In this episode of eCommerce Experts Talk, Marc Bishop interviewed Terrance Diggs, an activewear clothing business owner, who started from his basement but is now reaching new and new heights and stores. He reveals how he got inspired, what were and are his challenges and how he is utilising digital marketing strategies to upkeep his business online. Watch now for some profound insights.
Doing well, had a like you talking about before. I had a great weekend. Kind of recovering a little bit. I participated in the Baltimore Running Festival this weekend, so I wish I brought my 10K medal, but it’s upstairs. So trying to get the legs back in, get the mind flowing and get some stuff done this week.
Haha. I will.
Yeah. So can you just jump in? My name’s Terrence Diggs. I’m a designer, and creative entrepreneur based out of the Baltimore area. Been doing this now for about, say, six-plus years, especially on the entrepreneur side with the 17. Kind of more back in my background was a design major back in undergrad. Really took a keen to market. Never really took the classes at the time. But I was in the marketing club, the American Marketing Association at Chelsea University, the student chapter for a long time. And eventually in towards my professional career, I jumped into the professional chapter out of Baltimore and have still been designing, learning marketing ever since, driving every certification I can from SEO to e-comm to design stuff. So trying to get by nowadays and I’m doing as much design anymore or less, just a lot of back end stuff, but just kind of all around trying to be, you know, a master of everything and a jack of all trades, but got to know where my weaknesses are too, you know?
Oh, yeah, for sure.
Yeah, so I can kind of start with the first part of the question, like getting into retail and apparel. So back in undergrad, I used to always do designs like always around campus for organizations where they need, you know, t-shirts for an event that’s going on or they’re doing like a student rally, something like that. And even before that, I’ve always been like the creative guy in school. Like if there was an art project that needed something done or an illustration, I was always the guy that would do it. Or even in like elementary school, I would do like, you know, like self-portraits for like two fruit snacks. It is like at lunch. I think I always had that design and business side behind me, but kind of fast-forwarding. I used to do a lot of freelance design for a lot of musicians, and smaller clothing brands in like the Maryland, DC, Maryland, and Virginia area, as well as for businesses. If they were looking for illustrations or designs for t-shirts or merchandise, I was kind of doing that and all of that led to me starting D 17 as a brand in general. Just I’ve always been inspired by my background in athletics, in design and really the forefront of the community, being able to use sports to really uplift not only athletes but the people around them, those that have more of a fashion take on apparel, those who have more of a performance take on it. We kind of mixed it together because the D 17, obviously my last name is D, where the D came from and the 17 was my number when I played sports.
So going back to Oakwood Mills High, we always were taught, there’s no place like home. We’re always taught about community helping each other and it’s pretty tight-knit. So being able to kind of take those philosophies and time that back in with the brand and really using it now to support a lot of grassroots athletic organizations, all sports, both women’s and men’s wear. Kind of more on the soccer running basketball. I’m obsessed with pickleball now, so we’re trying to get into that kind of niche. And then just tying it all back into, I don’t know.
I’m obsessed. I love doing market research and really just seeing what people are looking for. And, you know, I was able to get in contact with a lot of athletes because they’re all still on the ground as well and they’re looking for sponsorships. So I’m like, Hey, I have an Activewear brand. I’m happy to listen to all your needs and constraints to create a product for you, and we’re just kind of going from there. So I’m always adjusting and adapting, even if it is badminton mixed with tennis, mixed with ping pong being part of like every neighbourhood.
Yeah, it’s is a lot of hidden ebooks and pickleball enthusiasts’ websites, you know, and there’s actually a, you know, you do a little Google search, you can find clubs and organizations that are around and they have events that are actually sponsored by, you know, the M.L.P. or the PBA, which is Major League pickleball or the Pro Pickleball Association. And you’re always looking for sponsors. So I’m like, Hey if I can sponsor an athlete or even a van, I’m just happy to do it.
Yeah? Cool. Got to love it.
