In this insightful conversation, we explore the entrepreneurial journey of Grant Nestor, the founder of Hammies, a unique clothing brand known for its retro style and vibrant presence in the e-commerce world. Grant's path from small clothing ventures in his youth to establishing a distinctive brand in the competitive fashion industry offers a compelling story of innovation, perseverance, and adaptability.
Grant: Thanks for having me, Chris. Well, I studied business in college and my dad was very entrepreneurial, so I always saw myself doing something entrepreneurial myself. I did not expect to be running a fashion business, but it’s also not a complete surprise because I have run several little clothing businesses in the past. I launched my first t-shirt brand in fifth grade, another one in eighth grade, another one in tenth grade, and yet another in college. In college, I was making everything by hand and spending entire weekends making t-shirts. Eventually, I decided: “I don't want to do this anymore. I don't even want to be in the fashion industry.” I was really fascinated with the Internet and what people were calling “web 2.0” at the time. The fact that Wikipedia could be written and edited by a bunch of volunteers and remain a credible source blew my mind. I later got very involved in open-source software which was the extension of this concept to software development.
So, I gave up on the clothing business and I started learning everything I could about software and the Internet. My first job was at a tech startup in LA where I was working in business development. I did that for a few years but it just wasn't very stimulating. Mobile apps were starting to become a thing so I left that job to pursue a mobile app idea. I built a prototype with a developer friend but since we had no startup capital and neither of us were being paid, he eventually left for a better job. I continued doing UX/UI design as a consultant and worked on a couple more mobile app projects with friends. I eventually taught myself how to code because I knew what I wanted to build and didn’t want to depend on coders to get it done.
I was wearing these vintage OP corduroy shorts. They were radically short at the time and people were commenting more and more on them. I would say “they’re the best shorts ever and if somebody doesn't bring them back, then I'm going to have to do it.” I waited a year or two and I was genuinely shocked that nobody was doing it, so I got started. I was living in LA at the time and I would make trips to the garment district to meet with different factories, fabric and trim suppliers, and dye houses. After 6 months of “development,” the first production run of Hammies shorts arrived.. I created a Shopify store and Hammies was born.
The first run was about 150 shorts, the second was 750, the third was 1,500, and it continued to grow that way for the first 2 years. Eventually, it became too much to juggle Hammies and my software development work. Within 3 months, Sarah and I got married, we moved the inventory from our little house in Santa Monica to a fulfillment center in San Bernardino, I left my software development contract and Sarah her full-time teaching position, and we left LA to go on a 9-month honeymoon from Australia to Japan. We both started working on Hammies full-time and since we had outsourced the physical part of the business to a fulfillment center, we were able to do it from the other side of the globe. Four months into the trip, COVID happened and we decided that it would be prudent to return to the US. We moved into a family friend’s house that was for rent in Santa Barbara and we’ve been in SB ever since.
Hammies got its first big break in 2020. E-commerce and roller skating really exploded during COVID. We connected with the roller skating community in 2018 and the Hammies short became a favorite among a small but influential community of female roller skaters. Interest in roller skating peaked in 2020 due to various forces: it was an activity that people could do during the height of COVID, TikTok was amplifying roller skating content, and I believe that it was time for roller skating to have a comeback because when you look back at the history of the OP shorts and 1970-80s fashion in general, so many people were on roller skates and they were having so much fun.
In May of 2021, we had our first baby girl, Sophie, and I was still running the entire business myself, so after a very exhausting summer I made a commitment to build out a team so that I could spend more time with our family. In 2022, we brought on a social media manager, a customer service manager, and an ad agency as well as some people to help with email marketing and PR. Our sales grew about 4x in 2022 and then came to a screeching halt when — let’s just say the largest denim brand in the world — threatened to sue us if we didn’t remove a little red Hammies label from all of our products. We had to let go of most of the team at the end of the year and rebuild it in 2023.
In 2023, the e-commerce industry came back down to earth. We placed our biggest purchase orders yet because we were forecasting our sales to grow from the previous year and although 2023 sales have surpassed 2022, we are still sitting on about 4x more inventory than we expected. However, we have rebuilt the team this year and I couldn’t be happier about it. We have 3 locals — our photographer Gabi, content strategist Daisy, and product development manager Erin — and 3 remote — our social media manager Annabelle in LA, graphic designer Rachel in Nashville, and customer support manager Sanya in Jamaica.
Grant: Ha! I’m all over the website. We don’t want the brand to be about us, we don't even have a story page even though we should, but we were the only models for the first couple of years, so Sarah and I continue to model in our photo shoots. Sarah is super pregnant right now so she has been behind the scenes more lately. The rest of our models are our friends for the most part. We have a lot of fun at our shoots.
The brand is very unique, I agree with you there. Since starting it, I've discovered some other retro brands — brands that exclusively make styles from the 1970s for example — and it's great, but I can count them all on one hand. They’re either very hippie or very rock-and-roll and we're something else. We’re always researching, whether it be browsing vintage photos and catalog pages on Pinterest or watching old movies, and the deeper we get, the more focused the brand becomes. It started out with the corduroy shorts style from the 1970-80s, then we branched out into terry cloth and swim which was more inspired by styles from the 1960s. Since then, we have been mostly interested in the 1960s because it was such a transformational decade. When it comes to fashion, the sixties started out pretty conservative and classy and ended with an explosion of styles, with influences ranging from old Western, Native American, Indian, and even Victorian/Edwardian! I quote Austin Powers: It was a very groovy time.
