On Creating a Brand: Talking Lakeshore Drive with Cooper Kirby
While fashion journalism often focuses on the big hitters, much of the process of creating a brand is left out of the limelight. Before finals season hit hard, I was able to meet up with Cooper Kirby, a University of Michigan sophomore majoring in Psychology, to talk about his clothing brand, Lakeshore Drive. He and his co-owner, Ryan Murray, a Finance major at Michigan State, have had Lakeshore in the works since 2016, but recently released their first two collections in Summer and Winter of 2017.
What was the reasoning behind the two of you creating Lakeshore Drive?
Ryan and I were both in our senior year of high school, and were good friends when we came up with the idea. We both felt unsure of what we wanted out of the college experience, so this was our way of breaking away from what was expected of us as high school graduates. We both love clothing and fashion, so starting this in August of 2017 was our way of continuing to focus on these interests.
Is Lakeshore Drive an actual place?
Sort of. There are a lot of Lakeshore Drives across Michigan, but I grew up living across the lake in Traverse City from a specific Lakeshore Drive, which we chose to specifically name our brand after. We chose the name because it draws upon Traverse City, and living there definitely influenced how independent Ryan and I have been.
What got you interested in fashion?
I’ve always been pretty passionate about fashion, because it’s such a big form of identity. It’s something I’ve been able to make completely my own, it’s something empowering, and clothing was a go to for expressing a message because you can literally wear it on your sleeve. I think that fashion should be as accessible as possible, because we don’t want to limit anyone from such a powerful tool.
What is balancing running a small business and going to school like?
It works, but it’s tough because Ryan and I do almost everything. We stay in contact with our manufacturer, create our own designs, photograph for our website, and work on marketing our brand among other things. I’m really into photography, so I get to combine some of my interests with my business. I love that every ounce of work is us, because the control over what you put out is great, but it’s tough because it’s something that we always have to do. I have to spend my time that would usually be committed to a club or student organization and instead spend it running our business.
In addition to that, you and Ryan go to different universities. How has that impacted how you work on your brand?
The distance can cause problems with Ryan being an hour away at Michigan State, but for the most part we’ve worked around it. We talk almost every day on the phone, and it hasn’t really gotten between us professionally or otherwise. We’ve had to make it clear to each other that our calls as friends and our calls focusing on business have to be separated, otherwise things might get messy. Ryan’s a finance major, so he deals with more of the business oriented side of things.
Who comes up with the designs for your products?
Ryan and I have come up with all of the ideas for designs so far. The Flag Man and most recent Ski-edition tee were mine, but I petitioned my friend Rose to draw them for us. I just went up to her one day and asked “Hey, can you draw a guy with a mustache holding a flag for me?” I also came up with the design for the Double Double long sleeve, and Ryan did the Drive Crewneck. So far, our samples have been screen printed. Right now, we’re looking at getting the actual prints embroidered. Overall, it’s been a collaborative effort between the two of us.
Do you have any advice for other students looking at creating a startup in this area?
Just start! Ryan and I postponed starting for months because we wanted it to be perfect, but it just won’t be. That need for the perfect was holding us back, you just have to jump in and once you get going there are no excuses to not be 100% committed. It’s a lot of fun, and a lot of commitment, but it’s super flexible and easy to be continuously thinking from the buyer’s perspective. We plan on doing this for at least a couple more years. If it blows up, that’s the dream.