December 17, 2015 | By Chuck Carlson
He sold his first order of apparel, Josh Fales recalls with a grin, as a junior at Albion College in April 2005.
“I think I sold them for five dollars a pop,” he said.
And for Fales, ’06, what started as a hobby soon turned into something he could turn into a career. “I sold almost $25,000 in T-shirts my senior year.”
Today, Fales is founder and president of CreateMyTee, an online retailer that specializes in custom designed T-shirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants and various other apparel.
Launched in November 2008, Fales now employs 17 people at his company’s Ann Arbor headquarters, and another 11 at a Grand Rapids production facility.
Fales wouldn’t reveal exact sales numbers but said it was a “multimillion-dollar company which is growing 20 percent-plus year over year.”
And Fales, 32, expects that to continue.
“We have a great team and we believe in our product,” he said. “It does help that this is a 15-billion-dollar-a-year industry. But we’re aggressively pursuing our mission to be the premier custom design apparel company in the country.”
And he’s doing this with more than a little help from other Albion grads, including Director of Operations Steve Hall, ’09; Marketing Manager Michael Baker, ’11; Finance Manager Mackenzie Novak, ’15; and just recently he added another Albion grad, Mara Zinn, '15, as a project manager.
The reason for the Albion allegiance? That’s simple, Fales said.
“It’s the quality of the student,” he said. “Albion prepares students for the workplace by giving them the necessary critical thinking skills and all-around analytical minds. Albion students have the drive, passion and desire to learn on a daily basis."
That’s an attitude he learned as a graduate of Albion’s Carl A. Gerstacker Institute for Business and Management.
Novak, a member of the Gerstacker Institute and Waterford native, graduated last May with a degree in finance and business. She first heard about Fales when he spoke to a collection of Gerstacker students early last year.
“He was talking about his business and how he started and he said he might have an opportunity open for internships in finance,” she said. “I went up and talked to him and one thing led to another. Now I'm a part of the team."
Novak, who completed two separate internships at the company in the summer and fall of 2014, walked across the Commencement stage seven months ago with a full-time position at CreateMyTee waiting for her.
“It worked out almost perfectly,” she said, and then added that having other Albion graduates as colleagues is a benefit not only to the employees but to the business.
“We like to stay involved in on campus,” she said. “And having an alumni connection is important to us.”
Fales, a native of Jenison, was drawn to Albion first because of family. His cousin played basketball for the Britons. And then second because, after a visit, he knew it was the place for him.
“It came down to Michigan or Albion, but I felt at home on (Albion’s) campus,” he said. “Many of my opportunities have been the result of the time I spent here. The friends I’ve made, the professors I can still call. My wife (Jane) went to a big university and she still can’t wrap her head around this Albion thing.”
For Fales, who earned his degree in economics and management, CreateMyTee was a natural outgrowth of what he does best—market and sell. But it didn’t start that way.
Out of college he worked for an Ann Arbor-based tech company. When the recession hit, he had to look elsewhere.
In April 2008 he met web developer John Burnside and convinced him to join the team. By November of that year their website was up and running, and by March 2009 CreateMyTee became a full-time commitment. Burnside still writes every line of code for the expanding site, Fales said.
The company now ships to all 50 states and into Canada, and Fales has no plans of slowing down.
And, as he did with Novak’s class, he continues to speak with Gerstacker students about his business and their own goals. His last speaking engagement was in October.
“It can be overwhelming when looking at the job market,” Fales said. “But I tell them, ‘If I can do this, you can, too. It’s not impossible.’”
In the meantime, his company continues to grow and he’s looking to a future he could not have imagined five years ago.
“It’s like climbing a mountain,” he said. “We spend all of our time looking at the peak. Sometimes we need to stop, look down, and appreciate how far we have come.”