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TORONTO (Reuters) - Jason Sadler has found a way to turn his passion for wearing t-shirts into a full-time paying gig, making him the envy of slackers everywhere.
A year ago the 27-year-old Jacksonville, Florida entrepreneur launched a website - Iwearyourshirt.com (<www.iwearyourshirt.com>) - where he charged people to wear whatever shirt they sent him. On New Year's Day, he charged $1 and each successive day Sadler's fee went up a buck, so this New Year's Eve he will charge $365.
To those who call it a gimmick, Sadler points to the more than $84,000 sitting in his PayPal account - $66,795 for advertising on his back alone and another $18,000 in monthly sponsorships, where he charges $1,500 for an ad spot on his online monthly calendar. Sadler said he sold out his 2009 calendar midway through August, which convinced him to leave the Web-design firm he co-founded and dedicate himself fulltime to literally selling the shirt on his back.
"I've got companies that need more exposure than I can give in hours I can work in a day," said Sadler, whose very first advertiser on January 1 was live video streaming website Ustream.tv, the same platform Sadler uses to broadcast his own live one-hour webcast to chat with viewers about the companies and the products displayed on his extra-large sized chest. So far his clients range from obscure bloggers and rock bands, to startups and established companies like Zappos, Prudential and Intuit. Comedian Bill Cosby even used him to try to get more people to sign up to his Facebook page.
"Every day I really try to give as much push and as much value without sales-pitching people," said Sadler, who initially got the idea after seeing how many promotional t-shirts are discarded and thought he could offer more value to the companies making them by actually wearing them around. "The value of doing all this content for $300, even if it only gets a couple hundred views on everything, is still pretty tremendous when you think about the grand scheme of things."
Apart from wearing the shirt from the moment he gets up until he goes to bed, Sadler also documents it on his blog and promotes it on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube. So far his Ustream webchats have received more than 140,000 views and he has more than 20,000 followers on Twitter.
"If you see me out, you're never going to see me in a different shirt," said Sadler, who insisted that he does not proselytize, but simply wears the shirts and answers questions about it. "I tell people like it is; if I don't like the company I say check them out, I don't really think it's great, but do that."
Sadler said he gets some pretty "interesting" requests, but added the only shirt he didn't feel comfortable wearing was one with "a religious depiction of Barack Obama." However he had no problem sporting a tiny black shirt, feather boa and tiara for a company that sells paraphernalia for bachelorette parties, or going topless on a couple occasions. "I kept it PG; I kept it above the upper chest area, so you didn't see anything," admitted Sadler.
For 2010 Sadler is doubling his daily prices, so this January 1 it will cost advertisers $2 and $730 on December 31. Monthly sponsorships will jump to $2,500. Sadler also hired a friend in Los Angeles to help tag-team on promotions, so now companies that buy spots will get two guys wearing their shirts and spreading the word virally online.
"If you were going to put an hourly rate on that from an ad agency you'd pay way more," said Sadler, who will split the revenues 50-50 with his co-worker. In addition Sadler said he will introduce "proud partnerships," an initiative whereby he provides a special yearly promotion for a company. He said he has already inked a deal for an undisclosed amount with Tommy John apparel to exclusively wear their underwear throughout next year.
Sadler said it's important for him to keep coming up with creative advertising methods in order to maintain interest for both himself and his clients. He said he experienced a lull a couple months after launching his business when "the novelty of it wore off," but then interest "ramped back up" when companies actually started to see returns in increased visitors to their websites, or in spikes in their Twitter or Facebook followers.
Sadler said he sold out the first few months of 2010 in "30 minutes" and that he is presently booked through next August. The only downside is that he never gets a day off, which has interfered with his social life, in particular on the occasions where he has had to attend a wedding, or a funeral, or just wanted to take his girlfriend out to a nice meal. At those times Sadler said he is "sport coating it up" by wearing his t-shirt underneath a blazer.
Sadler said he would "love to keep wearing shirts going forward" if it continued to offer his advertisers a great deal while at the same time making less demands on his time. Although he has garnered a lot of publicity over the last 12 months, Sadler said he hopes to raise even more awareness, so he can increase traffic to his various web ventures, which would in turn allow him to raise his rates and potentially hire more staff.
"Everyone wants to get to their millions - I know I do," said Sadler. "If I can do it through wearing shirts and other kinds of fun engagements, I'm extremely happy."