for that most of my friends will say is that I’m always working. I figured out a long time ago that you really can only be really good at two things in life. If you try to do more, there just isn’t enough time in the day to really focus and become an expert at all of them. Therefore, if you have a day job, you still have 6-8 more hours in the day to focus on something you really enjoy. So, instead of spending that second part of the day lounging around, I start my second job, as I call it, and focus on the business of CJA. What sets me apart from others is that I will do whatever it takes to achieve my goal and not waste time on things that don’t move the needle. Starting a business requires being out of your comfort zone, taking risks, and failing, lots of failing, but I feel that you cannot learn what success is until you’ve failed a few times. If you don’t fail, you’re not trying hard enough. There is no direct path to success, and once you understand and embrace it’s a bumpy ride, you’ll have a greater chance of getting there. The only failures are the ones that eventually quit.
What matters most to you? Why?
What matters most to me is creating something bigger than myself that I enjoy doing, provides benefits to others, and can support me without having to work an additional job. It is satisfying to know that the products you have created are sought out and enjoyed by others to the point where they want to be part of your journey. I’ve been chasing that goal most of my life, which is why I worked at small startups. That is what is fulfilling about work and what gets me up in the morning. Going to any old job to collect a paycheck is not interesting to me at all, no matter what the pay is. I’d rather make less and be fulfilled than make more doing work that doesn’t matter to me. At the same time, starting a business is a capital-intensive process, so there is a necessary evil of having to have a job while growing a business.
- The Manhattan Men’s Crew or V-neck Tee $48
- The Milan Women’s V-neck $54
- The Sedona Women’s Crop Top $48
- The Maui Women’s Tank Top $43
- The Cupertino Men’s Long Sleeve $58
- Website: https://christopherjapparel.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/christopherj.apparel/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/christopherjapparel/
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtr6Ah3a_49wziYpJT_7E8A/videos