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Leetsdale clothing designer takes lessons from classroom to Facebook

Bobby Cherry
| Thursday, March 20, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Steven Ford, 20, of Leetsdale poses for a photo with some of his T-shirt designs on Monday, March 17, 2014.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Steven Ford, 20, of Leetsdale poses for a photo with some of his T-shirt designs on Monday, March 17, 2014.

For Steven Ford, classroom lessons have blended with tech-savvy skills and a business mindset to help the Leetsdale man grow a budding clothing and apparel business.

The 2011 Quaker Valley graduate has run his relatively small clothing line almost solely through social media.

“You have to cave into it in 2014,” Ford, 20, said of social media.

But the Robert Morris University junior said he hopes to expand the business enough this year to go beyond taking orders via private messages on Twitter and Facebook.

“People are messaging me on Facebook. It's like, ‘OK, let's get professional here and not just do Facebook,'” Ford said. “But at the same time, it amazed me that people noticed my flaws and are still supporting it.”

Ford's clothing line — Likewise — consists of a variety of T-shirts, hoodies and tank tops geared toward the 18- to 26-year-old crowd. Prices range from around $15 to $35 for clothing items. A new line will be released next month and includes paracord bracelets.

Unlike many 20-somethings and Internet-savvy users who consider creating clothing lines using mass-produced websites where designs can be altered with a few key strokes and the click of a mouse, Ford's designs are sketched by hand and then scanned into graphic-design software, he said.

From working with printers to sewing tags by hand, Ford said, he has his hands involved in every aspect of the production.

While the work can be stressful at times, Ford said, he realizes it's his choice to continue.

“Sometimes, it'll bring me stress, but then I'm like, ‘Wait a second, if I didn't want this stress, I could totally drop this,'” he said. “Then I'd be the guy who said he wanted to start a clothing line but never did. Nobody's forcing me to do this.”

Focusing on business-related courses at Robert Morris University, Ford said his small venture has helped in the classroom.

“(The business) helps so much for comprehension,” he said. “Any time a teacher will speak, and they use terms like, ‘Imagine you're selling a thousand widgets' … and I'm thinking, ‘No, I'm thinking I'm selling 1,000 T-shirts,'” he said.

Orders have come from as far as California and South Carolina. Closer to home, customers in the Pittsburgh area; Erie; and Buffalo, N.Y., have purchased items, Ford said. He estimates more than half of those sales have come from customers he doesn't know, which makes the sale more rewarding, he said.

“People don't know me, so they're obviously liking this,” Ford said.

He has dreams of operating the line out of a warehouse but said in the interim, he wants to graduate, find a job and continue his business on the side.

“This is a product that's 100 percent mine,” Ford said. “If there's going to be any passion, it's got to come from this because it's mine.”

Along with development of the business, Ford has designed artwork himself, which, he said, gives him a creative outlet.

“It's business, but it's so much fun for me,” he said. “All I'm doing is being creative.”

Ford said his idea for an independent clothing line stems from his belief that he always stands out among others.

“I went to Quaker Valley, but I was always into brands that were flashy, and I always liked to have bright tennis shoes,” he said. “If it wasn't Ralph Lauren or Abercrombie, it was like, ‘OK, what's this kid doing?'

“I did stick out like a sore thumb. That's when I got the message — don't go by the book, do what you want. I like things that get my attention instead of just going with the flow.”

Bobby Cherry is an associate editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408.

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