Peninsula entrepreneurs fire up unique clothing line

Posted: Thursday, November 27, 2003

A Kenai man wants to sell you the shirt off his back literally.

An avid motor sports enthusiast, 1999 Kenai Central High School graduate Matt Brown recently started AK-49, a new clothing line designed with two of his favorite things in mind: Alaska and snowmachines.

His goal is simple:

"To have really cool stuff and have Alaska represented by people who are Alaskans," Brown said last week from the Mountain Madness snowmachine shop on Kalifornsky Beach Road, where he recently began displaying his custom line of T-shirts, beanies, windbreakers, sweatshirts and other products.

So far, sales have been slow and steady, exactly how Brown envisioned building his business.

Unlike other entrepreneurs who try to go big all at once, Brown said he has tried to take things slow, making sure that he can produce a quality product while keeping his hard core customers happy.

"I wanted to do a first run, let everybody see what kind of things we had, then go from there," Brown said.

"My main goal was to keep money coming in and not get too far ahead of myself."

All of Brown's advertising so far has been relatively low-key. He's got four sponsored free-style snowmachine riders sporting the AK-49 logo, and has been relying on his eye-catching designs to sell themselves.

"It's just been a lot of word of mouth," he said.

Although AK-49 is Brown's brainchild, he said the company would never have gotten off the ground without an array of edgy designs and logos.

For those, he turned to T-shirt designer Kris Seymour, a 1993 Kenai grad who now attends the Academy of Art College in San Francisco.

Seymour created the product line's distinctive look, with designs ranging from a bull moose skull emblazoned with the company's logo to a giant map of Alaska with "AK-49" in bold letters that stretch from the Bering Sea coast to Canada.

Brown said without the creative genius of Seymour, AK-49 would still be a dream.

"I couldn't do it without him," Brown said. "He's been a huge help."

Seymour said he worked on the designs during his free time at school, then sent them north to be put on the gear. Brown then contracted with Sundog Printing to create the clothing, and AK-49 was born all before Seymour had ever seen a finished T-shirt.

Now on a break from school, he's helping Brown get settled into the showroom at Mountain Madness, and said it's nice to finally see his designs someplace other than the drawing board.

"I hadn't seen it in person before coming back here," Sey-mour said. "It's very cool."

Brown said the partnership with Seymour has been the most rewarding part of the business so far. He said every time he's had an idea for a new design, Seymour already was thinking along the same lines.

"I'd call him up and say, 'This would be a great design,' and he'd say, 'It's already done,'" Brown said.

"It's just really neat how it's flowed."

Although creating a new line of clothing might seem like a fun, simple thing to do, Brown said he's actually had to make a lot of sacrifices to get AK-49 off the ground.

When he's not hustling to market his new product, Brown holds down a "real" job, and is also a full-time student at Kenai Penin-sula College.

Not only that, but creating a line of clothing geared toward snowmachiners has had a rather distressing side effect on Brown's recreational habit. Because he's now putting his money into the clothing, he no longer has the time or equipment to enjoy the winter.

"I knew we could make something that's better than what's already out there, so I just sold all my toys and decided to go for it," he said.

That doesn't mean he's not still passionate about snowmachines.

In fact, as one of AK-49's first big promotions, Brown is co-sponsoring along with Red Bull energy drink the premier of Turnagain Hardcore's new snowmachine movie Saturday from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Sports Center. Tickets are $15 per person, $35 per family.

He's hoping the video will help continue to spread the word about his home-grown gear, a product he hopes anyone passionate about Alaska will consider putting on.

"We just wanted to make something Alaskans could be proud of," he said.

Anyone wishing to check out the AK-49 line of clothing can stop by Mountain Madness on K-Beach Road or call 398-3185.

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