If you've seen pop artist Ke$ha on tour or making the Hollywood scene, chances are you've seen her wearing what appears to be a fake animal on her head. When her album "Animal" took off, the singer starting sporting another type of animal — the faux-fur animal headpieces known as SpiritHoods.
But it's not just celebrities donning this unique new apparel accessory — it's also packs of 20-somethings at music festivals all around the country. And, its founders have built a charitable way to make sure the company gives back to the animals it loves to emulate in fur.
SpiritHoods took off much to the surprise of the four best friends behind the brand: Alexander Mendeluk, Chase Hamilton, Ashley Haber and Marley Morotta. And with sales skyrocketing in several countries, the founders have built a successful brand around their love of the festival lifestyle.
With backgrounds in film, production, photography, business and web design, the co-founders had all the components needed to launch a business. But first, they had to come up with a product.
"We've always wanted to combine our talents and make a product that represents the festival lifestyle. There's a market that was thirsty for that," Mendeluk said.
Once a friend showed Mendeluk how to make a basic animal hat pattern, the co-founders started creating the hoods for friends and family.
"I wore one out in Los Angeles and the response I got from people was crazy. There's no other product I've ever seen where people literally stop you to ask what it is," Mendeluk told BusinessNewsDaily.
Hit the ground running
After moving to Los Angeles, it was time to start on the prototype. "We have this product, but how are we going to produce it?" he said. After raising startup money ($10,000 from friends and family), SpiritHoods was on its way.
"One of the first things we did was launch our online store so that SpiritHoods was available to people immediately on the Internet," Mendeluk said. "What made us successful is that we wore our hoods out and we loved them. People are attracted to that kind of energy."
The founders launched the brand in February 2010 at the Pool Tradeshow, a venue that displays art- and design-driven brands. They left the show with 30 accounts, which really kicked off business.
What they were not expecting was such a huge demand right off the bat.
"Production naturally is its own beast. Manufacturers were used to selling 1,000 T-shirts. Why would they waste their time producing a garment that would take so much time? Building relationships was key," he said.
Getting the word out
With a product that leans toward the quirky side, marketing is everything.
SpiritHoods' founders worked hard to get their hoods on celebrities. One of the co-founders, Hamilton, was a photographer with contacts in the entertainment industry. He passed along the line to Ke$ha, a personal friend. Then, SpiritHoods was sucked into the pop music scene, with Fergie, Pink and Bruno Mars showing their support.
"When you're placing a product [with celebrities], focus on where you're trying to build your company. I don't think we could have launched anywhere else but Los Angeles. The city itself has cultivated this culture on what's new," Mendeluk said.
Mendeluk said that having a story behind his company’s products has really helped garner attention from Hollywood types. The company donates a portion of its sales to charities that help save wildlife habitats.
"It's important to have a story and cause behind what you're doing," he said. "The philanthropic side to a company is extremely important. Celebrities are drawn to that because they are active on different causes."
Mendeluk has found that keeping up with rapid growth has been a challenge in their first year, but the founders are finally catching up to demand. As they move forward, SpiritHoods' owners are taking control of social media marketing via the company blog.
They have recently given away a SpiritHood on Facebook and Twitter. The blog has also encouraged worldwide participation when fans were asked to choose the next SpiritHood in the line.
Just one year since its launch, SpiritHoods now has 200 accounts worldwide. They picked up distribution in the United Kingdom and are working with distributors in Australia and Scandinavia.
Yet, despite their success, Mendeluk has remained clearly focused on the future.
"When people think of SpiritHoods, I want them to think that we're the leader in designing and developing top-quality faux-fur fashion accessories," Mendeluk said.