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Meet Justin Finkelman of Fitness Wear in North-West Suburbs

Today we’d like to introduce you to Justin Finkelman.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Justin. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I designed my first T-Shirt in elementary school for “Space Shuttle Club”. From the time I could hold a pencil I have been enamored with making art. The design competition for the school “Space Shuttle Club” was my first chance to show-off my passion. My design won the competition and that is the first time I experienced the joy of seeing an idea come to fruition on a physical product (Specifically a T-Shirt).

Fast-forward to college where I studied Art and Design at the University of Michigan. Simultaneous to my studies, I decided to take the plunge into starting a business with a Fraternity brother. Naturally, I created a clothing line. I designed, produced and sold apparel to the “streetwear market” using my unique designs. I gained a lot of experience learning how to develop a business from scratch. My brand was quite successful, getting shelf space in many of Michigan’s largest Street Wear boutiques and represented by some of Detroit’s biggest artists. Eventually, the need to keep up with my studies and the pressure to graduate and get a “real job” interfered with my business, and I called it quits. Soon after, I finished up my fun at Michigan, graduated (phew) and got a job with a marketing firm.

My post college time initially consisted of designing menus and coupons for local restaurants and small-business. It was…exhilarating.

It wasn’t long before I missed the thrill of creating something on my own. I started having day-dreams about again using my love for art and my entrepreneurial fire to develop a product that people wanted. I knew I needed to give the clothing industry another shot, but this time, I was going to start at the root of an area where I had the most problems during my clothing line days: Production. One of the biggest frustrations I had when creating a clothing brand was finding a reliable company that could print my shirts. The issues with all screen printers (and there were many) that I worked up were in spades: missed deadlines, botched print jobs, terrible customer service, etc etc etc. I had never found a single printer that I felt comfortable printing my passion project. I wanted to become THE reliable screen printer. I wanted to use my experience, knowledge, skill and passion to create an apparel customization source that honored the needs of their customers.

This led to my decision to purchase a small screen printing company named, Fitness Wear. Fitness Wear was a little screen printing shop that consisted of a small warehouse space, a single color printing press, and a base of customers. My goal was to expand and improve on the foundation Fitness Wear built. That is what I have been doing for the past 5 years and continue to do today!

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The entire past 5-years of building my business have been a cake walk…

Yeah friggin’ right.

Every day there are new obstacles and challenges. There are issues that come up that I would never have imagined would be something I would be dealing with. I can make a list that would make your head spin. These are problems big and small:

A machine suddenly breaking down as I have a deadline to meet.

A competitor attempts stealing customers.

A package gets lost by shipping.

I have had to figure out how to learn many skills and tasks that I have never dealt with (remember I was an ART major, not a business major). How do I hire employees? How do I manage employees? How do I find a reliable book-keeper? How can I properly read a profit-and-loss? How do I get anything else done, when there are thousands of t-shirts to be printed and only 24-hours in one day?

The biggest obstacle of them all will always be self-doubt. There are many times when I take a second to review my business and I think to myself, “is all this stress and effort worth it?” The answer will always be YES. There are so many opportunities to give-up and call it quits, but at the end of the day the desire to build and improve always outweighs the negative “voice in the head”.

Please tell us about Fitness Wear.
Fitness Wear has been providing Chicago with quality screen printing for over 30 years. With our passion and expertise in custom clothing, Fitness Wear pledges satisfaction to every customer. There is no job too small or too complex for us. Fitness Wear loves bringing anyone’s custom screen printing ideas to life.

Fitness Wear creates apparel for athletics, organizations, small business, private label and more.

Fitness Wear strives to create a fluid and positive customer experience from the formation of their idea to the delivery of their order.

Fitness Wear is a family operated business. I have gotten much support from many family members throughout the process of building my company. There are many friends and family who have helped me build my dream. Notable family members are, my Mother Nancy Brandwein, who approved of my idea and supported my decision and helped me get my idea off the ground through emotional and financial support. She also acted as the company’s first official book-keeper and currently acts as the “fire under our butts”. Next, my Step-Father, Barry Brandwein, who comes to the office daily, to help expand the business through sales. Everyone wears many hats, so to say sales is his sole position would be a vast understatement.

I set-out to be a company that understands their customer. I had been let down too many times by screen printing companies run by people who were apathetic about providing customer’s their vision with care. I had used enough screen printing companies to know that it wasn’t an issue that was specific to a single company. I am proud that my company demolishes the stigma that screen printers work on their own terms. Fitness Wear is a service built for the CUSTOMER. The CUSTOMER will always come first. We will work with our customers endlessly to achieve their custom apparel vision. This is done with effective communication, a passion for our craft, and most importantly a desire to see our customer’s get what they set-out for. I believe we have achieved this through our list of returning happy customers, and the testimonials/feedback we receive from them. Nothing is better when a customer is happy with not only the product, but their entire experience working with our company.

In addition, we staff a team of expert graphic designers and printers who know how to achieve a quality product. We do not settle for decent or passable work. We will ALWAYS give our 100% effort in producing the best custom apparel for our customer.

The combination of skill and customer care sets us apart from any other screen printing company, and you can ask our customers about that!

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I learn something new every day. I was very green when I purchased Fitness Wear, but I believe each lesson continues to steer our boat in the correct direction.

If I had to start over, what would I do differently? Maybe I would know a little more about pricing, technical skill and the industry, but I don’t think I would change anything. I am have been learning every day for the past 5 years (and will continue to learn) and these lessons shape what Fitness Wear is today. Our company is unique because of the lessons that I learned and where it has led us. I am proud of who we currently are and I have a vision of who we will become. I don’t think one needs to head back to shore in order to steer the boat into a different direction.

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