American-made label Oscar Mike grew into a successful T-shirt company by appealing to military vets—and their supporters.
Strength comes in a variety of forms, including T-shirts.
Oscar Mike is a startup clothing label owned and operated exclusively by paralyzed veterans of the American military. Every piece of apparel they sell reflects the values of our armed forces, including T-shirts with a tattooed, muscular Uncle Sam, or emblazoned with the slogan, “Fight the good fight.”
In 2003, Marine Noah Currier, 21, returned from combat in Iraq to his native small town of Marengo, Illinois. On his third day back, while driving to a Marine Corps base, he was struck by a trucker who fell asleep at the wheel. The car rolled down an embankment, leaving Currier with a paralyzed spinal cord.
Following a painful recovery, Currier didn’t want to leave his house. “I was in a dark place for a while and didn’t really want to talk to a human being,” he recalled.
Currier’s perspective changed after a friend begged him to attend an adaptive sport event for veterans. “It changed my life,” he said. Currier wanted to attend more, but when he asked his peers if he’d see them at the next one, they all had the same response: If I can afford it.
“I realized money was the barrier of entry for these life-changing opportunities and I just wanted to help in any way I could,” he said.
The frustration sparked a desire that manifested itself in a fundraiser in which he sold T-shirts with a motto embraced by all branches of service: “He who sheds blood with me shall forever be my brother.” The modified Shakespeare quote resonated with attendees, who quickly snapped up the design. It motivated Currier to think beyond single events. His vision was to help disabled vets afford sporting events, and simultaneously inspire people.
Currier decide to name his clothing label Oscar Mike, a command meaning “get on the move.” The phrase was repeatedly voiced on the radios during the invasion of Iraq, the military version of “just do it.” He applied for nonprofit status in 2011, but after the government informed him it would take close to two years to get approval, Currier shifted gears: Why not just start a business that acts and serves as a nonprofit?
Her opted for an LLC, just him and two other paralyzed veterans designing T-shirts out of a garage. To them, it was more than just a business. It was a way to stay moving.
“I feel that for myself and everybody I knew at the time, getting active or staying active was the launching pad of improving your life,” explained Currier. “That’s something that resonates with a lot of people because when you start an activity or set new goals in life, one thing leads to another in setting a positive chain reaction.”
Currier’s nimble team set about manufacturing the entire line in the U.S. It was “extremely important” for Oscar Mike to serve Americans throughout the entire process, from the manufacturer owners to the eventual buyer. Currier, accustomed to the military’s fast-paced productivity, couldn’t justify the lengthy process of producing fabrics in the States, shipping them overseas, then shipping them back home.
“You can have a whole list of excuses for why it can’t be made in the U.S. and I understand when public companies are being steered by their shareholders and are always trying to improve their margins,” explained Currier. “But with us, the margins didn’t matter. If it can be made here, it should be made here.”
Read more about this company on Fast Company.