Posted by Kevin Yu

Artists serving Artists : the Coregami origin story

Hey it's me, Kevin at Coregami.

It's our birthday and we just became a two year old company. Instead of taking a victory lap around the house, I'd like to take a moment to reflect and share our story with you.

Coregami started in June 2015. We began with the simple idea - that formal wear should be functional. We couldn’t have imagined that in two short years, we’d be in every major orchestra in the country and used by more artists than any other brand.

This is the toughest thing I’ve ever done. Yet this is the happiest chapter of my life. If you have a minute, I’d like to share the unlikely story of how I got into this mess.

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No one likes a quitter. But in 2013, I did just that.

After years fighting rush hour traffic, I left a good job to see the world. I ate my way through Germany, UK, Turkey, Bulgaria and slept on sofas. The doner kebabs in Istanbul are as good for breakfast as they are for dinner. But I never skipped a curry wurst cart in Berlin. While having late night instant ramen, my buddy told me about The El Camino de Santiago. Few weeks later, I found myself walking 600 miles across Spain collecting blisters and stories.

Seeing the world, connecting with people, and stuffing my face was exactly what I needed to punch the reset button on my life. By the time I returned home to Dallas, the noise was gone and I could hear a signal. 

I’ve done a lot of really stupid things in my life and I’m not done yet. But there are THREE things that I've done right:

   #1.  Keeping music in my life despite having rejected music school three times.

   #2.  Asking a special girl to quit her job to be unemployed with me.

   #3.  Pressing the reset button on my life and starting from zero.

“If you solve your own problem, you will have at least one customer” - a buddy in San Francisco

After a symphony performance, I looked down under my jacket. My entire tuxedo was soaked like a wet sponge. I couldn’t move. And the worst part was the stench.

I thought to myself "there’s got to be a better way!"

They say suffering leads to wisdom. So I did the unimaginable - I went shopping. Malls are like giant labyrinths with endless aisles of nothing and baby strollers playing bumper cars. Internet shopping is like a virtual flea market with infinite options minus the fleas. In my mind, I knew exactly what I wanted to buy. But I felt like I was searching for Santa Claus - it's there but I've ever seen it.  Stuck between bad and no options, I decided do it myself.

“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” - Confucius

Bringing an idea to life and building a business around it is like passing a truck through a water hose.  I've had some tough gigs in the past. But this is the toughest thing I've ever done. There’s never enough time, money or energy. The sky's always falling and it's always my fault. Some common sense really helps. But more than anything else, I had to learn how to be resourceful.

The first prototype was a disaster and the second was even worse. I was so embarrassed when I showed it to my musician friends. But to my surprise, they were all excited and eager to give feedback. The prototypes started to improve with every design iteration. Many months later, I opened a box with the latest prototype. It wasn't embarrassing at all.   

One of the questions that we get most often is "how did you come up with the name?"  The truth is, I wanted to name the company origami - because the reams of white fabric reminded me of the Japanese art of folding paper into objects. A quick search revealed that the domain would cost more money than I've ever seen. With a little imagination, I bought the domain Coregami.com for $16.99 and a company was born.

 

Since day one, we produced our garments in Los Angeles. It is truly the city of angels except that the fashion district sits right next to one of the largest homeless populations in the country. It was like an IKEA of street tents. There were days when my wife, seventy year old mother and I would have to gingerly step through sidewalk living rooms just to catch meetings.

There's a lot of magic that happens behind a web store. With some help, we set up our site on Shopify. We learned how to use Shipstation to manage shipping and MailChimp for email marketing. My Brazilian tennis buddy took all the product photos in his studio. Our other tennis buddy (Dallas Symphony musician) became the first fit model. The warehouse sits at the back of the condo. Our tiny living room became the fulfillment center. Friends and family members would come over to help and stay for dinner.

In June 2015, we flipped the switch and Coregami went live. The crickets were real loud. I kept thinking that I should've kept my day job.

Back then, the idea of technical formal wear didn’t exist. It was hard to sell the story. With some pull from a good friend, we landed on a music and fashion blog. From there, the discussions started to boil and fuel caught fire. Coregami went viral and we landed on the front page of the New York Times.

Since that day, the media frenzy has softened. But our tiny little startup continues to push forward. Our last product release sold out in three hours. Production is struggling to keep up and we get emails every day with new products ideas.  We're flying by the seat of our pants.

