After graduating from Oberlin College in 2009, Brian Verne joined with a childhood friend and decided to use his passion for sports in a tough economy to start an athletic apparel company. Two years later, Verne’s dream has birthed Connection Apparel — a successful athletic gear company that can be found in at least 14 different markets and has formed partnerships with multiple professional athletes and charity organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland.
In addition to Verne’s friend Michael Eppich of Shaker Heights, Jack Dunn, OC ’10, also helps run the company. All three were baseball players. “The three of us graduated during arguably the worst economy since the Great Depression and it was hard for us to find jobs,” Verne recalled. “Rather than sit back and wait for an opportunity to come to us, we decided to create an opportunity for ourselves. Keeping our strengths and our interests in mind, we decided to start an athletic apparel brand deeply rooted in philanthropic principles.”
Through the company, the three try to give back to likeminded young adults in every corner of the country. A portion of the proceeds from each sale is given to student-athletes from the area where the deal was made. In addition to this and their partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland, they also give entrepreneurial high school students the opportunity to shadow them at their work site: the business incubator LaunchHouse. Verne attributes this socially conscious attitude to the attitude he and Dunn encountered at Oberlin: “We spent four years of our life around a progressive student body that was very much involved in many of the important social issues that we face today. The ‘Oberlin way’ of ‘Learning and Labor’ encourages students to get involved with something that they can be passionate about while also making a difference.”
Aside from philanthropy, all three friends said baseball has been a strong force in helping them establish Connection Apparel, also known as CnXn. While at Oberlin, Verne was a team captain and outfielder on the baseball team. He also played baseball with Eppich at Shaker Heights High School. Eppich later played at Rollins College. Dunn was a pitcher at Oberlin. and, like Verne, Dunn was a two-year team captain.
“We believe in baseball as an allegory to life,” Verne said. “Baseball is a game defined by failure, and correspondingly, one’s ability to bounce back from failure rather quickly. The game of life is no different. Baseball played a major part in laying the foundation for us to be successful in the real world.” Verne added, “We spent many afternoons, nights and weekends on the baseball diamond. … Our baseball experience was invaluable to our development as a young adult.” The three founders faced a variety of issues as they tried to establish a foothold in the athletic apparel industry. They had to plan the entire supply chain for their products, create their budgets and forecast for future endeavors, and most importantly, they had to get factories to even agree to produce their apparel. “The good factories that make the garments do not like to take on small, relative unknowns,” Verne said. “They are a volume-driven business so it’s not advantageous for them to do small runs.”
The three battled against the odds and currently have an established, reliable chain of production. “We got an introduction to one of the first Under Armour-contracted facility in Allentown, PA. Several months ago, Mike, Jack and myself went out to Allentown to pitch the factory owner on our business model. He loved it and he is going to do small runs for us to help us get going — and it’s going to be USA made!” Through persistence and various connections within the sports industry, including contact with a National Football League Players Association agent, the three have also signed about 20 professional athletes, including members of MLB, the NBA and the NFL.
As they look toward the future, the three friends want to make even more progress in the industry and in the community. They plan to establish a strong Internet presence through an online “CnXn athletic community,” and their ultimate goal is to expand to all the major national markets so that they can help out student-athletes around the nation. Verne, Dunn and Eppich have their work cut out for them, but if the past few months say anything about their ambition and perseverance, don’t be surprised if you see your favorite athletes wearing CnXn apparel soon.
You can learn more about CnXn apparel by visiting its website at www.cnxnapparel.com. It is also on facebook at www.facebook.com/ConnectionX and can be found on twitter at @Connection_X.