SCHOOL ZONE is a brand based out of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, and is all about motivation and chasing after what you want! It was founded in 2006 by Justin Holmander, with things really picking up for the company in 2012. A unique aspect of SCHOOL ZONE that sets them apart is that they only make snapback hats – no fitteds, tees or hoodies. The brand’s owner, Justin Holmander, states: “We’re very passionate about hats and are bringing a new perspective to headwear akin to the massive level of connoisseurship in sneakers.” SCHOOL ZONE’s has a history collaborating with New Era and each hat is inspired by a certain theme or story. The brand is also very involved in social media – interacting with their customers, as well as sponsoring athletes and musicians. NECTalk recently caught up with Justin Holmander to see what’s on his mind.
What led you to want to start your own clothing brand?
I wanted to do it going back a few years, I had a bunch of really creative concepts I had been sitting on and once the timing was right decided to get after it.
What is the meaning behind the School Zone name and logo?
SCHOOL ZONE is a play on words.. like schooling your game..being in the zone. I just came up with SCHOOL ZONE as a phrase and fell in love with it. It means chasing your ambition, annihilating your opposition, more of your ideal than realistic. It’s meant to motivate. The original SCHOOL ZONE logo was created to match the name most literally using a school zone sign shape. It shows a guy dressed in streetwear chasing after a really attractive girl in club wear. I really like people looking at the symbol in their own way. Sometimes people will come up with something just totally off the wall though where I’m like… “no, that’s not it at all.”
You started the School Zone brand in 2006 but things didn’t really pick up until 2012. Please tell us about some of the obstacles you faced.
I came up with the phrase and the idea to use it as a brand in ’06. First obstacle was narrowing the creative focus. I knew whatever I was going to do in my life as a entrepreneur it would be labeled SCHOOL ZONE but it took a while to whittle it down to hats. Second obstacle is money which I think everyone can relate to, but as I go on in life I’m finding out the primary challenge is having enough time. Time is an extremely valuable resource.
School Zone is a brand that only makes caps. Why did you decide to do this rather than a whole entire line of clothing? Do you have any plans to expand the brand to other types of clothing in the future?
When I first began thinking of SCHOOL ZONE as a streetwear brand I wanted to do a full line of tees, outerwear and hats and I had some really creative ideas for both tees and hats. The ideas I had for tees are coming to life now in the market pretty much with all the all-over sublimation print stuff. I feel like my concepts for hats really take it to the next level in a way that other brands aren’t really looking at it. I’d rather be excellent at one thing. I get a lot of requests to make other types of hats..tees..outerwear using our designs but I just don’t think I can bring it as hard with that type of clothing. SCHOOL ZONE hats are something truly unique. So I don’t rule anything out but don’t plan on any other clothing for sale soon.
The original School Zone hat was a collaboration with New Era, but the caps you have released since have been produced by yourselves without the New Era flag. How come? Will your brand be collaborating with New Era again in the future?
Our first 3 products which feature a SCHOOL ZONE patch on the front of a 9Fifty snapback were actually meant to be kind of a throwback to my very first idea for a SCHOOL ZONE hat. We were able to locate a manufacturer that made making our visions become reality a little easier than I think New Era would but working with New Era in the future is a possibility.
All of your hats are inspired by a certain theme or story. Please explain the inspiration behind the Mayan King and Polar Bear snapbacks.
Each hat actually has it’s own info page that kind of reads like a story but in a nutshell.. Mayan King uses Mayan history and mythology throughout its art inside and out to show the power and what motivated such a powerful figure. Polar Bear tells the story of a fictional world that’s frozen over where polar bears turn things around and start wiping us out with ‘global cooling.’ Schooling us basically.
What is your personal favorite cap that your brand has designed so far?
I honestly put everything I can imagine into the making of each hat to make it as excellent as possible so it’s tough to say which is my favorite. I really like wearing the Original hat, Mayan King, which is so elaborate with all the research we put into it. The fiction and hidden details in Polar Bear are really awesome. I love them all.
School Zone Hats is very involved in social media and interacting with its fans and customers. Why do you think this is important for a clothing brand?
