Custom apparel shop owners seek to make national connections

A group of Fostoria High School graduates has opened a custom apparel shop in downtown Fostoria with designs on national prominence.

For now, Connexionsink, 110 N. Main St., Fostoria, is a custom apparel store. But the group of investors sees far bigger things.

“We created this business on the apparel side, but one of our long-term goals is to create an apparel brand called Connexions,” said Joe Johnson, managing director and spokesman for the group. “We have six partners altogether.”

The group purchased the former Custom Corner store, which provided similar custom apparel services.

“They (former owners) did some of the same things. We’ve actually expanded some of the abilities on the print side,” Johnson said.

Buying the business helped the company have an immediate impact while they plan for the future.

“We have great opportunities to grow,” he said. “Our goal is to serve Fostoria and the surrounding area.”

That means through selling, as well as buying.

“Whatever we buy for this business, if we can purchase it in the surrounding area, we’re making a commitment to do that,” he said.

Connexionsink uses a uses a computer-generated model to show people how a shirt or other piece of clothing will look before they order.

“Any type of apparel,” Johnson said. “It could be a T-shirt. It could be a polo shirt. It could be an apron. Anything somebody can wear, we can customize.”

Along with T-shirts and polo shirts, the website lists caps, dress shirts, workwear, uniforms, teamwear, hoodies, jerseys and jackets.

“We can do team uniforms for any sport,” he said. “If it’s apparel, we can do it.”

The store also can transfer photos to canvas.

“We can actually print photos on canvas backing,” he said.

A “green” section features eco-friendly products, while other sections target people interested in health and wellness and high-tech items.

Connexionsink also makes posters, banners and awards.

“We have trophies and we can do promotional items like key chains and duffel bags,” he said.

Along those lines are automotive items, badges and lanyards, bags, calendars, candy and snacks, clocks, computer accessories, beverages, key chains, mugs, pens, chalk, crayons, erasers, stress balls and watches.

Awards can be made from acrylic, crystal or wood.

“We can actually laser onto wood,” he said.

The process uses laser technology that can be programmed to “print” anything.

“We have four types of printing,” Johnson said.

Screen printing is for high-volume orders, and is most economical, he said, while heat transfers “take a design and put it on heat transfer paper and put it on the garment.”

The DTG, or direct to garment, process is a printer that prints on an article of clothing, while an embroidery machine can be programmed to automatically stitch and desired design onto an item.

The store’s customers can be people who walk into the storefront off the street who want one T-shirt, schools or businesses who want polo shirts embroidered with a logo or sports teams or leagues that need team uniforms.

“We’ll service anybody who wants that one piece or multiple pieces,” he said. “We felt there’s a tremendous opportunity to come back into this community to service not only Fostoria but the surrounding communities. It gives local teams – Tiffin teams, Fostoria teams and smaller communities – a chance to get them done locally instead of sending them out.”

However, Johnson and friends plan to widen their market far beyond the local area.

“We’ve created a pretty high-powered web portal so we could expand what we’re doing nationally,” he said.

The website allows customers to select the type of apparel they like, color and style, and design what they want it to look like.

“Once they’re satisfied, they can actually click order and we can fulfill it from here,” he said. “It gives us a tremendous national presence. It gives us the ability to grow this business, not only with local customers but with national customers.

“We are in this because we believe there are tremendous growth opportunities,” Johnson said. “We want to create a substantial business that will have a positive impact economically on northwest Ohio.”

He said the business will outgrow the storefront in time as the Connexions brand grows and become popular.

“That means new jobs and economic growth,” he said. “We think that there’s a tremendous work force here that is right now untapped. People here are hard workers. I grew up here. I know the people.”

He also said there is a lot of room for growth in the northwest Ohio region.

“There is a lot of real estate that is unoccupied,” he said. “We’re going to stay here in this area. We aren’t going anywhere.”

Johnson said the group’s vision has only begun.

“We want our apparel to at least allow us to have a conversation,” he said. “It’s just getting started, but I think we’ll have national connections.

“Our logo, the infinity symbol, symbolizes everyone is connected and their lives intersect at some point,” he said. “We hope people start to interact with each other instead of allowing our perceived differences to prevent us from interacting.

“When people see the infinity symbol on that shirt, they’ll know that person wants to connect,” he said. “Together let’s figure out what we have in common as opposed to letting our differences keep us apart.”

Johnson, who grew up in Fostoria, went on to get a football scholarship and played for Notre Dame in the early 1980s.

“Being captain of the Notre Dame football team was an honor in itself,” he said.

He went on to play professional football with the United States Football League for a couple years before entering a 22-year career in banking.

“I was executive vice president for a few banks,” he said, “on the side of wealth management.”

Johnson said he has traveled the world and met “tremendous” numbers of people because of connections he made.

“I’m no different than any child in Fostoria,” he said. “I had support and I was able to take advantage of what I was given. I want people to know if I can do it, they can too. Personally, that’s what I want to do, and our investors feel the same.”

The investors went to Fostoria High School together, he said, “except Mike Larkin, who was a teammate at Notre Dame and brother of hall of fame baseball player Tom Larkin.”

He said the idea for the business came about after he started on a road to deeper self-discovery four or five years ago.

“I want people to know about Joe Johnson from Fostoria, Ohio. If we can share an experience at a much deeper level, you can figure out who you are,” he said. “I think that’s the key. If we could live our authentic self, because it takes work to be somebody you want people to think you are.”

Johnson said he has begun to teach his children the concept.

“They’re starting to live and be who they are and not who I want them to be,” he said. “That’s what I want people to understand. If we could all live authentically, the world would be a better place.”

The clothing brand will assist in that concept by opening lines of communication.

“If you just talk to people you find there’s a connection, but you have to be real with yourself because that connection requires you to be yourself for that connection to take place,” he said. “If people can connect with a brand to show they want to get back in touch with their authentic self, if we can do that, life is good.

“When somebody wears a piece of our branded apparel, it means you don’t let stereotypes and biases dictate who I talk to or who I develop a relationship with,” Johnson said. “That’s the cool thing. It think that’s what we ultimately want our legacy to be.”