|By Jeff Kassouf
Just months ago, Chris and Moki Williams were “kicking around the idea” of starting a novelty soccer t-shirt company. Now, in a matter of less than a year, the couple-gone-business owners now have a company that is gaining momentum at every turn.
Known as Who Are Ya Designs, the business operates as an online market for some of the funniest and most creative soccer t-shirts out there. The product line ranges from English Premier League to Major League Soccer shirts, and taps into what they found to be a void in unique soccer clothes in the United States.
“There wasn’t a local marketplace for them,” said Moki Williams, wife of Chris. “There was definitely a local market, but there was no place that you could buy them here in the United States. We thought, ‘what the heck, somebody’s got to do it.’”
Williams, in charge of sales operations, noted that the only companies with similar products were based out of the U.K. Her husband Chris is a graphic designer, and is responsible for the final designs of all of the company’s shirts.
Fans can purchase all types of shirts that support their team or even designs that poke fun at a rival team. There is the popular shirt that reads “Fulhamerica” in support of the American-laden Fulham FC, as well as one of the top sellers that sarcastically states, “I Scored Against Derby County, 2007-2008.”
There are the cleverly phrased shirts, such as the one featuring Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas that states, “Let’s Talk About Cesc Baby!,” a pun on the 1990 hit, “Let’s Talk About Sex,” by hip-hop group Salt-n-Peppa. Without any knowledge of soccer, many of the designs that Who Are Ya? produces would make the average person scratch their head, but Moki Willams said that is exactly what the company wants.
“This is for the supporter in the know,” she said. “The guy who watches the games every weekend, the guy who gets up at 4am to cheer his favorite team on because of time difference.”
Williams emphasized that soccer is “the thinking man’s game” and that the target market is the intelligent supporter, which are exactly some of the people who have given the company national publicity. The company’s designs can constantly be seen on Steven Cohen, the famous host of World Soccer Daily on Sirius Radio, and Fox Football Fone-In on Fox Soccer Channel.
According to Williams, Cohen has been “so supportive” of the idea ever since they contacted him about an advertising partnership, and in just a matter of months the company has been able to strike deals with the aforementioned shows, as well as Red Devil Radio. Even with this, the company is continuing to expand.
Fans can submit ideas that they have for funny designs to Who Are Ya?, and if the design gets used the customer receives their shirt for free. Through this feature, the company has added many new shirts, including their heralded “Landycakes” shirt, which playfully insults Landon Donovan’s manhood.
Now, Moki and Chris hope that the company continues to expand. It began with just English Premier League Shirts before expanding to MLS, and there will soon be national team shirts available for Euro 2008, and hopefully much more.
“We would like to be able to represent La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga and maybe some African Clubs as well,” she said. “We want to be able to branch out and cover all of the soccer world.”
Already, though, Who Are Ya? has found enormous success in just their first few months of operation, and Moki Williams could only describe the feeling as “incredible.” The business has been so successful, she said, that several people have tired to copy it and learn from it to start their own businesses. Though Who Are Ya? has gained a firm grip on the novelty soccer shirt market in the U.S., Williams offered advice for anyone looking to turn their passion for soccer into a business.
“I would suggest that you put your heart into it,” she said. “Definitely give it one hundred percent, do your research and hire a good attorney.”
Putting their heart into it is exactly what the Williams’ did, and they are now owners of an up and coming company that has gained a lot of publicity in the soccer world. After what they said was years of thinking about starting the business, it seems that they have made the right choice to tap into a fresh new market that is here to stay.
Jeff Kassouf is a staff writer for The New Paltz Times and a freelance writer who covers soccer, and can be reached at: email@example.com