Yeah, I’ll definitely say coming from more of the aesthetic side of things of ecommerce and then going into more of the actual practical part was probably the biggest challenge that I’ve had because I’ve always done web design, like front end. That’s great, like making it look pretty, you know, making sure stuff is sized correctly, you know, imagery photography, stuff like that. But when you’re kind of on your own or your team is really small, it’s definitely difficult trying to learn the back end and really do your, like, consumer research because you might think the site looks pretty. But how does that kind of relate to the consumer when they’re going to purchase a product? Like how does it look on the product page? How does it look like on your landing page is going back into whatever your, you know, analytics software is always Google Analytics or something and seeing like what your bounce rates are? Because a lot of times people just think, hey, I have a T-shirt, I’m going to take a picture and upload it. And then you look at the numbers and you’re like, Why is no one purchasing it? Then you might find out that, you know, your payment process wasn’t working correctly or it might not accept, you know, these certain things. And being able to kind of go back and learn that and test a lot and be open to testing and constantly refreshing is one of the solutions and how to overcome a lot of that. And as well, being able to always think of new ways that it’s like putting yourself back in the consumer mindset. That’s kind of what I always think about from the forefront, whether it is coming down to photography or trying to build out the whole kind of landscape of the site of our shop. One How can we make it easier to find us too? How can we make it easier to navigate? And three, how can we make it appealing enough that, you know, people still want to come back, whether it’s our content strategy, you know, using your blog for SEO and really, you know, showcasing sponsorships for us or partnerships or just even stories of what goes on with the brand. And then also making sure as I think now for me, we’re trying to expand a little bit more globally. How does a site translate into other languages? Are things still able to be understood by other consumers? Because we get a lot of traction from like England, Europe and was like Japan. So it’s like, okay, how can we combat that? Because we can’t ship there right now, but how can we still keep those, you know, site visitors in our kind of top-level funnel so that when the time comes, they know, like, here’s how you can acquire the product, here’s how you can get an email list or a social media following just to piece it all together holistically, you know?
Yeah. It might be a little longer than I wanted it to be, but, you know, at least it eyes that I didn’t think would happen. You know, when you’re first starting and jumping in, it’s like you look at the numbers, it’s like, wait a minute, why? Why am I getting so many things from, like, London, Tokyo, New Delhi and Sri Lanka? Like, wait a minute, all these people are finding me. So it’s like, okay, there’s some type of interest, whether it’s authentic or not, something is they are bringing you in is being able to make those decisions, whether it’s beneficial for the business or it’s just, you know, just new ideas that you can create around.
Oh yeah, for sure.
Oh yeah. The best part.
So right now we’ve been doing we’re pretty much primarily on social media, you know, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. We’re trying to jump into Tik Tok now just because of the reach from it. We’ll do a little bit of email like collecting off the website. A lot of it comes from a lot of grassroots, just our partnerships. They really help a lot, especially with SEO, like if it’s an event. We’re always trying to backlink everything to come back to us or just a lot of content creation, a lot of videos, a lot of photography being able just to funnel us back. We’re not too big right now on paid ads, but we use them a lot. So we’re on Shopify and being able to utilize a lot of their like free tools, whether it’s like Google listings, that’s been amazing. Like because people are always just looking and we’re able to get stuff from the shop. It doesn’t buy directly from Google. It just takes us back to the website, which is great, to have another listing on something and then we’ll do pop-ups every now and then and just like a kind of QR code to follow on social media, which is, you know, a lot of sharing and a lot of people are really just getting the word for us out that way.
