Shirt Shop Interview: Choke Shirt Company

by on September 14, 2012

What’s the name of your shop? Your name? Your role?

I’m Brian Kelley, and I design and screen print shirts for Choke Shirt Company.

Why the name Choke Shirt Co?

“Choke” doesn’t really have a special meaning. We just thought it would be easily recognizable and have an impact.

Where are you from/live now?

Choke operates out of the SODO neighborhood in Seattle, WA. It’s a great location in the heart of the industrial district, but only a few blocks from downtown.

When did Choke launch?

Choke launched in a studio apartment in 2008.

What was the inspiration for launching a t-shirt business?

Co-owners Matt Thompson and Jeff Gonzales were visiting the Fremont Market one weekend. Filled with local artists and vendors, the scene inspired the pair to discover their own craft and sell it to locals. Soon after, Choke Shirt Co was born.

What differentiates Choke from all the others on the Internet?

I can’t speak for others. There are some great shirt companies out there! But I can say that Choke shirts are designed, printed, sold and shipped by a small team of incredibly talented people. We believe in using smart, simple designs, fashionable fits, and American-made products whenever possible. People often compliment us on our variety of colors and unique designs. I mean, really, does the world need more black V-neck tees with tribal patterns?

Your recent messaging was new Fall line. How many new designs do you have? How often do you come up with a new line?

We launch new lines in the Spring, Summer and Fall, with individual releases here and there. Our Fall line includes 10 new designs on 23 new styles.

It looks like you have a print shop as well. Which came first? The apparel or the printing? Is it convenient to be able to print your own shirts?

The shirts came first. Matt and Jeff had a friend print Choke shirts until they could afford their own equipment. Today, it’s very helpful being able to design and produce everything under one roof! It allows us to try out a new idea the minute we think of it. We also save a ton of money handling almost every faction of the supply chain ourselves.

How’s business?

Choke has seen consistent growth over the past three years. We’re really getting a feel for the styles our customers like. The biggest change in the last year has been a shift in focus from local festivals to wholesale accounts. After three tradeshows, Choke shirts are now sold in over 200 locations worldwide.

How important is social media to your business?

Social media is the number one way we stay connected with our customers. We think it’s important to stay tuned into our fans’ daily lives. They’re our friends, families, and neighbors. When we stay up to date on their interests, we learn how to best appeal to them.

What’s the weirdest picture of someone wearing one of your tees that you have seen? And/or have you run into a stranger out in the wild wearing one of your products? And/or celebrity sightings?

We are beginning to see more Choke tees in the wild. No Celebs, yet. I do the like the photo (attached) of myself with two guys I saw at a club here in Seattle. We were all wearing “Jungle King” from Choke! Mine, of course, was a Choke employee one-off. But we were excited about the coincidence!

Tell me about this design aesthetic Choke is trying to achieve. You described it as walking the line between funny/ironic and artistic/fashionable.

Choke design is inspired by our city, Seattle. Any Seattleite will tell you it’s not only a casual town; it’s a place that encourages individualism. T-shirts, jeans and hoodies are staples among locals. And people like to have fun with those simple ingredients. That’s the idea behind our shirts. They’re casual, and individualistic.
The designs themselves have their own stories, albeit unrelated to each other. But they do share a simple, clean aesthetic. We don’t use a lot of texture or distressing in our tees. You can find plenty of that in stores already.

What type of person is a prime candidate to be a customer?

We wear our own shirts. All the time. I have a “Waves” hoodie on now. That’s always the first question, “would I wear this?” So I suppose our target customers are people like us. People who have style, but not a big budget. People who are casual, but not sloppy. We think our fans have good taste.

Where do you get your designs?

We design everything ourselves. Almost every design is created individually, and then brought to the table for discussion. After a few weeks of playing with ideas, we’ll have 10 or so designs ready for a seasonal launch.

What kind of shirt stock do you use? Why?

We print almost all of our shirts on American Apparel. We don’t keep a lot of shirts on hand, so we have shipments coming in from AA almost daily. We like that they’re made in the US; and we love their fit and quality.

Where do you see your business in a year?

We’ll always stick to our roots. Looking forward, we’ll continue to focus on wholesale accounts, and building our Facebook fan base. I’d like to see each of them double in a year.

What’s your favorite design currently?

Hot Rhino. It has a great story here.

What sells more men or women’s shirts?

We sell more women’s shirts than men’s.

Is there a specific subject matter that you sell most of?

Our animal shirts are always popular.

What are the top three selling designs at your store?

Seattle, Roots, and Stache. They’re some of the classics we’ve carried for a while.

Is the world going to end this year?

I’m optimistic. But just when you get comfortable, “Mitt hits the fan.” ;)

Anything else you want to add?

Our online store has FREE shipping to anywhere in the US!

Where can people find you?


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa Craig September 14, 2012 at 11:40 pm

I have several Choke shirts & love every one of them. They’re always fresh, relevant and simply designed.
When my husband was ready for a new batch of his corporate Tshirts I suggested we contact Choke for the printing. We sent them our business logo & what we wanted & they came out amazing!!
Will continue to be a loyal & happy customer!


Booker Addison September 15, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Thanks Lisa. Great feedback. All evidence seems to indicate Choke is a vibrant, awesome shirt shop.


Bethann Puckett February 20, 2017 at 12:50 am

Very nice article informative content thanks we liked it.


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