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In 1985 I Made $275,000 In One Day Selling Movie Tee Shirts

Movie Tee’s The Beginning – 1985

In the 1970s into the early 1980s, I worked in the women’s apparel industry in New York.  I was a VP of sales and division manager for a few major companies at that time. I never realized than that one day I would own a company called Movie Tee’s one of the most exciting career changes in my life.

Vera Sportswear

Vera Women’s Large Sized Sportswear

I spent about 12 years in the women’s apparel industry, working with designer Perry Ellis and others and in the mid-1980s.  Perry and I  both worked for a company called Vera Sportswear. This was a “Missy” sportswear company with beautiful floral designs Vera created for our blouses.  As fate would happen, I was in the right place at the right time.

Lane Bryant came into our showroom one day and asked if we would do a special “cutting” of our line for their large-sized clothing stores.

Perry and realized the enormous potential of this market and we worked together to create the first women’s large-sized sportswear line for Vera which we called “Very Vera”.

Trissi’s Woman

I moved from Vera and spent years as a vice president and division head for a company called Trissi’s Woman.  I became a star in the industry until another fateful day when I decided to leave this industry to enter into a new industry, the licensed movie-related apparel business.

Now at that time there was no movie-related apparel business and I was the pioneer once again of a new industry.

As fate often opens new doors and opportunities to us, that day fate found me and pushed me into this new chapter of my life and a new career.

How Movie Tee’s Began

A friend of mine had obtained the license to produce Rocky IV movie apparel that was made to sell in traditional retail clothing and department stores.  He thought it would open a new opportunity for him to sell what was a new type of merchandise that the public would be thrilled to buy.

The Original Rocky IV Tee-Shirts-Photo By Len Rapoport

Unfortunately, for him, the department store buyers had no history in selling this type of clothing. They simply wouldn’t take the chance to buy this merchandise.  Not knowing if the film would even be a success.  In those days, movie or concert related apparel didn’t exist.

In the mid-1980s, there was no internet and no major cross-promotions on movie-related merchandise.  Today it has become an industry in itself, but 37 years ago licensing film-related merchandise didn’t exist.

My friend couldn’t get the orders he needed and he had already produced the apparel, before getting any orders. It wasn’t a smart thing to do, but his timing was critical and he had to do it this way.

Of course, he ended up with a large inventory of unsold tee and sweatshirts and asked me if I could help him dispose of this inventory.   When he contacted me, it was already too late to get them in the retail stores since the movie was already in the theaters.

Video Industry Was New

The video industry, however, was a new industry and would be releasing Rocky IV on video in a few months. I thought the video market might be the best way to dispose of his inventory. 

I discovered that CBS Fox Home Video was the company that would be releasing the film on video.  As was my luck, CBS Fox would be one of the exhibitors at a Video Trade Show at the Javits Center in New York.  This was an opportunity to meet some of the people at CBS Fox and get a feel for that industry and determine their interest in the tee shirts.

Meeting CBS Fox Home Entertainment

Going to the show with some Rocky shirts in my briefcase I was able to meet some of the executives at the CBS Fox booth.  My pitch was about using these tees and sweats as a promotion with the release of the video. 

The next day I was able to set up a formal meeting with their VP of Sales, Bob Delellis in their New York offices.  A few days later, I  went to their offices armed with Rocky apparel and decided to grab some additional printed tee shirts from another friend’s company.  He had the license to manufacture Disney printed tee shirts and was selling them to apparel stores.

If my Rocky presentation didn’t work, I thought I could show them the quality of the work I could do for them for other promotions they might want to do.   My hope was I would be able to sell them on doing other shirts with me.   I took some great sample garments with me to show them, this was my fall back presentation.

The Big Meeting

This was the design for the tee-shirts

After a friendly and very successful meeting with them, I walked out of their offices with a commitment for a half-million dollars worth of  “Clan of the Cave Bear” tee-shirts.

I was excited by the ease of this sale and the enormous size of the order. This was by far the largest single order I have ever received in my entire career in the apparel business and the easiest sale I have ever made.

Now, remember, the year was 1986 and $500,000 then would be comparable to a cool million or more today.

How I Got The Order

They rejected the Rocky tee shirts because I was too late for their promotional deadlines for their video release and they had already planned a promotion for that movie.

After seeing all the quality shirts I had brought with me and all the great Disney designs, they began to talk to me about an obscure film called Clan of the Cave Bear, starring Darrel Hannah.

When they asked me if I had seen the movie, I sheepishly replied I had never heard of the movie, they all laughed and said, “That is the problem, no one has, so we need something to promote this film on video”.