Yeah. So this one is always very interested in making athletic wear because I’m not Nike and I’m not Adidas. And it’s kind of difficult when you’re down the street from under armour. I’m probably like 20 minutes from the headquarters. Yeah. So, you know, around here, those brands obviously are pretty huge. And even like over the weekend running the Baltimore running fest, it was all sponsored by Under Armor. I was like, man, this would be great if I could help sponsor some of this stuff. But, you know, they’re obviously one of the Giants in the game. But I would say one or two things actually that separate us, at least from the competition is a lot of our stuff is made domestically in the United States, which helps with getting shipping out quickly. If anything kind of breaks. We see everything from end to end from when the fabric comes into when they’re printing it, how it’s being shipped, you know, the most carbon neutral way because it’s made in Nevada and L.A. But I’m in Maryland, so, you know, obviously, that’s a go across the country. And I will say as well, we always try to focus on the athlete and really kind of what people are doing, whether it’s more of the performance or even more of the, I guess you could say like cosy or just everyday essential side. Being able will always try to innovate in some way. So I think when we get in the later questions, whether it’s a hoodie, what can we adjust based on what people are saying, what new products can we bring to the table and being able as well to use some of the best materials that we can find. So right now, one of our sweatpants follows. It’s called the Gots, the global organic textile standard, which means that the fabric is all organically sourced in the dyes in it or the like, and nothing harsh or anything crazy. And being able to just present that to people like Yeah. Are they always asked where do you where you get the cotton from? I’m like, it is down in North Carolina in a big old cotton field with the windmills and stuff. And I was like, we were trying to put it on our website like a live view of it so people can see like the windmill and all the fun stuff moving around.
Yeah, because we’re, we’re just extremely transparent about stuff which I think a lot of people like not only about the product, but just like how to acquire it. Because one thing that we did back on the innovating side was we put whole shipping and tracking like filters in and landing page on our site. So instead of having to go to UPS, which we use primarily, you can do, you can track everything, stop by, stop on the website, which people enjoy because they like to see where it is, where it’s going, and they can track it via their phone or sign up for SMS texting and as well just being able. Back on the product side, we always use any packaging, use recycled materials, whether it’s something, it’s a bag or if it’s on a label. Just being able to reduce waste as much as we can because fashion in apparel can be extremely wasteful, especially when it comes to sampling and inventory sizes. We usually try to keep things pretty low and then always try to keep things contemporary, but still kind of trendy. Not really following it too much, but really trying to elevate people’s style, whether it’s on or off the field.
Well, it’s also one thing that I always try to think about when I’m doing, like, fulfilment. It’s always like, I’ll get something I got ordered from another company and I’m like, Wait a minute. We put a box in a box in another box. So technically you’re paying for three boxes, three boxes for one thing. So even like on the sustainability kind of like eco side when COVID was still like, you know, everybody had masks on. I know things are a little bit more open now, but we did a lot of local drop-offs, especially for our local customers. So we had like a little outdoor as you can just come to grab it and serve someone to deliver it to you. You come to grab it yourself. They had tote bags and everything that they could take with them. They just had to schedule when to come to get it and it just made it a lot easier one for the shipping. So it’s not that I have to go from where I’ve made it to U.P.S. to go mail it and another truck that’s riding around all over the city to go to them when it’s like, okay, just come get it on your own time. Some people walked, they biked to come to get their stuff and it’s nice to just be able to see the audience as well as kind of getting on to it and they’re for it. So that’s the fun part.
Yeah, I try to go riding with them. I tried to get an e-bike two years ago and have not been successful yet. But I wanted to be around riding on my bike around the city like a little courier, putting my stuff in the bag and just delivering packages. But we haven’t fulfilled that dream just yet.