I think two very important things to focus on for a brand are its products and its customers. If you can do those right everything else should fall into place. I really like to hear what customers have to say about the products, any ideas they might have. Whatever they want to say I’m open to hearing it because they are really our best advertising. When they say to their friends “Hey check this hat out” that’s what we’re going for. I try to send a hand written note with every hat we ship and ask the customer to mail me at my personal inbox to hear their thoughts on the hat..etc. It’s awesome when someone from the other side of the world e-mails and says thanks for the great hats and great service!
Recently, School Zone has been sponsoring athletes and musicians. Tell us a bit about who you are sponsoring and why you think it is important for a brand to do this?
We’ve put together a really excellent and diverse group of sponsorships. Won’t go into too much detail because I’d like people to check them out on their own but we sponsor an extremely unique female MC Sammy GetActive out of SF bay, a highly prospected MMA fighter under contract with Bellator: Brennan “The Irish Bad Boy” Ward, A really talented BMX rider Brandon Bermudez , International champion female boxer Shelly “Shelito’s Way” Vincent, and we sponsor a US Legends race car with an American Woman decal scheme driven by Timmy Depizzol. For us, the importance of putting sponsorships together is two-fold. First, it helps expose new people to our brand. Second, It helps us create interesting content for our fans to check out and keep it interesting. Show them how other people are out there schoolin’ it.
You will soon be releasing a new snapback entitled “American Woman.” Tell us a bit about it.
American Woman will actually be available by the time people are reading this. It’s the perfect hat for Summer. It was our first hat design inspired by fan feedback. It’s a light weight cotton with a flag stripes patchwork brim, embroidered stars underbrim, some US bill parody art on the side and back and really awesome US Constitution interior print.
So far your brand has dropped only snapbacks. Why? Do you plan on releasing fitteds any time soon?
We decided to stick with one type of hat..six panel snapback for a few reasons. It’s the only type of hat I wear personally, they have been a really strong trend for a while and it’s much easier only having to stock one size. You probably won’t see any fitteds from us for a while.
Although I think we can guess, what is School Zone’s preference of cap – Snapback or Fitted?
We really like the retro look and one-size fits all of snapback but we’re open to doing fitted hats eventually.
Are you a cap collector? If so, how big is your collection?
Since I’ve been designing and manufacturing hats I’ve really only been wearing my own styles but I constantly keep an eye on what’s hot in the market. What really got me into hats was collecting Boston Red Sox hats. I’ve got about 30 of those now. I’m pretty picky. I do a lot of browsing before making a purchase.
Are there any brands you are inspired by or look up to?
As far as the products we put out, the look of them is mostly inspired by sports wear. Movies, and music, anything that spurs my creativity can help develop the designs. I like so many brands out there. Recently had my first visit to Johnny Cupcakes really like what they do in terms of developing a following, with limited releases and store specific products. As far as products that I like.. Mishka is really unique, Benny Gold has some really great designs, I also like 10 Deep, Dissizit!, Play Cloths, etc.. I can find something I like from most brands out there.
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to start a clothing brand?
Be prepared to do tons of work, spend twice as much money and make half as much money as you thought you would. At a few points you may want to quit but just keep getting after your vision.
What projects does School Zone Hats have coming up that you are excited about?
We just started the manufacturing process on our next cap after American Woman which is titled “UGOT SCHOOLED.” ‘It’s a great white shark themed hat that I think people are really going to love. We’ve been posting a blog series taking our fans through the making of that hat. We just posted our first YouTube Video featuring our sponsored race car, Expect to see more videos from us of sponsored talent. So much on the horizon right now..
Any final words?
Anyone reading this please check us out at schoolzonehats.com.
Really appreciate you guys doing this. Want to thank my family, friends, and all our fans for being so supportive. Thanks everyone that shows our products off on YouTube and social networking and a big shoutout to everyone we sponsor for representing us so well.
CAP ASSOCIATION: What These Caps Mean To Justin Holmander
Original SCHOOL ZONE 9FIFTY New Era Snapback
The very first SCHOOL ZONE hat!
Mayan King SCHOOL ZONE Snapback
Our first ‘themed’ design..put a lot of hard work into this one.
Polar Bear SCHOOL ZONE Snapback
Really love this design but it has mostly gone under the radar so far..the interior is out of control.
Rhode Island Rams 59FIFTY New Era Fitted
Tells me you did some research..we are out of Rhode Island but I went to another university in RI so this doesn’t mean too much me haha