Duo grows Jeanisis  from T-shirts to denim

At work, in church or sitting in traffic, Dyrel Treadwell Jr.’s mind wanders to the next design or how his company, Jeanisis Clothing, can become a part of the latest trend.

“A lot of time, my friends and family say, ‘You need to sleep,’” Treadwell, 31, said. “But when you love something so much, you put so much into it.”

Treadwell owns Jeanisis Clothing with friend Clarence Grant Jr. The pair of Southern University graduates have each worked multiple jobs — with Treadwell balancing it all with service in the National Guard in Afghanistan — over the past decade in hopes of becoming full-time fashion entrepreneurs.

“The goal is to retire from the nine to five and possibly make this our nine to five,” said Grant, 36.

After 10 years of work, Treadwell and Grant are starting to see their plan come together. They have taught themselves how to make their way in the fashion world and have set out to make Jeanisis a featured brand in American boutiques and department stores.

Their T-shirts prominently feature a Jeanisis logo, usually a stylized J with wings, or a lion’s head. Jeanisis jeans come in several different washes, some more proper looking, others with frayed areas on the thigh or knee.

“They say you’ve got a 10-year process (to get a company running on its own),” Treadwell said. “The amount of time we’re putting into it is starting to pay off.”

Their jeans, which are sewn in the United States, have received praise for their durability.

“The quality of their denim is really good,” said Katie Duet, manager of Aristocracy, a Baton Rouge men’s boutique that carries Jeanisis. “They are doing everything they can. It’s amazing.”

Treadwell and Grant met while at Southern. Both majored in political science and both had worked in screen printing shops making T-shirts.

In 2003, they started talking about going into business together, either starting a screen printing shop or a clothing company.

At work in a screen printing shop, Grant said, most print jobs were for sports teams or events, but occasionally people with T-shirt companies or small skateboard companies would bring in an order.

“They were getting these T-shirts pressed up and selling them for anywhere from 10 bucks to 25 bucks. We were like, ‘We ought to try to do this. It seems pretty easy.’ Although it’s not easy, we thought at the time it was,” Grant said, chuckling.

While Jeanisis, their proposed company name, evoked denim, they actually started with 24 T-shirts, which the pair printed off with the logo they worked up. Around campus they handed them out to friends to spread the word.

Then, “out of the blue,” Treadwell’s National Guard unit was deployed to Afghanistan.

Treadwell had joined the Guard to pay off student loans and “get more discipline in my life,” he said, after a stint playing junior college football.

The year Treadwell spent with his engineering unit rebuilding Afghanistan halted their entrepreneurial plans.

“I said, ‘Lord willing, you come back from Afghanistan, we’re going full time with it,’ ” Grant recalled. “That was the goal we set when he came back.”

But the time he spent deployed would help them network in the end.

At Fort Polk preparing for deployment, Treadwell gave away as many T-shirts as he could. Then, packing his duffle bag for overseas, Treadwell stuffed T-shirts into every bit of free space.

“The downtime when we were there, you could lift weights a little bit, and I had everybody in Jeanisis attire,” Treadwell said. “You couldn’t do it — you’re supposed to be in Army apparel — but in downtime, instead of seeing Army you would see Jeanisis on people’s shirts. That was a bright spot to that.”

National Guard deployments made it difficult for Treadwell to finish school on time, but he completed his bachelor’s degree in 2005.

Grant completed his the next year. They both started graduate school aiming to earn master’s degrees in public administration.

In that time they both worked other jobs, attended school and tried to build their small clothing company. They appeared at any fashion show in the Southeast, especially those at college campuses.

Treadwell and Grant would give T-shirts to anyone in the public eye, listening to radio stations all over south Louisiana to see when musicians or celebrities would be nearby.

“One of us would ride up there with some clothes and catch the artist, whether it was country stars to hip-hop to reggae,” Treadwell said. “If you were someone who was a star or becoming a star, you knew who we were.”

They got T-shirts into the hands of hip-hop up-and-comers such as E-40 and well-known artists such as Mystikal and Gary Sturgis, an actor who performs in films with Tyler Perry and showed off a Jeanisis design at a movie premiere.

In the past year they introduced the denim collection of which their name has always alluded. While a few small stores carry their line, they sell the majority of their clothing online, making the Internet, especially with such social media sites as Twitter and Facebook, important to their marketing strategy.

Jeanisis Clothing’s website came together, Treadwell and Grant said, in part because of the connections the pair made in college and in the professional world. Treadwell is a supervisor at an LSU research lab, and Grant works in the health-care industry, and they have made friends with a male model who appears in their online catalog and a photographer and a web designer, they said. Working with other young creative types helps keep costs low.

“When you’re growing, they’re growing, so they understand costs,” Treadwell said.

They continue late nights at their office with their dream — making a living off Jeanisis — in sight. They are struggling with the perception that Jeanisis is clothing made just for an African-American market, Grant said.

“We want to be known as great African-American business owners, but at the same time we cater to everyone,” Grant said. “Sometimes in various industries, people try to put you in a box, and they try to put us in the urban box. No, we’re not an urban brand. We’re a clothing brand.”

With a decade of work in Jeanisis, Treadwell and Grant do not plan to scale back anytime soon. They remain focused on growing their business any way they can.

“If you’re going to do a job, do it right or don’t do it,” Treadwell said, echoing a lesson taught by his father, an electrical contractor. “If you’re going to start a job, you’ve got to finish it.