Ash and Anvil Before Shark Tank
Ash and Anvil founders, Steven Mazur and Eric Huang, worked together at a digital advertising startup in Detroit, Michigan, with the Venture for America program, a fellowship organization that matched college graduates with start-ups in economically developing cities. Detroit native Steven, and Eric, who moved there in 2008 after graduating, had one other thing in common, they were both slightly shorter than the average man, and that led to their inspiration to launch the Ash and Anvil clothing company.
Even though the fashion and clothing industry is one of the most competitive sectors of the market, the lack of clothes for shorter men is one that people have been aware of for years. In 2013 one well-known fashion blogger, who was also shorter than average, even went so far as to claim that the clothing industry hates short men when he reviewed a variety of top brand shirts and discovered that all of them were made for men of slightly over six foot tall, even the small sizes. The phenomenon of shorter men having to pay extra for alterations to make their clothes fit perfectly even has a name, ‘The tailor tax’.
Steven and Eric, at five foot six and five foot eight respectively, launched Ash and Anvil with the intention of providing shirts made specifically for the one in three men in America that stand less than five feet eight inches tall, a potential market of around 40 million men that are left in the cold when it comes to shirts made just for them. After launching their company in 2015, the pair turned to the crowdfunding site Indiegogo in order to raise enough funds for an initial production run. Although they originally set a target of $10,000 for the campaign, it was a big hit with Indiegogo backers, with over $26,000 in pre-orders generated when the campaign ended a month later.
Ash and Anvil went through more fundraising in 2016 to expand the brand to a full line of clothing, including pants and knitwear, and in 2017 Steven and Eric turned to the Shark Tank, to try to get a shark partner to help the business grow.
Ash and Anvil On Shark Tank
When Steven and Eric entered the Shark Tank they were looking for a $100,000 investment in exchange for 12.5% of the company. They entered the tank behind two models, who were taller versions of themselves, just to demonstrate that they were not the tallest entrepreneurs in the World. Having made that slightly gimmicky point, they sent the two tall models to the side and began their pitch by explaining that short men were just not being adequately catered for in the clothing market.
Eric revealed that some short men even had to turn to children’s clothes to find suitable shirts. Both he and Steven wore shirts with sleeves that were too long, and collars that were too big. Eric explained that they were wearing ‘normal’ clothes, off-the-peg, but standard sizes were always made for taller men like the models they had walked in with. Suddenly, like a pair of Supermen, Eric and Steven ripped off their badly-fitting shirts and revealed far better-fitting ones underneath, thanks to Ash and Anvil’s line of clothing designed specifically for shorter men.
The pitch finished up with Steven explaining that with the sharks help, Ash and Anvil could grow to heights he and Eric could only dream of, and save shorter men everywhere from having to shop in the kids section of stores. They handed out samples to the sharks, and Kevin O’Leary began the questioning, asking if branding the clothes as ‘Shorter men clothes’ was wise considering the stigma attached to being short. Mark Cuban, easily the tallest of the sharks, chose to answer that one ‘You tell us Kevin’ he joked.
‘I’m medium height’ Kevin responded, and Steven explained that he and Eric didn’t want to beat around the bush with their branding, instead choosing the no-nonsense tagline ‘For shorter men’ for their clothing line. The sharks were about to give a great demonstration of the stigma attached to being short, and it all started when Robert Herjavec asserted that he was tall, and asked what Steven and Eric considered to be short. Steven explained that men of five foot eight inches and less found Ash and Anvil shirts a perfect fit, and he explained that he was five foot six, and Eric was five foot eight.
Daymond John stood up and announced he was five foot eight. He walked over to measure himself against Eric and Steven, ignoring Mark Cuban’s ‘Look at the heels’ on the way, and stood next to five foot six Steven, who was just a shade taller than him. There was laughter amongst the sharks, but Daymond wasn’t going to give in, ‘I’m five foot eight’ he insisted, several times, and Robert Herjavec couldn’t resist in joining the fun, although his own assertion that he was tall wasn’t conclusively proved, instead he appeared to be only an inch or so taller than five foot eight Eric.
Kevin O’Leary had to join the banter too, ‘You’ve shrunk Daymond’ he remarked, ‘I’m five foot eight’ Daymond responded once again. ‘Not any more you’re not’ replied Mark Cuban, who at well over six foot was enjoying Daymond’s discomfort far too much. Kevin moved on to the figures, ‘What are the sales?’ he asked. Eric revealed that in the first nine months of business, over $130,000 in sales had been achieved. ‘That’s not horrible’ Mark Cuban remarked, and Steven explained that all sales so far had been achieved online, and the company had sold out of stock twice already.