Yeah. So I actually have them behind me, which is great. I did a little bit of research on the podcast and I was like, Let me actually bring some of this stuff. So just a couple of things I have here. These are our essential socks. They’re coming in coloured. Just a nice cru vintage sock. You can see it here. We also have recyclable labels as well as just regular old cardboard that they just print on top with the water-based ink as well as we kind of use recyclable plastic as well when just transporting it. Some reasons people love these. They’re durable, and they’re used for like a multitude of reasons, whether it’s just casual, kind of moving around. I take them hiking with me, which is great, and I tell people, you can beat them up, throw them in the washer, and they’ll come out just fine. So that’s always great. And then these two more things I have here, this was our army green, kind of cosy or hoodie, which actually has a puff print design on it. So it actually kind of elevates off. It’s kind of hard to see, but it kind of elevates off of the fabric and has a texture to it. So this was one of our products. We run a complex magazine two years ago. Oh. Said he loved these and they went out. Great people. Yeah, people love the colour. Usually, everything I always made was black because I tried to do too much consumer research and I was like, Nobody wants the other colours. They just want the black, the black shirts, the black pants. And then we kind of just kept with it. And I was like, Let’s introduce Army Green, and everybody loved it. And then I guess like, yeah, it’s great.
It’s mac and I have to bring some of them back and I have to send you one. And then our final kind of like the best piece, this was from 2020. This was our like run club jackets. This was a sample. So don’t mind if stuff’s fallen off, but I had three printing on the back as well, just for visibility for runners. And, it actually folds into a little pouch that you can put it in. And usually, I run with like a fanny pack. So usually if it gets too hot, you can kind of pull it off and put it into a pouch that’s foldable. I was probably about this large in size, has a little string on the hand that you can just put together and just hold on or you can put your wallet, or your phone in it. So it’s nice and it serves a dual purpose and people just like the huge visibility logos on the back. So if they’re running people, you can be seen and just safety and stuff too, because you want to be, you know, if you’re running at night or even in the morning, just got to be safe out here if you’re trying to like go running and stuff like that.
I will say, me, personally, I’m very terrible at keeping my attention in one spot because I’m always so inspired by so many things that I’ll go on a tangent on one or 1000 things at once. So I could be working on a design and I’m like, Okay, this will take me maybe 2 hours. And then I’m like, Okay, I’ll just be scrolling the Internet and I’m like, Ooh, what are these new Zippo features that I can use? And I’m like, Oh crap, you go research that and I’ll go off on another tangent or a third tangent on the eighth tangent, which will still not be the most productive. But, you know, because our team is so small and I’m kind of like running a lot of it alone at the moment. But I will say, and I do have it with me, thankfully, I’m a big proponent of just getting a notebook or a huge calendar to write stuff down, especially for me, like ideas-wise. So like, you know, you get a little five-star little notebook you can put in your backpack or like I keep it in my little tote bag when I’m on the road and I’m always just like writing everything, whether it’s a good thought, a bad thought, anything that’s on my mind, like, okay, I need to work on this for the website, I need to work on this for packaging, I need to work on this for talking to my manufacturer. I had a design idea. They may try to like just right draw it out to see what happens. Or even if it’s like our sponsorships and writing all the, you know, values down for how much it would cost before I put it in like a spreadsheet, like an Excel document or something. It just helps me because I can bring the book with me versus I don’t like doing it on my phone because I’ll type it on my phone and then I’ll slide up to mine. My friend sent me a text. Now I want to take time for 3 hours and tweet four times and I’m like, What was that? What was I doing again? And so that just helps me keep things running smoothly. And I guess the second part of that is identifying my weaknesses early. That was my biggest problem in terms of like growth of the business, like getting trademarks, setting up, you know, the business entity. Copywriting is not my strongest skill and being able like, okay, what can I do to like hire out things that I don’t have to take two months to worry about that might take somebody a week to do because I have a friend, my friend George, he’s an amazing writer and it’s great to have friends that really support you and me, my bro, can you just help me write a blog? It only has to be like 500 words, x, y, z too, you know, about this. And he’s able to translate it, you know, beautifully versus me trying to sit here on Grammarly, trying to write a blog post. But now I’d move time somewhere else and I can open it to do what needs to be finished, whether it’s on the phone with the manufacturer or if it’s I’m working on a design in general. I don’t have to worry about creating something and doing like something technical at the same time. So that’s helped me personally keep it a lot smoother. And really just, you know, if I had a bigger team, I’d be awesome. But we’re still kind of getting there, but it still keeps things progressing forward, it’s not too much for me to handle, but it’s also enough that I feel like things are moving at the correct pace. And even if like send an email like even I’ll put stuff in the drafts. If I’m sending an email and I’m okay, I’ll finish it in the morning, just take like an hour before I, you know, start my day, just knock it out real quick and then just go from there. So that’s definitely what makes it a lot, lot smoother, at least for me.
