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Sew Inclined

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Steven Oleksak '17 and Austin Singer '16 piece a pocket together in the entrepreneurship suite.

Pair of student entrepreneurs develop “NoSo Pockets” and discover the value of creative connections

by Jeanna Goodrich Balreira '08

Two guys walk into a craft store.
(Trust me, you haven’t heard this one before.)

Two guys walk into a craft store, their eyes on two sets of fabrics printed with tiny, Texas flag-shaped patterns. They meet the funny stares and “Hi sirs, can I help you?” greetings with smiles, out of place but dubbing so as their “calling card.”

The first guy turns to the other guy and says, “We’re right on track. If we can get these into the market before Texas Independence Day we can set up a plan to attract other buyers for other holidays.”

See, these aren’t just any two guys. Steven Oleksak ’17 and Austin Singer ’16 are the founders of NoSo Pockets, a creative startup that began weaving its threads in Trinity’s Entrepreneurship 2190 course. Designed in response to a rise in popularity of statement pockets on clothing, the collection of handmade, unique, stick-on pockets can embellish anything from a T-shirt to a pair of jeans to a skateboard—and, through partnerships, even more to come.

Oleksak and Singer, both from Phoenix, came to Trinity with a bit of entrepreneurship experience from their high schools, and while tossing the ball during Tiger baseball practice, they also found themselves tossing each other business ideas. “What about iron-on pockets?” Singer asked, and from the baseball field to the innovation studio, NoSo Pockets was stitched together.

“We tested different iron-on adhesives and sent them all through the washer and dryer at least 20 times, Oleksak said. “But the dryer heated up the adhesive, and the pockets quickly started falling off.” Not letting the tests deter them, the duo went back to the drawing board to research other adhesives—“Besides, what college kid has an iron?” Oleksak laughed—and discovered a permanent, peel-and-stick adhesive that withstands multiple laundry cycles: it was the glue they needed to piece the business together.

“Forming an LLC allowed us to move from the innovation studio into an office in the entrepreneurship suite,” Singer said of becoming a business entity in November last year, “but it was the class that actually kept us on track, kept us motivated to meet our goals, and helped us complete tasks… from carrying through big-picture ideas to spending so much time on the little details.”

Luis Martinez, director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, praised the duo’s determination. “From tech companies to taco shacks, the Center supports all students’ concepts and creativity,” Martinez said. “We’re about students doing business ‘for real,’ with hands-on, experiential learning opportunities.”

Evident in their individual experiences, a patchwork of skills and interests has provided the NoSo Pockets team with the necessary hands-on tools to succeed. “I’m the sewer, he’s the folding guy,” Oleksak said. But more important, “Austin is a numbers guy, and I’m in marketing and design,” Oleksak added, noting that Singer’s accounting major has helped them with expenses and budget modeling, and Oleksak’s majors in business and marketing have enhanced their experiences with consumer behavior and communication.

“We’ve increased our marketing efforts with photo shoots, sharing pockets with friends, giving pockets away, and having a larger presence through social media on Facebook and Instagram,” Oleksak said. This month, NoSo Pockets “broke even” with their sales, thanks in part to two large orders and to tapping into the sorority market on campus with “Big/Little” pockets.

From customized fabric to hand-made screen prints, Oleksak and Singer continue to fill orders for the campus community and beyond. “Our friends are always giving us suggestions or helping us to pick fabrics,” Oleksak said. “We explore Urban Outfitters, go to the mall, and look up trends online.” Perhaps to see what sticks?

Check out the NoSo Pockets collection and collaborations online at www.nosopockets.com where you can place your order for original or Greek pockets. Or, connect with NoSo Pockets on Instagram, @nosopockets.

Jeanna Goodrich Balreira is the associate director for creative services, the editor of Trinity magazine, and a 2008 Trinity graduate. Jot her a line at jgoodri1 [at] trinity.edu.