After Lee Moffie and Steven Fisher graduated in 2013 with their respective degrees in history and complex systems, they tried nine-to-five positions and internships that left them feeling, well, uninspired. But they found inspiration in their friendship, alma mater, and mutual interest in starting something new, which led to the creation of their clothing brand, State and Liberty. Now, Jeff Carter of the LA Kings, Jordan Kovacs of the Miami Dolphins, and Luke Glendening of the Detroit Red Wings are among the athletes who wear their shirts.
Moffie and Fisher discuss the ideas behind their brand, how their innovation fit a niche market, their advice to students with an entrepreneurial spirit, and how their Michigan connection has helped them along the way.
How did you come up with the idea for this clothing line?
Moffie: The summer after our first year out of college… Steve was working a nine-to-five job with the Detroit Tigers, and I was working a job out in Las Vegas. With dressing up all the time for our jobs, we noticed that it was hard to find a dress shirt that naturally fit a more athletic build. And the type of fabric that we use, no one was making a dress shirt with that fabric. So we started looking at clothing types and fabrics that we liked, and with a little creativity it just started snowballing from there. We started making the shirts and sharing them with friends. And then from there, our friends’ friends started wanting to buy them.
Fisher: And I mean it’s an honest story, that we met in college and we were friends but there was never any talk of the two of us starting a men’s fashion line. It was the last thing that we ever thought we would be doing. In one of those cool, very Michigan things, you know, we struck up a good friendship and then gathered over a great idea.
Why did you choose Ann Arbor to start your business?
Fisher: Ann Arbor was where we were at the time when we first discussed and decided to pursue the business. And for us, it’s such a good home base, and it’s such a supporting community. And when we were deciding on a name, it was always going to be some Ann Arbor-based name. Ann Arbor is home to us, and it will always be home. It’s nice that we can go to different cities and travel with our brand a lot, but we like to have Ann Arbor as the home base.
So, what’s the pitch? How are these shirts different and, therefore, so successful?
Moffie: We’re making dress shirts for athletically fit people. With our fit we provide more room in the shoulders, chest, and arms. Through the waist, the shirts are cut so that they have a very tailored look. Our shirts also have minimal excess fabric. It’s a type of athletic performance fabric that, when mixed with cotton, moves with you. The fabric is moisture-wicking, wrinkle-free, and super low maintenance. You don’t have to dry clean it — you can just stick them in the washing machine and then hang them up to dry.
The State & Liberty brand exists in a niche market. Can you speak more to that?
Steve: A lot of small businesses tend to get started because they start making a product that they couldn’t already find on the market. We wanted to create dress shirts for ourselves. And we had a lot of friends, and we knew a lot of other people out there that were having the same frustrations when they went out shopping. So we are, or we’re trying, to provide a product that those people want and need.
What are the future plans for the company?
Moffie: We’re always trying to innovate and grow. We’ve got a couple new dress shirts coming out in the coming year. We’re obviously also always excited about thinking of new products for our company, like sport coats or pants or this or that. But right now we are planning on staying committed to providing this athletic dress shirt.
How has the Michigan family embraced your brand?
Fisher: The Michigan community is such a tightly knit and supportive one that when we went to the market with this, a lot of the Michigan athletes started buying and wearing our shirts. They immediately wanted to test out the shirts. Word spread quickly through the Michigan network, and it also spread pretty quickly through the hockey network.
What is a piece of advice that you would give to any student who is thinking of pursuing a career in as an entrepreneur?
Fisher: Ask for help, advice, and wisdom from everyone you know. People are eager to help and the University of Michigan network has gone above and beyond — they have been there for us every step of the way looking to help and support us in any way they can. Without the ongoing support of so many fantastic friends, mentors, and acquaintances, we certainly wouldn’t be where we are today.
Learn more from Moffie and Fisher on Friday, Feb. 12, when they’ll participate in the Alumni Association’s Face to Face program.