To a Tee

How Andy Brown took his tee shirts from the halls of NorthCanyon High to the racks at Urban Outfitters


Now Andy Brown is poised to make a choice between settling as a hometown hero or striving toward international success. If he stays small, he might be surrounded by a good number of Soldier fans and friends but remain riddled by "What if?" scenarios. If he continues onward, he'll be faced with challenges as he attempts to grow his brand through image building, drawing overhead, and pulling in investors, all without saturating his market.

"It's one thing to be a graffiti artist, but it's another thing to be a businessman and a designer, and there's a lot of things to learn in between," says Frank Sinatra, co-founder of the industry standard, Stussy International, which grew popular during the '80s for its Stussy "Eightball" shirts that could be seen around the globe on the boards of world champion surfers to the backs of world-renowned movie stars.

Even with his success in the tee shirt business, Andy Brown takes a relaxed approach.
Even with his success in the tee shirt business, Andy Brown takes a relaxed approach.
Top, Brown strikes a pose behind a model wearing a variation on his signature, Soldierleisure. Bottom, models show off Brown's styles for both sexes.
Top, Brown strikes a pose behind a model wearing a variation on his signature, Soldierleisure. Bottom, models show off Brown's styles for both sexes.

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Photograpy by Jackie Mercandetti

Brown believes he's well aware of the difference.

"I'm not trying to be Stussy because you can't," he claims. "I'm going to have to give over control of Soldier if I want to get to that next level. Eventually, I'll have my own life away from Soldier. But my time spent being cool in the small pond is done."

Still working his day job, pushing beverage in Phoenix, Brown now puts about 15 to 25 hours a week into Soldier. As the phone keeps ringing, Brown keeps clocking. He's also got an impressive sponsorship list, which includes the internationally renowned break-dancing crew Furious Styles; skateboarder Michael Pringle; and East Coast surfers Tom Gore, Chris Scully and Redeye.

He's moved into the women's market, with tee shirts and underwear, and this winter plans to expand into terry-cloth jumpers. Passage, a boutique recently opened in central Phoenix that features the work of local designers, now has a big rack of Soldierleisure goods for men and women.

Though Brown talks about moving to San Diego, L.A., Las Vegas or even as far away as Vancouver, he so far has stuck true to the notion that Soldierleisure will remain a Phoenix-based label. Having traded in the Lumina for a new Nissan Maxima -- which he keeps packed full with sketches, demo shirts and hats like George Costanza's wallet on Seinfeld -- Brown drove to his second pool show this August, where he sold another thousand shirts to Japan's United Arrows and picked up new accounts with Yellow Rat Bastard of New York City, L.A.'s American Rag, and Moda Express of Seattle.

The August issue of Stuff magazine featured one of Brown's trucker-style mesh hats, and now he's got orders from all over the world. He's also received new interest from trendy boutiques like Vintage Nine in Modesto, Sway of Berkeley and Dusty in Hong Kong, so it's obvious that the Valley's own Soldierleisure is on the rise.

"I thought it was a passing interest at first, but seeing the last couple years I think he will keep at it long term," Brown's father says. "I always hoped Andy would find a way to integrate his artistic abilities with a career. Hopefully, Soldierleisure will do that."

Brown says he wants to share the wealth -- if he ever gets any.

"I'm never gonna take all this money so I can get diamond earrings. It will never be to the point where I'm trying to sell one more tee shirt to get curb feelers on my car or a gold-plated toothbrush. That's not the kind of life that I want to live. But I want a pool on my roof where the whole neighborhood's invited." How Andy Brown took his tee

shirts from the halls of North Canyon High to the racks at Urban Outfitters

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