Yeah, you can’t. And I’m a big Batman guy. And like, you know, he so had to have Jeff Gordon at the Gotham City Police to help him out or even Spider-Man. Like, you know, he still had Jay Jonah Jamison collecting his content for the internet, you know, to get his name out in case he did something wrong. But it’s funny because I have Marvel artwork all over my wall. So, you know, you got to have a team to really break it down. Ours is still pretty small. Most of it is just like friends. And we’ll do a lot of contract work, especially when it’s like with photographers or having partnerships like with studios in the area and working with just an array of people, you know, I could be male and female models, you know, maybe a female photographer up and coming design agency. You know, being able to make those connections while we’re all still kind of building is amazing, especially when it’s like, Hey, I need a brand video for you know, it’s telling our story and it could be an agency that says, well, we haven’t had a client yet. And I’m like, hey, I’ll be the first one. You can sit out with me and see how it goes. You know, give me a good rate and stuff like that. But it’s nice to be able to use those and kind of build that team in a way. So, you know, when stuff is coming out, whether it’s a new product or a launch, I know who to tap when I want to get stuff moving and just let it do its thing.
Yeah, because a lot of people helped me. As I remember starting I had five t-shirts that I got. I think I got the blanks from Michael’s art store, and I just went and made them myself. I got a buddy of mine that the photographer I actually knew the neighbour, but I went with the neighbour because I knew her because she got a tattoo done. So I sat with her for 6 hours getting a tattoo done and we were just talking and she’s like, Don’t you know, are you trying to make clothes? I was like, Yeah, I’m trying my best as a photographer. She’s like, You know, my neighbour’s a photographer. And then she put us in contact and I got four of my friends and my little sister to go to the mall and take a bunch of pictures. So it’s like being able to build those connections. And even now, like, if my friends need anything, I always try to jump in and they’re kind of like my creative directors in a way is I’ll send them like a screenshot of the sample tee that came out or something. And I’m like, Everyone, please tell me if this is not good, let me know. Because in my artistic mind, anything I touch is golden. But if it’s not, please let me know before I manufacture this whole thing and make this whole campaign. And, you know, everyone’s like, What is he trying to make? I’m like, not going to ask my friends first, ask, you know, my little sister first because she’s my true manager. and then.
That’s another dad and she should be like, This is awful. And I’m like, What’s wrong with me? And still kind of tell me because she’s she was an athlete as well, played basketball for years at the NCAA level, high school and everything. So if she you know, when we tried to get into basketball, I was like, what are some things that you didn’t like that, you know, weren’t working for you or design wise or esthetic wise? And she was able to kind of walk me through it and be able to kind of do that. And she’s a coach and I was like, Hey, I’ll make some tees for the kids and you know, I’ll make some shirts for the kids before they want the only middle school. But you know, they love it, too. As long as they like it, I don’t really care.