The Order

I looked at the poster art and suggested we duplicate the poster on a tee-shirt.  They thought the idea was a good one and asked me if I could deliver it in 8-10 weeks the price I quoted them was $4.75 per shirt. 

Of course, I wasn’t sure of the delivery or the price, but from my knowledge of the business, I had a feeling it could be done.   I told them I would have to confirm delivery and price and would get back to them the next day. 

I asked them how many shirts they would require and they said approximately 100,000, I almost gasped out loud when I started to realize the size of this order.

Now understand, I went to them with the idea of selling Rocky IV tee shirts at closeout prices and walked out of their offices with a commitment for a half million dollars worth of Clan of the Cave Bear Tee-Shirts

Not even sure I could pull this off in the height of the summer or find someone to produce the shirts for me.  I didn’t want to take a chance of losing the order and knew people in my market and thought I could pull it off.

Getting The Order Produced

My friend Lance owned a tee-shirt company.  I told him the story about CBS Fox Video and the te shirt deal I could close.  I asked him if he could produce the shirts and fill the order for me.  He would have to produce and ship the order and I would bill CBS Fox, and when I got paid from them, would pay him.

Because trust and a good reputation was something I had earned over the years in our industry,  he told me not to worry.   Lance would take the order and accept his payment when I got paid.

The next day I confirmed the order with CBS Fox. I explained that I could deliver the shirts in time and at the quoted price.  The next day they faxed the official purchase order to me. I confirmed the order with Lance and we started to look for available tee-shirt blanks and arrange production with his printers.

Problems With The Order

About a week later, I received a call from CBS Fox.  I was a bit nervous that they might have changed their mind and wanted to cancel this order.  However,  they requested modification on the quantity, because their sales on the video were not as expected.

They wanted to reduce the order by $100,000.   Since they had already given me a signed purchase order for the entire amount, they would honor the order and apply that $100,000 toward a future order.  

I was more than happy to do this, especially since we were already having problems getting enough tee-shirt blanks to complete their original order.

 I was assured of continued business with them and happy for the reduction of the original order, which I knew was going to be a challenge to complete in time.

Shipping The Order – The Next Order

In less then two months I was able to complete and ship the order to their main distribution center and I was able to net a cool $225,000 profit on that one order. I also had another $100,000 order that was guaranteed and that would net me another $50,000 or more if they ordered more shirts on the next order.

CBS Fox contacted me a few weeks later and placed the $100,000 order for their Predator Promotion. They sent out promotional cards to the thousands of video dealers around the country and generated additional sales for Movie Tee’s.

Now imagine going to a meeting with a handful of tee shirts, no company set up to do business, walking into a meeting with top movie and video executives and walking away with what would be a million-dollar order (in today’s money).  I was walking on air, but had a lot of work to do to make this happen.

The Check Came In The Mail

This was the largest commission I had ever earned and I realized that I could now start my company Movie Tee’s an approach other video companies, studio’s and video distributors to sell them other movie-related apparel to promote other films.

Scan of the check sent to my home for this order.

The Start Of The Movie Tee’s Company

I knew I could get the production and support from the companies I knew in the apparel industry. They would help me get started. I didn’t need any funding after my first order and I didn’t have to produce my own goods or even handle the financing, it couldn’t be easier. 

All I had to do was go out and get the business, work with the artists, designers and production people at my friend’s company and everything would look as if it was produced and shipped by my company.

Disney Promotion Next Big Deal

With the help and recommendations from Mr. Dellelis, I was able to set up appointments with the video division of Disney to talk to them about my plan to produce Disney tee shirts. I explained how my tee shirts could help them sell many thousands of Disney videos.

By allowing their distributors to use their advertising money toward this program to pay for the shirts, it wouldn’t cost them any money at all and the distributors would then have a great promotion to entice video retailers to place larger orders so they could get the entire Disney Tee Shirt Collection with display rack.

On The Road!

Celebrating Our Disney Deal With Mickey & Minnie

I got on a plane and headed out to major distributors including Ingram Video Distribution and others to present our Disney promotional package. I explained how Disney would allow them to use their video ad dollars for this promotion and they all bought into this promotion.

In the first four months of operation Movie Tee’s generated over 1.5 million dollars in sales and was the only company producing movie-related apparel specifically for the video market.



The Industry Matures

As the video industry matured, the video manufacturers, studios and distributors started to get away from offering premiums and promotions.

They began to spend these marketing and advertising funds on television and other media, to promote their new releases.  Our premium apparel business was all over now and I had made the decision to sell our apparel directly to the consumer.

My Retail Program Starts

I created a retail program that would offer video stores a new source of income, one that no one had ever thought to offer video stores before. This was the first film-related products, other than videotapes, that was being sold in these video stores.

