Until early December, brothers Ian and Eli White relied on friends and family for their sales. Their new clothing brand, which has a goal to highlight the jobs done by trade workers, was three months old and had yet to catch on.
Facebook ads promoting T-shirts and hoodies — tagged with their brand name, Workman, and catchphrases like “Worked to Death” and “Safety Third” — failed to get the brand off the ground.
Turns out, Facebook may have just been the wrong platform.
“We honestly didn’t get a lot of traction at first,” Ian White said on a mid-December afternoon. “That was definitely kind of discouraging for a little bit there.”
The brothers — both of whom are recent Raymond Central High School graduates — set Workman to the side and refocused elsewhere, Ian on his day job at a Lincoln marketing firm and Eli on his first semester of economics studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
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“But we still had ideas,” Ian said. “We still wanted to do this and felt that there was a way to do this.”
On Nov. 28, Ian was in Cancun, Mexico, on a planned vacation when a friend sent a TikTok video promoting another clothing brand. The low-budget clip had more than 30,000 views.
“I was like, ‘Well, that doesn’t look that hard, I think I can do that,’” Ian said.
The next day, he posted Workman’s first TikTok, which displays a text message from “Dad” reading “Which one of those hoodies did you want me to get you for Christmas?” Swiping to the right introduces Workman’s apparel line while an outlaw-tinged country song plays.
For the next three days, the White brothers made more TikToks, and Workman’s sales perked up. $300 one day, $400 the next.
Then, on Dec. 2, the app’s algorithm latched onto a Workman video with a narrative similar to their first post — a text message from Dad asking which Workman hoodie his son wants for Christmas.
“And it just went crazy, and that’s when the website got hit really hard,” Ian said.
Their phones buzzed with “cha-ching” notifications that signaled sale after sale.
“I was checking the website during all my classes that day,” Eli said, “and I think we had an average of about 170 to 200 people at all times.”
Views piled up on the TikTok video, approving comments rolled in — in a stroke of algorithmic luck, the White brothers had caught the break they had hoped for. Just like that, their new business was raking it in.
“I remember I was texting Eli that I couldn’t feel my hands,” Ian said. “It was a surreal experience.”
By the end of that day, the Workman website had racked up over $20,000 in sales. Less than three weeks later, they were at $120,000. And now the Workman operation stakes a sizable claim over Shirts 101’s production floor.