 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM 2017

  • Released our second product, The Bernstein

  • Partnered with River Oaks Chamber Orchestra (American Prize Winner 2017)

  • Partnered with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Hall (Grammy Award Winner)

  • Released our third product, The Coltrane, which sold out in 3 hours

  • News Coverage: Fox NYC “Look Good while you Feel Good” 

  • Serving Dallas Symphony’s community outreach program (Dallas Young Strings)

  • Collaborating with elite solo artists to rethink formal wear

  • Serving musicians in every top orchestra in the U.S. (3,000+ musicians world wide)

 

 

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TO INFINITY AND BEYOND

“With great power, comes great responsibility” - Spiderman's Uncle

We just saw the new movie and this quote kept humming in my head. I feel that we've been placed in a unique position - not from a market opportunity standpoint - but rather to be first company in the world to help performing artists take their craft to a new level. It's so exciting because there are few companies top of mind that has led with this clarity of heart and inspiration since Tom's, Nike, and Lululemon.   

Our story is not done being told. We believe that the good stuff is still ahead. Moving forward, we hope to better serve our community. We will do Good and we will do Better. 

From the bottom of our hearts, we say Thank You.

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Breaking Legs,

Kevin 

Founder @ Coregami

 

This article is poorly written because I wrote it myself.

Comments

  • Posted On July 25, 2017 by Chris Klich

    Hey, Kevin,
    I was one of the readers of that New York Times article, and quickly pre-ordered two Gershwin. I wear your shirts whenever I play tux gigs, and have told all of the other musicians in the band about them. I hope you’ve received some orders from at least one or two of them. I take medications that cause me to sweat more easily than most folks, so I really make the most of the shirts.
    I’m writing, though, because you never explained the part about talking a girl into unemployment. Your wife? I wanna hear the story.
    Congratulations on your great success thus far, and I hope it continues magnificently!

  • Posted On July 24, 2017 by Russell Gross

    I’m happy to read this email and learn more about your story. Wow! Congrats on the success you’re having, I knew it would be a hit! I’m retired from a D.C. Military Band and play in a couple regional orchestras, the Principal Bassoonist in one of them, sports your Bernstein shirt and he loves it! I ordered one in the beginning, but after communicating my issue with you, I returned the brand new, unused shirt as it simply would fit around my thick neck! In our earlier correspondence, I said that I know lots of wind players, brass players in particular, that have larger necks and when playing, they expand even more. I’m more than willing to pay more for the extra fabric needed for larger sizes. If you can ever include 19-20"+ necks sizes with a little give for expanding necks when wind players are playing, I’ll be 1st in line to purchase your superior quality shirts! Until then, I’ll continue to recommend your company to my “regular” and slimmer sized musician friends!
    Congrats again! Russell Gross Washington, D.C.

  • Posted On July 24, 2017 by Toby Loftus

    I was an early funder of your campaign and have been pleased with that investment ever since. I now own three Coregami shirts and just love ‘em. I think my best testimonial would be the one time I played an outdoor string quartet gig in 102 degree weather. Thankfully I did not have to wear a jacket or tie, but it was a 3 hour gig. After I was done, I still was receiving compliments on how good my shirt looked. A shirt that is comfortable, looks good, and easy to care for – you can’t be beat that!

  • Posted On July 22, 2017 by Deb KOch

    I’m the Mom of a now 23 year old trumpet player who is a big guy trumpet player. Poor guy lives in gold shirts when not performing, and literally perspired his way through many cotton/polyester tux shirts. He was one of the first purchasers of the original shirt, and again on 2 and again on #3. The shirts are amazing, wash up fresh each time, and don’t pill or snag. Last December when home for semester break from college (Master’s in Music, Trumpet Performance, he got a call to sub with a regional symphony for a Christmas Pops concert. He was walking through the Men’s dressing room when someone started pointing at him and yelling “that one, that’s the one I was talking about.” He was trying to figure out what was going on when people came over and started checking the original Coregami shirt he was currently wearing. I think he has been responsible for a whole bunch of sales for you, as soon as people see it, they want one too. You need to make some in the Large/Tall men’s sizes like XXX and XXXX, those guys would be willing to pay the extra price for the additional fabric. Keep up the good work.

  • Posted On July 22, 2017 by Brad Erickstad

    Kevin – The gas industry’s loss was great music’s gain. I knew you had a grand slam at the GSO intermission a couple of years ago when you pulled Julie and me aside said in a low voice “Hey, don’t say anything to anyone yet, but look at this shirt.” Way to go!
    Brad

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