It was Movie Tee’s that opened the door for all the other products that would be sold in video stores in the coming years.  Movie Tee was the first with this type of program and the first company to convince video retailers that they could sell other products that would work in harmony with the videos.

By offering other, related products the video stores could actually create a new profit center that was a great tie into the films they rented and sold and this merchandise was sold exclusively at these stores.




Las Vegas

We attended the VSDA (Video Software Dealers Show) in Las Vegas each year and had a huge booth that displayed all of our tee-shirts.  I would staff the booth with beautiful models wearing our shirts and we sold thousands of dollars worth of tee-shirts to many video stores that attended the shows.

Problems Selling Our Shirts

As our premium business declined I began to understand some of the difficulties selling directly to small video stores. It became too much of a challenge for me to continue this operation.

I once again tried another approach and came up with the idea of the Studio Store that would sell movie-related apparel and products right on the videotapes themselves. I was the first company to sell movie-related merchandise on a videotape of a theatrical release now on videotape.

Movie Tee’s Studio Store – Our Commercials On Video Tapes

Movie Tee was the first company to partner with the video manufacturers to add spot commercials at the end of their videos. There would be a teaser on the front of the tape, telling the viewer to watch the end of the video for a special offer. 

The full offer for the merchandise and a full spot with details on how to order at the end of the tape would now be seen by thousands of video renters and buyers.

Selling Direct To Video Stores

I would now try to sell that film’s movie apparel, direct to customers.  I explained to the executives that in the early days of film movie related items sold in the theater lobbies.  This was no longer the case, but we could bring this experience back to the customer by selling this merchandise on the videotapes.

A number of companies liked the idea, there was no cost to the video companies and Movie Tee’s would produce the product and the commercials added to their videotapes.   We would also take the orders and ship them directly to the customers.

The video companies would receive a  percentage of sales and we would pay the film studio their license fees too.  It was an easy sell and we were off and running with a number of great spots.

Other Tee’s We Produced

I wasn’t able to sign up some of the blockbuster hits in those days but did get some interesting titles that were geared for younger and cult audiences. 

The titles we had signed for the program were, Action Jackson, Return of the Living Dead II, Braddock Missing in Action II, The Barbarian’s and Surf Nazi’s Must Die to name a few.

Watch Our Promo Video 

“My hope was that video retailers might purchase our apparel too”

We Are In Trouble Now

Because this was many years before the internet, so we had set up call centers in the United States that would take the orders and send those orders to our warehouse for shipment.

Unfortunately, we discovered that this business also had many challenges, because the volume of orders on any one movie, simply wasn’t enough to make it profitable. If we had a title like Top Gun or another blockbuster movie, this program might have been a huge success.

The Industry Continued To Evolve

It was more difficult to deal directly with small video stores or direct to the consumer because stores had little or no credit.  Some had no idea how to sell merchandise and after a great 5-year run, it was my decision to close Movie Tee’s.

Unfortunately because of a half-million dollars at wholesale, this was not going to be easy.   I closed out most of my inventory for only $50,000 to Modell’s Sporting Goods in New York.  Once we received our payment from them, we closed our doors.

Our Last Big Score…3D Viewers For Nightmare On Elm Street

Nightmare On Elm Street Video With Our 3D Viewer Inside-Click To Enlarge
Nightmare on Elm Street 4 With Our 3D Viewer Inside

If you are interested in reading another related story, read my article about our creation of a then, very unique promotion, with Media Home Entertainment.  MHE was the video distribution company for the Nightmare on Elm Street films on video.

We did an exciting and unique 3D premium item for them, the first-ever produced for this market.  This was our last major promotion under the Movie Tee’s banner.

Click Here To Go To The Nightmare On Elm St. Article

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Len Rapoport Administrator
IPA Editor-In-Chief, ID: 1000 • I am an internationally published photographer and the founder of International Press Association. As president and editor-in-chief, my duties at IPA are extensive. For over 50 years I have written articles, had my photos published in millions of publications, record album covers, books, and in the digital media. I was senior marketing and sales executive for major corporations, including my own and as a corporate communications consultant. I have taught photography and formed IPA 20 years ago. I currently work from my home office and continue to actively cover media events in addition to all of my other IPA and IMPress responsibilities.
Len Rapoport Administrator
IPA Editor-In-Chief, ID: 1000 • I am an internationally published photographer and the founder of International Press Association. As president and editor-in-chief, my duties at IPA are extensive. For over 50 years I have written articles, had my photos published in millions of publications, record album covers, books, and in the digital media. I was senior marketing and sales executive for major corporations, including my own and as a corporate communications consultant. I have taught photography and formed IPA 20 years ago. I currently work from my home office and continue to actively cover media events in addition to all of my other IPA and IMPress responsibilities.
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