Boutique t-shirt companies are a dime-a-dozen these days. From the small clothing shops around the state, to the endless sea of them on Etsy, and even in popular magazines, you can find the presence of these companies everywhere.
But Oliver & Otis is not your standard boutique t-shirt company.
What started as only a day-dream between two sisters barely over a year ago, quickly turned into a full-time passion that now has nearly 40,000 people following them across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. But what really sets Oliver & Otis apart is not the fact that their brand has become such a success with so many loyal followers, but the fact that their desire is for something greater than just selling comfy t-shirts.
And so to wrap up our first series of Artist Profile interviews, we had the amazing opportunity to chat with the incredible ladies behind Oliver & Otis – sisters Arin and Allie, and their mom Patti – and learn more about their dreams and passions behind what they do.
Hey! How are you guys?
Ok, so first, tell me more about yourselves. Tell me a little bit about your story before Oliver & Otis.
Arin: Well, we're all from Abilene. And growing up, Allie and I got to see my mom design a ton of t-shirts out of our house and have lots of sales. So we grew up always having a passion for that and design. And so then I went to school at Texas Tech for graphic design, and Allie went to Baylor for an Education degree.
Allie: Yea, and before Oliver & Otis started, Arin had worked for 4 different t-shirt companies throughout college, and was doing graphic design there. And at the same time, I was teaching. Then one day we started brainstorming and day-dreaming, and Arin realized, "You know, I'm designing for this company, when my whole life I've wanted to design for my own t-shirt company."
And I've always been the one that dreams a bit too big. And so we started day-dreaming and I just said, "Well let's just do it! Let's just make an Instagram, make some designs, post it, and not tell anyone who we are" So then we had to figure out what to call us. And so Arin's dog is Oliver, and my dog is Otis, and we thought "That's kind of cute together." So we went for it!
Arin: At first we were completely anonymous. We honestly didn't expect much to come of it, so we wanted to choose a name that didn't have our names on it. So we started an Instagram and would post a few things. And it was funny because my mom would start tagging us in the comments of the pictures and say, "Hey, y'all should check these shirts out, they're pretty cute!" And we just had to say, "Mom, did you read the name? Those are our dogs' names. That's us!" And she totally didn't believe it at first!
So your mom had no idea you started this company?
Allie: She had no idea. I hadn't even told my husband, and Arin hadn't even told her boyfriend. We were just day-dreaming and thought, "This would be kinda fun!" And so once she finally knew, she came to us and asked if we actually serious about it and if we wanted to make this a "thing," because she had always dreamed that we could work from home, so it was just a perfect opportunity for us.
So Patti, you have a background in t-shirt design? Tell me about that.
Patti: Well, when the girls were kids, I was a stay-at-home mom and was thinking of ways to make some extra money, so I would design some t-shirts. But back then there was no social media, so I had to put flyers in mailboxes or I'd take them to teachers at school and get them to take them to other teachers, and then have a sale at my house.
Arin: She's always been artistic. She was an art teacher for a little while, and I think she's always been good at drawing, and everyone just wanted to start buying her t-shirts!
Allie: So when she called us to ask if we were serious about Oliver & Otis, we knew we could do it because she knew the background on how to buy shirts wholesale and how to get them printed. And then Arin knew how to design, and I'm the social butterfly.
Patti: It was perfect. Arin could design and Allie could take care of all the social media posts.
So when was the point when you realized this was more than just day-dreaming and was becoming successful?
Arin: Well, we've just barely been open for a year. But I think we got a pretty big kickstart even when we were still in that day-dreaming phase when Aaron Watson's wife reposted one of our photos, and it kinda blew up from the beginning.
Allie: Yea, it was the "Go Jesus, It's Your Birthday" shirt.
Arin: And so we got really excited! So I took a leap of faith, and once Allie finished the school year, we just felt we were ready to jump all in. That's all we could think about!
Allie: The best thing was that our mom and dad pulled us aside and were fully supportive, and that made it not feel like it was a risk! And so when Kim Watson posted our image we started getting hundreds of followers. At the time she had like 50,000 followers and we had maybe 182. And so all these people would start ordering and I would have to copy and paste their email from the comments on Instagram. So, it got a little stressful.
Arin: You know, I think we were scared for a while at the beginning, and we're still a little scared that it'll all end one day. But we just tried to be brave and go all in and focus on our company.