I would definitely say. The one bit of advice if you’re just getting started. For me personally is always utilising your networks. I mean, we’re here because of LinkedIn. I’m on a lot of Twitter, like communities that are like, you know, B-to-B startup founders or direct-to-consumer startup founders and stuff like that. Being able to access those communities kind of early so you can see and ask questions before you kind of jump into things. And it could be small stuff like what platform, you know, should I start on in my Shopify person or me, Squarespace, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, you know, stuff like that. Wix You know, whatever works for you because I always try to tell people just like the harsh truth that like don’t jump into anything or always take like the first thing you hear because it might not work for you at the moment, especially like on the product side, because there’s always questions like Where do you get this printing? Where do you get this print? And I’m like, Well, I can tell you, but some of these places, you know, the demo queue is going to be too high for you right now. Like you’re not going to be able to get away with that. It’s going to cost too much. You can have to do way too much around it. You don’t want to like shooting yourself in the foot too early. And kind of the second thing I always tell people. Don’t always think that everyone’s going to love your stuff, especially on the product side. People know they’re going to. You’re going to get a bad review eventually. Now, everybody wants a five-star on every product and Google and stuff like that, but someone’s not going to like it and it’s not a knock to you. It’s just like maybe the product wasn’t built for them. Or if it is something more practical, always take it here. Because like we had a thing way back with the website. I personally did not like the way that the product images were coming out and like they were coming up blurry and weird, but like, I just had to get something out and I would get a lot of complaints. People saying, Well, I want to buy something, but I can’t really see it too well on the website, you know, because we’re not taking the correct product photography or the resolution is too big. You know, it’s a huge picture and we have to shrink it down and make sure everything is templatized incorrectly because a lot of people are now shopping on mobile. So I need to worry about both of those things. And I guess like the final piece of advice is just. Have fun. Like, whatever you’re making, obviously, you know, be practical with it, but just have fun and keep doing it. We all love. I know for me, like getting a little Shopify notification and I’m like, who sold something? Or, you know, I get like ten or I get, you know, 15 or something like that, you know, keeping that drive. Like it’s still day one. Like me, I’m currently in my basement now. I’m moving to an actual warehouse slash studio. So it’s like, don’t try to think you’re going to just be the next, you know, off-white or something for at least streetwear fans tomorrow. Like things will fall into place when they’re ready because down like, okay, I need a warehouse, I need better fulfilment, I need to be able to shoot, you know, photography a lot quicker. And now we’re able to do that. So I’m glad I was, you know, in this position now versus trying to be like 21 and doing all this because I would have messed it all up at that time. But now I have a little bit more experience in my outside work. What I would do 9 to 5 my time at 86, being able to do that on a sportswear side, my time even working at done research on the philanthropy side, like I learned how to build the community there. I learned six how to do, you know, what was sportswear and the, you know, the real basis of athletic apparel. And then now it’s like, okay, I can take all of that stuff, mix it together, have fun, do what I like doing and still selling product. It’s just fun. And I just like ecommerce. I like looking at the numbers. At the end of the day.
So yeah, I am. And mine is the boxes. I hate looking at the boxes.
So that’s what I’m hoping in the warehouse. It’ll be a lot more transparent because I’m like, okay, I’m sick of looking at the boxes that are about to get moved over. But now once we are full, we get everything out and sorted, and it’ll be fine. I can, you know, visually see it versus trying to like dig through a whole bunch. Of stuff.
Oh yeah, once I, once I get a nice firm desk and my studio lighting and I can just, you know, call a friend like, Hey, just pull up to the warehouse, let’s just click, click, click, do this thing real fast. I can turn it into a social post, whatever it takes, like super easy without having to, like, you know, go here the here then here, then here. Because that’s just a part of me that I’m good at because I have the technical ability to do the photography and the design. So it’s I kind of do it myself or get someone else to help. So it’s nice. So we can, we can, we can work a lot faster and a lot more efficiently within the time constraints that we’re you’re stuck in. Or it’s like, okay, I had this idea, I get printed a week, we can shoot a real quick, get the boxes boom done, you know, versus it being, you know, a three-month cycle, I can kind of cut it to at least, you know, a 30-day type of thing.
For sure. Yeah. Happy Monday. Anybody that’s listening, I hope you enjoy. I’m a little bit of a rambler, so hopefully, there are little nuggets and pieces that they can pull from it. And, you know, Marc, thank you for turning this around and having me on.
You too have a good one.