Mark Cuban asked what profit margin the entrepreneurs were making, and Eric told him that the shirts retailed for $79, and there was a profit margin of around 55% on them. He told the sharks that in order to research their potential customer base, they had gone out onto the streets of Detroit looking for shorter men. They asked them about every detail of the shirts to find what style of collar, tail-drop and sleeve their customers would prefer.
Lori Greiner thought asking people for feedback on their design had been a smart decision, clearly impressed that the duo had developed their product without huge expense. Mark Cuban asked why Eric and Steven had come to the tank, and Steven explained that building up an inventory was the biggest challenge to the company at the moment, hence the need for investment from the sharks.
Kevin O’Leary wondered how Ash and Anvil would find customers who were a ‘subset of a subset’ and Mark agreed that it was hard to gauge the potential market for shorter men’s clothes. Daymond John however still wanted to talk about his height, remarking that Ash and Anvil wasn’t really suitable for him as he was only ‘Slightly’ shorter than the average man. Daymond continued along these lines, while the entrepreneurs smiled diplomatically, and he ended by declaring he was ‘About the same height as Robert’, but Robert Herjavec wasn’t going to agree to that, ‘I’m way taller’ he replied with a laugh.
Steven told the sharks about one in three men being five foot eight or under, and explained that Ash and Anvil had a potential customer base of over forty million men in America alone. Daymond observed that the shirts were designed for men who wore their shirts outside of their pants, and he never did that. Steven told the FUBU boss, that he was probably smarter dressed than the average American male, and that was true, although Daymond still appeared unimpressed with the concept.
Robert Herjavec had come to a decision. He admitted that a brand geared towards clothes for shorter men was a solid business concept, but it wasn’t a good fit for him, and with that he was out. Steven revealed that Ash and Anvil had over 900 satisfied customers, and with more funds to meet the demand, they could extend the clothing range to include jeans and chinos, but Lori Greiner interrupted him, explaining that although she thought he and Eric had done everything right so far, she wasn’t the right partner for the business, and she was out too.
Daymond John was the shark with the most experience in the clothing industry, and probably the best fit for the Ash and Anvil business, as well as their shirts, even if he didn’t want to admit it, but he wan’t going to be offering a deal. He explained that perhaps ‘Needing special clothes’ was something that shorter men didn’t really want to admit to. Steven attempted to change his mind, replying that shorter men still needed smaller clothes, but Daymond had made his mind up, the business wasn’t for him, and he was out too.
Only Kevin O’Leary and Mark Cuban were left in the negotiations, and both seemed interested in making an offer. Kevin wanted to hear what Mark had to say first, and his fellow shark took that as an opportunity to seal a deal there and then. Mark told Steven and Eric that he liked the concept of Ash and Anvil, and liked their focus. He saw the business as a niche opportunity, but didn’t think 12.5% equity was enough of an incentive to get involved. Mark wanted 25% of the company, but he would provide an investment of $150,000 in exchange for his stake. Mark cautioned the pair that his offer wasn’t a negotiation, it wasn’t a ‘Let me see what Kevin has to say’, it was a ‘Yes or no conversation’.
Steven thanked Mark for the offer, but asked if he could hear Kevin’s response to that first. ‘No’ Mark replied, clearly wanting an immediate answer. A moment of silence followed, during which Kevin took the opportunity to make his own offer, $100,000 for 15%. Steven and Eric quietly discussed the two deals, and Mark stuck to his word, announcing ‘I’m out guys’ before they spoke again. Steven had seemed about to speak, and replied to Mark ‘If you’re in we’ll take the offer’. Mark Cuban thought for a second before he responded with ‘You’re lucky I like you’, and stood up to shake on the deal.
Ash and Anvil Now in 2018 – The After Shark Tank Update
Immediately after leaving the tank, Steven and Eric were walking tall, pleased to have finally secured a deal after making a risky decision to hear Kevin’s offer. Mr. Wonderful was not happy at having been rejected, but admired the negotiating skill of the two entrepreneurs.
Since the appearance on Shark Tank, which first aired in October 2017, Steven and Eric have changed the company name to Ash and Erie, and the business has received a large amount of publicity in the mainstream media since the show, with TV appearances on CNN and CNBS, as well as features in Slate and Bustle magazine.
Ash and Erie attended the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition in November 2017, and have also made a tentative start to their retail operations, being featured for a short time at a pop-up shop in Detroit during late 2017. The company has begun running promotional competitions to win clothes in association with a local Detroit-based photographic company, and now faces the long, hard battle to make their mark in the hyper-competitive clothing industry.
You can keep up to date with the latest developments of Ash and Erie at the company website, or on the company Twitter account. So far Steven and Eric have not announced any concrete plans to extend their operations into retail outlets permanently, but the publicity generated from their Shark Tank appearance appears to be generally positive from clothing industry figures, with most agreeing that the market for shorter men is one of the few sectors of the clothing industry that is not adequately covered by existing clothing companies.