About Toe Drag Apparel
Toe Drag Apparel
Three years ago, while driving home from work on a friday afternoon, I asked myself what I did today. The answer was, "I convinced a million people to go order Pizza Hut."
I always knew I wanted to start a business, but I just wasn't smart enough to do it right out of the gate. I needed experience, and I got that in the world of AdTech. For fifteen years I worked in digital advertising and early on I truly enjoyed the new challenges and fast pace of the ever evolving industry. Until one day when I realized I was no longer learning from my bosses, and I think the hockey player in me grew bored from the lack of challenges. I am a single dad of three boys. and enter my middle son's diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes... quickly my life had little meaning. I was post divorce, middle aged crisis and living in a shabby rental house, questioning my purpose.
I realized in the car ride home the time "is now." Start my business, and generate the funds to cure Type 1 Diabetes, can this be done... and can this be done through turning my passion of hockey into a money maker?!
I pulled my car into a parking lot and googled, "How do you make a sock?" I learned I needed a graphic designer, so I googled "Graphic designer in Frankfort." Of twelve voicemails, one graphic designer returned my call and to this day, Vicki gets all of my business.
I thought I was going into the socks business, subtle hockey socks for adults... the thought being that fellow hockey people could recognize others in our tribe if these socks were made in code. "Hey man, you play hockey?" "You got the job!" ...that kinda thing. We have a hell of a community and especially here in the states where there is a smaller concentration of us, meeting a fellow hockey guy or girl on the street, at work or in the pub is always a treat. We take care of one another, we network, we skate, we drink, we share stories only hockey people can enjoy as we do. And I thought I could contribute to all of that by being a connecter.
When the first batch of product arrived a few weeks later, I hated the skate sock (which came to be know as SHiNNY SKiNS). I thought it was brutal, too cartoonish, ya know. Vicki said, "Are you nuts?! That's your whole business!" Fast forward, I tested them with the squirt (atom) team I was coaching, they loved them. I mean, LOVED them. I tested them at two other organizations where I'd coached in the past, and we found the same result. Soon I put up this podunk website and started getting orders from all over the world. I mean, I'm shipping to Japan, Sweden, United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, even Brazil. Just might have something here, and these socks may lead the way.
Sounds great, but it was rough. You need to sell a lot of socks to make any money, and although I still had my day job, I started bouncing around because I couldn't take my mind off of innovating for Toe Drag. Stress was high, lol... I'll never forget my lowest low two Christmas' ago. After not having a voice for three, four weeks... which by the way is an awfully tough issue when coaching squirts and peewees, lol... I finally went to the doc. I figured it was throat cancer, I'm done, it's over, had a nice run, but not a great run, and now what!? How much time do I have to make my sons proud?! I went through all of it in my head, a real lowpoint. Then the doc said it was nothig more than stress, thank the heavens for that news, yet there I found myself on Christmas day, my sons with their mom for the holiday... me, alone in my lousy rental house, on the kitchen floor and probably a burnt pigeon in the oven for my Christmas dinner.
Crushed with bills and a business that was very much a pipedream... on the floor, hands and knees, literally crying tears as I pounded the floor with my fist... trying with all my might to scream as loud and verociously as I could... but nothing. Nothig came out. Not even a sound. I felt so miserably useless that I couldn't even scream effectively. What could I do right?! My tank was empty.
Every August I host the Hockey/ Golf Gongshow golf outing. We have about 120 hockey folks from Chicagoland and give all proceeds to the Chicago Diabetes Project. I look forward to blogging the rest of this adventure and in one of those I'll describe the amazing contribution CDP is making to eradicating T1D, it's unreal how close they are! Anyway, the golf outing is speckled with hockey all throughout the day. I mean, everyone puts their lumber in their golf bag, hardest shot is at the turn, longest drive is with green biscuits... break the four plates, putt with your twig on 18.... and the best part is watching 100+ guys pick up right where they left off with dudes they haven't seen since peewees. The stories, the cameraderie, it's the best. Aaaand all day long we are crushing T1D! I'll blog about this day too, the plan all along was to leverage Toe Drag in a fashion that will cause this outing to explode and contribute much, much larger sums, as we grow year over year.
Ok, so here I am, down and out, the outing coming up, again behind the wheel, and I think "Hey, I'm the big shot host for the day, wouldn't it be bad ass to wear a golf shirt that looks like a Greztky jersey on old Edmonton." Surely, I can google something up and order it in time. Google failed me, completely. Nothing. Not even remotely close to what I had envisioned. I mean, it's not out there! Well, I just ran through this exercise with the socks, right... so why not do it again with the shirt? Manufacturing a concept isn't easy... and the first shirt I got back was from Pakistan, and it was abonimal! Ha! I mean, do you remeber that episode of the Huxtables when Denise made Theo the Gordon Gartrell!?!? Haha! This shirt came back with some heavy material that I couldn't even place, the letters were red, one sleeve shorter than the other... I've still got the thing and one day I'll show a pic for everyone to laugh at.
But after a few tries, eventually I opened a package, took two shirts out and it was like the angels playing harps. A Gretz on old Edmonton well, cuz he's Gretz. And a red Chicago Savard, cuz he was my guy growing up (I was a bit of a dangler, nawt a big deal, lol). I took these shirts to Kevin Mann and after telling me I'm crazy, he's like, "Are you F'ing with me?" "Huh?" I said. "Did you know about the tourney here in Chicago that Savvy is throwing to honor Grezt this August?" No way. Kevin connected me with Savard's people and my first order was 50 Gretz shirts for the staff to wear on game day. I begged them to let me in for photos, but I was told to take a hike, I think the exact words were "Thanks for the shirts, now beat it!" Ha! I was given a couple pics, none that were great, none of Gretz, but the rumor was that Gretz liked the shirts so much he paid cash to five guys for the shirts off their back. Great story, but I got nothin except the hope that story was true. ever try to get hold of Gretzky? Yeah, not so much.
Until this past March, at 11pm I get a text from my buddy, Bandzi, "Hey man, are you watching this?!" "Watching what?" "Gretzky is playing Ovi in NHL20 on the Hockey Network and he's wearing your shirt!"
This was terrific timing, covid was sadly and slowly terrorizing the economy, but what was the one thing hockey players do, and could still do during the pandemic? Yup... golf!
It's been a rough ride, but we have big plans for this brand. Toe Drag will continue to innovate cool, new products, many which don't exist. We'll be launching a Hockey/ Golf line soon, looking to bring back Cooperalls and Tackla golf belts. Hoodies tshirts, sweatshirts, hats and more coming in just a couple weeks and we are working to position the brand to be full of swagger with respect for the game. This game builds life long lessons, builds character, resilience, creates boys and girls not afraid of adversity, creates men and women who excel in life because we've already seen challenges much like, and often as difficult as those presented to us in the world. We are not afraid. We stick together, we pick one another up, teamwork, cameraderie, unparrallel determination, and of course... you wouldn't be a hockey player if you didn't have a lil bit of swagger.
I think we'll call it "Humble Swag."
After all, Toe Drag is a very sexxy, offensive & highly skilled hockey maneuver performed by goal scorers.
You'll notice I began writing about "I" and finished with "we." Big things coming just around the corner from Toe Drag headquarters, here in Chicago.
I hope you'll take this ride with us, I have all of us in mind as I think about what we will be offering you. Where there's a gap, we're gonna fill it.
Thank you for supporting our family,