Allie: And it's fun! It's a dream job. We all get to work together and do something we love to do.
So after Kim posted your image, how did you figure out how to sustain that kind of sudden publicity?
Arin: I think we're lucky to have Allie on our team. She's the strongest at communicating. She just gets really excited and she's really good at talking to people. She even linked up with Texas Humor, who is so much bigger than us. And she's always trying to find any company she can to connect with to do giveaways or just create a relationship with.
It seems like people always blow our minds with how helpful they are. I mean, we had barely 5,000 followers and Texas Humor had 100,000 followers and they say, "Of course we want to help! Whatever we can do!" Everyone has just been so helpful, and it's just been mind-blowing to see how many people want to watch us grow and support us.
Absolutely! Even with just the few short weeks that I've been talking to people and asking to do these kinds of interviews, it's been really cool to see how close-knit the creative community is and how eager everyone is to get in touch. It's so awesome to see that a company so much larger than Oliver & Otis would care so much about that relationship.
Allie: Yea! It's an honor to have people even think we're cool or interesting enough to hear our story or write about us. It's just so special.
So, alot of people define success as how much money you make or how large your business is. But beyond financial success, you guys are successful in the fact that you and your brand are cared about and loved by so many people. What's it like knowing that so many people appreciate what you do?
Allie: It's mind-blowing. We still don't feel worthy of this at all. But we're so thankful.
Arin: Yea, we've just been so blessed with the friendships we've had. One of our friends who works at an ER in Houston is taking the day off to help us set up our warehouse. It's just been amazing having so many friends jump on board and making us feel more special that we really should.
Allie: Everyone has just been above and beyond nice - sending us pictures of our shirts and saying how proud they are. Everyone has just been such big supporters.
After all the love and support, and after something like Kim Watson posting your image, were the floodgates opened and it hasn't stopped since? Or has it now normalized into something a little less stressful?
Allie: Well that was definitely the kick start. We got a ton of new orders, and we just started coming up with new designs, and people liked them and kept buying them! Everything kind of fell into place — we'd get in touch with the right person at the right time, and then someone would do a giveaway with us, and it just seemed like one thing after the other would work out perfectly.
Patti: Some people would say we've been really really lucky, but I think we've just been really really blessed. I think we've got the good Lord on our side for some reason. It's just kind of like every single step along the way things have fallen into place.
Arin: Yea, it just feels like we've been guided into this. We've definitely been helped along the way, so we can't take the credit.
Allie: And our goal has always been to use our blessings to bless others, and we just want to bless as many people as possible, and bring more than just a comfy t-shirt to the world.
I love that. And I heard that you guys recently went to Haiti? Tell me more about that.
Allie: Yea! It was really cool. There's a company called Live Beyond that reached out to us and asked if we were interested in making shirts for a schooling program they just started in Haiti. We said, "Of course! We'd love to help!" So we designed a shirt for them and helped raise $3,500 for this program. It was so cool to see how many people were passionate about Live Beyond and then be able to collaborate with them. And so we went to Haiti, and it was mind-blowing! And Live Beyond is just amazing.
Patti: It really is an unbelievable organization.
So what did you do while you were there?
Allie: Each morning we'd wake up and have a clinic where they'd bus people from a different town each day. And any person that needs a medical service, the doctors or nurses would look at them. And then we'd also check their BMI, and if they were below a certain number we'd give them food.
And there's also a school that goes on where they teach them and feed them 2 meals a day. They have an entire maternity clinic, where they give these expectant mothers the vitamins they need and check-ups each day. The actual survival rate of newborns have gone up 66% in the last year just since they started the clinic.
We'd then go on home-visits in the afternoon to visit the kids and people in the community. Then we'd go to church, and when we got there, there were 17 baptisms that day. They're just changing lives over there.
Patti: It's really cool. I mean, some of those people were starving, or living in metal shacks with no toilets, and it's just amazing to see what this organization has done.
Arin: It's sad because there are very very unfortunate situations and malnourished people there, where the women are treated so poorly, and on average get pregnant 16 times. It's just the most sad and unfortunate conditions that you could imagine. But they're happy people who have just been so grateful for everything they've received. And Live Beyond is making such a huge impact.
