POCATELLO — Eric Bagley wanted to start a business, but for years he only had half an idea. As he puts it, he had the peanut butter and he needed the jelly.
The peanut butter was knowing he wanted to create a clothing brand and support artists, who are often underpaid for their work.
Despite having that idea, he put it in the back of his mind for many years. Then after the better part of a decade, he started seeing signs everywhere that seemed to be urging him to follow through with his dream.
“It’s kind of one of those things, you know like when you’re in love or when you’re heartbroken and you see that person in every movie and every song,” said Bagley, who lives in Pocatello. “It came to the forefront of my mind and in every ridiculous fortune cookie or horoscope or tarot card reading, I kept finding it. Like, ‘Hey, you need to be doing this thing you’re supposed to be doing.’ All of a sudden, it was no longer in the back of my mind. I felt that it was being pulled to the front because I could find it in everything, whether it was there or not.”
Then came the jelly: a desire to help the community.
Bagley and his wife, Jasmine, who are both Idaho Falls natives, live next door to Shannon Fox, the program coordinator for Bannock Youth Foundation’s Communities Aligned in Prevention Efforts, which fights child abuse locally.
He was inspired by Fox’s work, which was the push he needed to finally start his business.
“I felt challenged to do something to help the community,” Bagley said. “I had both these things going on in my head at the same time, but they weren’t the same thing. I had the T-shirts and the artists and wanting to help them was peanut butter, and then wanting to do more to help the community was jelly.”
Thus, the idea for SUP-LOC (short for Support Local Art) was born. Bagley would pay artists a higher than average commission for each of their items sold, and with each purchase $1 would be sent to a charity of the artist’s choosing.
Bagley started reaching out to artists on Instagram and started buying the equipment to print the art onto the clothing.
“I print the clothing right in my home,” he said. “I have a good wholesale account with the company that makes 100 percent eco-friendly T-shirts. The printer that I ended up going out on a limb and purchasing is very high quality. I knew that I had to have the equipment that would honor the fine artwork that I was representing.”
Because he still works full time as a truck driver, it took about 15 months for the idea to fully come to fruition, and the website was launched in mid-March. As of the end of April, SUP-LOC had five artists, and Bagley said he is still looking for more artists of any style, especially artists who live in East Idaho. Right now, the artists are from other areas of the U.S. and from other countries.
For Bagley, it is especially important to pay his artists well. He said that when doing research to start SUP-LOC, he found that most companies pay artists between $2 and $6 per item or a percent of the sale price, which goes down if the item is on sale. Bagley pays his artists $8 per item, regardless of the price he sells it for.
“One of the things that I have found is that artists aren’t really paid well,” Bagley said. “They’re not compensated very well. I feel like they’re kind of taken advantage of.”
Bagley said that one of the things that is uncommon about his T-shirt company is there are a lot of feminine styles.
“One of the things that’s really unique about us is we have a lot of women’s styles because our main artist that we launched with does very feminine art,” he said. “We have a lot of crop top hoodies and stuff like that that sets us apart.”
Opening his business in the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak has been, in a word, “terrifying,” Bagley said.
“There’s nothing more rewarding and fulfilling than starting your own business and chasing a dream,” he said. “But at the same time, there’s nothing scarier than starting your own business.”
Thankfully for Bagley, he doesn’t currently have a brick-and-mortar location for his business and is instead operating entirely online at the moment. That means he doesn’t have to worry about paying rent on a space that can’t be open during Idaho’s stay-home order.
“It’s such a dark time right now, and this was something I was really excited about and really wanted to be joyful, but it’s so hard when we all have this collective pandemic thought process right now,” Bagley said. “It wasn’t easy. We’re really fortunate that we didn’t get a storefront.”
Because he and his wife, who runs the marketing side of the business, are fortunate enough to still be bringing in paychecks from their full-time jobs, Bagley is using the additional income from his new business to give back to his community through something he’s calling Project 25/25. Through June 1 — or later if the pandemic persists — every shirt from SUP-LOC’s Home Collection — which includes several different designs with SUP-LOC logos on them — is $25. With every $25 shirt purchased, $5 is sent to the Idaho Foodbank, providing enough for 25 meals to feed hungry families in East Idaho. Also included with each purchase is a free cloth face mask for the customer. Bagley also donated a couple dozen of the face masks to the food bank.
“It’s great to have a means to be able to donate that much money to the food bank,” he said. “It’s something I wouldn’t be able to do without this.”
He added, “The food bank has never been more essential than right now to the entire community.”
Business has so far been pretty slow, but in some ways that’s been a blessing, Bagley said.
“It’s been slow. It’s a slow trickle, which has been OK because I still work long hours and then have to come home and fill orders,” he said. “… It has been slow, but I think you come to expect that with a new business. You have diamonds in your eyes and you hope for the best, but really you know it’s going to be slow moving, and anything needs to build momentum. We really are fortunate, I think. It fell into what is a sweet spot where it’s not so busy that it’s hard to do my other job, but it’s not nonexistent.”
When the pandemic is over, Bagley hopes SUP-LOC will be able to get a brick-and-mortar storefront — and he has big plans for the space outside of simply using it to sell clothes.
“We really would like to have a storefront, somewhere we can have an atmosphere and have a place where people could come in and make art and have a really relaxed and safe environment to do that,” he said. “Our ultimate goal is to have something like an after-school program. A lot of artists are very introverted. Bullying happens a lot. We want to have a safe place for artists.”
Though SUP-LOC is a business and obviously Bagley would like to turn a profit, he said taking care of his artists and the community is more important than the money.
“The profit will take care of itself because if you did everything that you said you’d do people recognize that,” he said.
For more information on SUP-LOC, visit sup-loc.com or @sup_loc on Facebook and Instagram.