For Mitchell High School students Chris McCormick and John Pura, senior year has been all business — their own business.
With college looming, the best friends needed a way to make some extra money. So at the beginning of the school year, they started selling T-shirts, hoodies and tank tops under the name Chowder Clothing.
"We were both taking graphic design classes and I want to be a business major, so I figured it'd be a cool thing to combine the two," said Pura, 18.
Since they started in August, they've sold nearly 500 pieces. The two peddle their wares on Mitchell's campus and in an online shop, and their products have trickled to River Ridge High School, Countryside High School in north Pinellas, and McCormick's family has spread the word in both Pinellas Park and Philadelphia.
They sell clothes emblazoned with Chowder's logo — a ship's wheel with a palm tree growing out of it. It's named after the surfer slang term used to describe debris found in the water. The design pays homage to the duo's affinity for all things salt water.
"We honestly just thought of things that pertained to our everyday life," Pura said.
The clothing comes in a variety of colors and styles, with all of the designs featuring their logo. In the past, they've offered logos in primarily white or black, but they have also sold an American flag-patterned logo on tank tops.
The young entrepreneurs began working on their designs in business technology teacher Emily Lamb's classroom during open lab hours. When she saw the two collaborating on their designs, she thought they were working on a class project. Then, she saw a student wearing a Chowder T-shirt.
When Chowder took off, Lamb was proud to see her students applying classroom knowledge in a real-world business venture. But it isn't just their design skills that make them successful; the students have great personalities working in their favor, Lamb says.
"They're really easy-going, friendly guys, so they have a lot of support because of that," she said. "They're easy to like."
Watching her students start their own business is a new experience for Lamb.
"Honestly, it's amazing. You hear about these kinds of stories, but to see it unfold in front of you … it's really cool," she said.
Social studies teacher and assistant football coach Andrew Schmitz agrees.
"Every once in a while, you hear that kids get an idea of how to make money or some little business they're going to start," Schmitz said. "Usually, it dies there as an idea. For these two kids to actually take it and run with it and be successful with it — it's a credit to them and a credit to the idea that they're willing to work at something and not just talk about it."
Though the business world is often thought of as exclusively for adults, the rise of social media may be shifting that balance.
"The new way to market is via social media and new technology," said Joy Pillion of Service Corps Of Retired Executives (SCORE) Pasco-Hernando. "Young people definitely have a competitive advantage here. The old '4 P's of Marketing' (product, price, place, promotion) are becoming obsolete and electronic word of mouth is the way to go."
Chowder boasts 347 likes on Facebook. The duo's friends will like the page, which in turn publicizes Chowder to that person's friends, and so on.
"Definitely the social media helps out a lot," Pura said.
So does publicity. Schmitz, who owns a Chowder shirt himself, often referenced the business in his economics class.
"It made for a perfect example to have in class," he said. "We used Chowder as our model business in class when we had discussions about how businesses run."
Like all startups, Chowder hasn't been entirely without its challenges. Pura works as a server at Steak 'n Shake in Trinity and McCormick is often busy with baseball practice, so it can be hard to pick up orders on weekdays at their screen printer BMC Graphics in Tarpon Springs.
One thing that has not been challenging for the duo is maintaining their social lives.
"It hasn't been hard," McCormick, 17, said. "When we sell the shirts, we're at school and we're with our friends, so it's not a big hassle."
Pura says he has gotten better with budgeting money and anticipating which clothes sell better in which seasons. Chowder sold hoodies just before students went on winter break, and they've started selling tank tops on the cusp of summer.
Chowder plans to keep selling, even as McCormick heads to Pasco-Hernando Community College to play baseball and Pura attends Florida State University to study business management and finance.
One of Chowder's next moves will be to generate a stronger online presence. The seniors utilize online merchant Storenvy and have active social media profiles, but they want to have a website of their own. They are also looking to expand their merchandise to include girls' clothing, since everything they sell now is unisex.
"They can pull this off," English teacher Harmonie Blankenship said. "With this kind of early experience and training ... that they're showing that much ambition this early, they'll do just fine."
Samantha Fuchs can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6235.