About ten years ago John Gutierrez, 32, was sitting in a graphics class at the Center for Digital Arts at Westchester Community College on Division Street, thinking how he wanted to work for himself. He’d been frequenting New York City stores that sold clothing with images of skateboarding, art and graphics; all things he loved. He quickly realized there was a business across the street from WCC that made T-shirts so he struck up a friendship with the proprietor and learned about putting designs on shirts. That initial outreach of meeting someone, asking questions and networking has served him well and laid a foundation for how he would start and grow his business, Whadafunk.
Today, his brand of streetwear clothing is sold nationally, including at Zumiez, a lifestyle brand retailer with 150 stores across the country. Streetwear is a subset of the fashion industry known as athleisure which is leisure and sports clothes. A multibillion dollar segment of the industry, streetwear gives women and men a way to express their individuality through fashion, art, music and gear for action sports. “It’s not just T-shirts, it’s more about a lifestyle,” said Gutierrez who hand creates the designs on all the products he sells. His hoodies sell for $45 and more depending on how detailed the designs are. Sweatshirts retail between $30 and $35. He advertises his products on social media posts where new designs are ‘dropped’ and offered for a very limited time.
The name, Whadafunk, is “catchy, and able to stick in someone’s mind,” said Gutierrez about the moniker that he and a friend came up with one day when they were tossing ideas around for what to call his company. All the graphics on his limited edition clothing are drawn by him. He starts a design with sketching on a pad by hand and then takes the image into Photoshop or Illustrator on the computer. The next step involves making a clear transparency that he uses to ‘screen’ the images individually on each item of clothing.
Meeting people and asking for advice were key factors in Gutierrez’ success. He focused on going to skateboarding events as a pop up shop and networking. Rich Franklin who owned a sneaker store in Mt. Kisco showed him the ropes of what he would have to do to get into stores. “He would tell me; do this, do that and it motivated me and I saw it was something I wanted to get into.” Franklin has since moved to Pennsylvania but Gutierrez is still in touch with him. Another friendship helped him move into the New York market. At events he met the Hood Chef, who was the caterer. The chef liked the designs Gutierrez created and introduced him to a shop owner in Brooklyn. “It was easy to get into other stores if you were in one,” he said.
All this time, he was working in retail and design jobs during days and doing his drawing, research and attending events and selling his products in his free time. About four years ago he decided he had to focus solely on the brand, so he quit his day job and concentrated on the business. Six months later, he had a deal with the national chain Zumiez ,and his product is sold nationally “I’m in it for the long run, not just to gain recognition, but to be remembered. It means putting myself out there and having people connect with me as an individual. Letting people know about me helps people understand the brand more because they have something to relate to.”
Gutierrez produces his product line out of a space at 901 South Street, the building rehabilitated by artist Larry D’Amico. He moved there a year ago after he outgrew his home office in Lake Peekskill.
He’s taught himself every aspect of the business, which meant learning how to sew in order to get his brand and size labels on products. “I asked my mom and grandmother for tips and watched YouTube.”
When he got an order for (beanies) hats, he researched and contacted many different factories online in China until he found one that was the best for what he needed.His brother has been helping him with products when he has a big order but he’s expecting that he’ll be hiring part timers for the summer season.
You can see his website at www.whadafunk.net and Whadafunk on Instagram.