That's amazing. It's been so awesome to hear and see how Oliver & Otis has been such a success story, but I think it's even more amazing to see how it has opened the doors for you guys to even greater opportunities like that.
Something I love about you guys is the fact that your faith isn't an in-your-face approach, but rather, you can just tell how it's woven into your DNA as a company. So how does your faith play out in what you do?
Allie: I think my mom is the best example of this. From the get-go, she taught us that the customer is always right and you always treat them with respect. And so every email is super friendly and super nice. And I think it's so easy to spread positivity with just little happy quotes or sayings. I don't think you have to have a Bible verse on everything to show the world that you can be nice and care about people.
Patti: Yea, it feels like since we decided to start this, we've had so many things go right, so many people jump on board, and so many things that just worked out that it's evidence that there's a power behind us that's bigger than us. I mean, there's a zillion people who do the same thing as us, but I think in some way the Lord has been on our side. And I just hope we can keep being a positive influence in the world, and keep being a part of things like in Haiti.
Allie: It's exciting to continually find out why God has us where we are.
From just from an outsider perspective, it's refreshing to see a successful company say, "You know what, I want to use our financial resources and I want to use our talents to serve even the poorest of poor." I really think that creates an even greater impact on the world than just being a company that puts a Bible verse on a shirt.
So what else besides Oliver & Otis are you guys passionate about?
Allie: Well we LOVE the outdoors. We love anything to do with camping, or cooking out, or being at the lake. And I love people! I always want to be around people, and have guests in my house, and talking with them rather than sitting in front of a tv.
Arin: And I've always loved computers and graphic design. That's what kind of got me into to what we do now. But beyond that, I love our dogs! I think they're going to have to cut me off from making dog shirts because I've made so many!
Patti: I would say my other passion is family and vacation. That's what I live for. I don't care if I'm famous, I don't care if people don't know who I am, or if Oliver & Otis never makes $10. If I'm with family or I'm at the beach I'm happy.
What's been the most rewarding aspect of running Oliver & Otis.
Patti: The coolest thing about this is even though the girls have both moved to New Braunfels, we still text all day every day. It's just really cool that it's kept me connected with the girls.
Allie: We were already really close, but we're even closer now. It's just fun to share the same dreams and successes!
What inspires you guys?
Arin: Something that first inspired me when I was still working for other t-shirt companies is when when my cousin Josh told me, "You can spend your whole life building someone else's dream, or you can spend your life building your own dream." I still get chills to this day when I think about that, and really ever since then, I've been trying to build our dreams and passions.
Allie: I'd say my number one inspiration is my dad. He's always been our number one fan. He's never had a doubt in his mind that we were going to be successful. I can remember him saying from the very beginning, "You should do it! Order a 1,000 shirts! You could sell them!" And that was when we might sell 10!
Arin: He tells us every single day, "I hope you know, I am SO incredibly proud of you." It's almost a joke now how much he tells us. He's just so proud of us, and he would be even if we did only sell 10 shirts.
Patti: For me, when we were starting Oliver & Otis, I always thought, "How cool would it be if we could do this, and Allie and Arin could have kids and be stay-at-home moms with stay-at-home jobs?" For me, that was a really inspirational dream when we started this.
There are a lot of people who want to either start their own business, or just want to chase after their passion the same way you did. What advice would you give to them?
All: DO IT!
Allie: Do it! Dream big, and don't hold back.
Patti: Yea, we have no special talent, and there's no special secret. There are a million people with the same gifts and passion as us! And honestly if we can do it, anybody can do it if they really want to.
Arin: We've been just so fortunate, so it may seem easy for us to say, "Do it!" since it all worked out. But if we didn't at least try, I would wonder my whole life "Why am I still sitting in this cubicle?" So my advice would be to just try it, and if it doesn't work then at least you tried. And if it does, you'll be doing what you love!
Allie: I just want everyone to feel as happy as we are. It feels so good to be doing what we love to be doing.
Guys, I could not thank you guys enough for taking the time to talk with me. It was really really great!
Thanks for talking with us!
And with that, we wrap up the first of our Artist Profile series. We could not be more thankful for the amazing artists who took the time out of their busy schedules to talk with us!
And no, we're not through yet. This is only the end of our "first" Artist Profile series. We want to keep asking questions and telling stories, because we believe every person, creative or not, has a story to tell.
May we always be willing to listen.