When it comes to women's fashion, pretty much everything has been done and is continuing to be done. When it comes to men's fashion though, I think that we are the only brand making these styles true to their original form, like inseam length.
Grant: I would say the most challenging part was just having no experience and starting from scratch. In the beginning, I was facilitating every step of the production process. I was sourcing the fabric, transporting rolls of fabric in my little hatchback to the dye house, and then transporting the dyed fabric to our factory in Orange County. It was what I had to do at the time because our production runs were too small for any full-package factory. Inevitably, something would get screwed up every step of the way. I was also buying deadstock fabric, so I would find 9 rolls of good corduroy and then we would use it up and I’d have to source new fabric, and it was never exactly the same quality. It's hard to control quality that way. So after about two years, we decided that if we want to continue to scale this business, we need to work with a full-package factory that will oversee the entire process, from sourcing material to cutting and sewing the garments. We received prototypes from a couple of different factories and ended up going with a factory in China because their quality was the best by far.
We have been working with this factory for about 3 years now and it’s been great. They have taken so much of the work off my plate. Now that I don’t need to manage each step of the production process, I’m able to focus much more energy on design and planning. Finding a good production partner is key.
Grant: I ran ads from the beginning because I didn’t have direct access to our theoretical customer (vintage enthusiasts), so I used ads to reach them. I managed the ads myself until last spring. I was spending conservatively because, frankly, I was afraid to spend more. When we started working with our ad agency, our daily spend quickly surpassed what I was spending per month. As a result, our revenue quadrupled almost overnight. That was an enlightening experience. Later that year I learned that there is a limit to how much we can scale our ads, which was also enlightening.
We are fortunate to have a lot of enthusiastic customers. I believe that because our products are so unique, people are more motivated to talk about them, so we get a lot of UGC (user-generated content). When I started Hammies, most brands were still trying to figure out how to use Instagram and social media. I remember observing how brands like Chubbies had managed to engage their customers in such a way that their customers were creating content and promoting the brand for them. Since I funded Hammies myself and didn’t have a marketing budget, UGC was the marketing strategy. I spent a lot of time engaging with customers on Instagram, or “celebrating” them I should say. Now we almost get more UGC than we can handle!
We have dabbled with PR and influencer marketing and it will probably play a larger role in our marketing strategy in the future. We are investing more in collaborations with content creators and less on our own in-house photo shoots. UGC-style content tends to perform better on social media compared to our professional, highly-stylized content.
Grant: Yeah, it's really exhausting. I occasionally miss the cushy software development job that I had before Hammies, but this is definitely more fun.
I think the primary motivator is that I'm supporting our family, so I have to do this in order to pay the bills. I’m also very encouraged by all of the positive feedback that we get from customers and fans of the brand. We have a lot of very happy customers. Anytime we do something in-person for Hammies, whether it be a photo shoot or market, I get to see Hammies through other people’s eyes and it serves as a reminder of why I do this.
Grant: That's a good question. I've been thinking about this lately because I've been operating very reactively for the past couple of years. So looking out five years… I think the first goal is to build out a full-time team. It would be really powerful to have just a couple of people working full-time on Hammies. It would definitely give me more space to work on the important parts of the business and allow me to be more creative and strategic. It would also be really interesting to see what we could accomplish if we had several people dedicating all of their workday energy into Hammies.
My second goal is to have a physical space that can accommodate all of the things that we want to do as a team. We currently have a little showroom and office here in Carpinteria, California. We share it with some local surfboard shapers and a coffee cart and it’s great, but it's small. I would love to have enough space to have a showroom, office, photo studio, storage for inventory and vintage stuff, and host events.
My third goal is to develop a video style for Hammies. It’s all about video on social media these days so we need to start creating more video content but I want to develop a style that feels very authentic to the 1960s. A big focus of ours this year has been to make everything we put out there feel like it's straight out of the sixties. I think we have made some good progress but there’s much more to do. The next step is sixties-style video.
Grant: The first thing I would say is: Weigh your options. Starting a business is a lot of fun and a lot of work. It’s easier than ever to start a business but it’s also more competitive than ever. Does the world need your product or service?
My logic for starting Hammies was as follows: These are the best shorts ever. They were wildly popular back in the 1970s and 80s. Fashion trends are cyclical so they are bound to become popular again. The Hammies short has yet to go mainstream but trends are heading in the right direction.
Hammies is a brand that serves a niche market. The advantage of operating in a niche is that we have no direct competitors and the disadvantage is that the market is small. Hammies has the potential to be a big fish in a small pond vs. a small fish in a big pond. Personally, I prefer to be the former. So I would advise entrepreneurs to focus on a niche to start and then expand once the brand has attained big fish status in that market.
Grant Nestor's entrepreneurial journey with Hammies is a vivid illustration of how a unique vision, when coupled with determination and adaptability, can transform a niche idea into a thriving e-commerce brand. His insights into the world of fashion, e-commerce, and brand-building provide invaluable lessons for anyone aspiring to make their mark in the industry. We extend our heartfelt thanks to Grant for sharing his experiences and wisdom with such candor.
Stay connected with the vibrant world of Hammies and follow their journey on social media. You can find them on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. Join their community to keep up with the latest styles, behind-the-scenes content, and the ongoing evolution of this remarkable brand.