Saint John 316 – Putting faith in fashion
Entrepreneurs draw inspiration from scripture for clothing line
The founders of Saint John 316, married couple Keith and Renee B. Ware, want to send a faith-based message with their apparel and lifestyle fashion brand — the Christian-based theme reflects their personal beliefs — but they also are savvy enough to know that their market focus may be the key to getting their fledgling venture off the ground.
On many Sundays you can find them selling Saint John 316 clothing at Jubilee Christian Church in Mattapan, their portable store and tables set up as people leave services. The company’s name derives from one of the most widely known verses in the Christian Bible, John 3:16. Its focus on the “urban Christian community” hits home for worshipers at the 10,000-member church, to which the Wares also belong.
“We do very well there. They love the brand,” said Renee Ware.
Serving as test group for the company’s fashions and as an early source of revenue, Keith Ware points out that Jubilee, which also has a branch in Stoughton, has helped get the word out about the brand.
“You are not only reaching those people at Jubilee, they have friends and they have family — it is reaching out to all of them,” Keith said.
The next move is to target similar Christian communities and duplicate the sales strategy Saint John 316 has at Jubilee.
In addition, the company already vends clothing at other Christian-related events, including gospel concerts, plays and conferences.
In some cases, these events don’t even have a plan in place for allowing vendors, but Keith said they convince organizers of the value of it and, in doing so, can open doors to other venues for sales and brand awareness.
As is standard for any apparel brand, they also take part in fashion shows and trunk shows, which showcase Saint John 316 apparel to a fashion-conscious audience.
For men, Saint John 316 offerings include T-shirts, hoodies, jackets and hats. For women, options include tops, dresses, hoodies and pants. Early brand designs feature the Saint John 316 logo and simple black, white and gray color schemes.
The company is ready to roll out a fall/winter line entitled “Army of God” that integrates camouflage into the color palette, as well as Army fatigue-style pants, jackets and pullover tees. Accessories include cadet hats and urban camo ski hats. The fall/winter line also will include updates to core brand items such as hoodies and jackets, adding thermal shirts, long-sleeve T-shirts and hooded pullover T-shirts.
Average costs are $25 per item. According to Keith, the typical customer spends about $38 per purchase.
The genesis for Saint John 316 came in 2004 when Keith put his graphic design skills to work making T-shirts for a fundraiser. It struck him at the time that it would be pretty easy to develop an apparel line focused on simple items such as T-shirts and hoodies. The reaction to the fundraiser shirts signaled that people would buy such clothing. However, he just didn’t see a way to market the brand or have time for face-to-face sales, key components of small retail ventures, to generate any real profits. So he shelved the idea.
In the decade since — with the explosion of social media — he says things have drastically changed for business. So in 2012 he started developing a strategy to get an apparel brand up and running. Last year, Saint John 316 took the plunge, relying heavily on social media to generate interest.
“Getting out to the world is so much easier now,” Keith said. “I felt it was the perfect opportunity to jump-start the business.”
The Wares sought to expand Saint John 316’s reach by connecting with family and friends locally, but also throughout the country in places like Atlanta and Chicago.
Of course, the irony is not lost on the husband-and-wife business partners that, so far, face-to-face sales have sustained the birth of the company and are fueling its growth — the same business model that kept them from launching a fashion brand a decade ago. But both maintain that online retail sales are going to be necessary for Saint John 316’s ultimate success.
“What we need to do is use the Internet to drive more traffic. We have to get our numbers up to a higher level,” Keith said. “It is basically a numbers game between the ratio of people who view your products and who buy something.”
Online retails sales and vending are two of the four main components of the company’s business plan, which also includes developing a network of affiliates throughout the U.S. to sell the apparel and wholesale distribution to boutique fashion stores and outlets.
One thing Saint John 316 has going for it is the size of the market. The apparel market consistently tops $200 billion in the U.S. The company cites stats that put the Christian market as a whole at $5.1 trillion, with estimated African American purchasing power at $1.1 trillion.
Of course, these numbers are way past what will keep Keith and Renee Ware happy and Saint John 316 afloat.
They say the company is expected to hit its first $100,000 in sales in the next 12 months. At that point they will really start to ramp things up. The company is run out of their Randolph home for now, but they view the business as a Boston-based brand.
Keith, who previously ran his own graphic design business called NuMedia Graphix, continues to work fulltime as a power plant mechanic, while Renee, who previously owned a South End beauty salon called Renee’s Destiny International Hair Care Systems, devotes all her time to Saint John 316.
“We have a lot of things that we are trying to get under our belt about things such as marketing and inventory control,” said Keith. “Right now this is a learning process for us.”