La Jolla T-shirt startup blows up: how Fresh Clean Tees grew $45 million in two years
Founded by a San Diego couple shipping plain T-shirts out of their guest bedroom, the startup exploded in 2020
Online T-shirt startup Fresh Clean Tees, founded by a La Jolla couple as a side-gig, is now exploding online — and becoming one of San Diego’s fastest-growing e-commerce brands.
Starting out as a subscription box company, Fresh Clean Tees sells solid-colored T-shirts for men. The impetus behind the startup was the idea that men regularly need refreshed T-shirts, and many prefer something nicer than the multi-packs available at big-box retailers. Customers could choose a variety pack to be sent to their doorstep on a regular schedule.
For the record:
11:43 a.m. June 18, 2021An earlier version of this story had incorrect revenue for 2020. The company earned $20 million in 2020 and is on track to earn $50 million in 2021.
Founded in the Pacific Beach house of married couple Matthew and Melissa Parvis, the startup was earning roughly $500,000 in annual revenue by 2017. At the time, the couple was astounded at their growth, shipping over 1,000 packages a month out of their small house.
“The guest bedroom became a fulfillment office, and the garage was the warehouse,” Matthew said in a 2017 interview.
By 2019, the startup was earning $5 million in revenue. But the meteoric growth didn’t take off until the pandemic when Fresh Clean Tees rocketed to $20 million in annual revenue — and is on track to do $50 million in 2021.
“COVID had an impact on all e-commerce brands,” said Matthew. “People were unable to shop at the mall and unable to try clothes on at Target. It created an opportunity for brands like us to get our product in the hands of customers who may have been averse to buying things online before.”
And more guys are wearing T-shirts than ever before, thanks to the casual makeover of most white-collar workers.
“T-shirts are far more important to a guy’s day-to-day than people give them credit for,” Parvis said. “Even before the pandemic, T-shirts were a staple whether it’s under a suit and tie, or you’re just wearing them with nice jeans or slacks. They’re incredibly versatile.”
Like many e-commerce companies, the main draw to Fresh Clean Tees clothing is its brand. The company endears itself to men looking for better fitting T-shirts than what they can buy in big-box retailers, but at a still-affordable price point. The tees are made of a blend of cotton and polyester that’s subjected to proprietary softening techniques to make the shirts extra comfortable. A plain T-shirt sells for $17 on the company’s website, while a five-pack sells for $75.
Its core customers are a little older than the Gen Z audience that so many e-commerce companies target — millennials or young fathers, for example.
Fresh Clean Tees primarily advertises through Facebook and Instagram, diving deep into its data to understand exactly which marketing tactics work best.
“Even though we’re an apparel company, we look at everything we do as if we were a tech company,” Matthew said. “We have a robust data warehouse and we’re running tests on every single ad to see which three seconds are going to draw the most attention.”
The startup raised a small round of investment capital led by Guild Capital just before its revenue took off. The founders said they attribute much of their growth to their team and the expertise they gained through their investors.
Fresh Clean Tees now employs 20 people at its La Jolla office.
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