“Kalimizoo” showcases the city’s local flavor
If you’re from Kalamazoo, or have recently spent time on the west side of the state, chances are you’ve seen a Kalimizoo “Local Flavor” t-shirt. The design is simple, a black t-shirt with large green, yellow and red lettering. While they seem to be everywhere, these shirts are not manufactured by a large company, or even sold in stores. These shirts are the brainchild of 23-year-old Haworth College of Business student, Mike Klok, and his business, Kalimizoo.
The brand had its beginnings in Klok’s apartment his sophomore year of college during a conversation with his roommate. The two talked about starting a clothing company and even drew up a few sketches, but the plan eventually fell to the wayside. In spite of classes and a hectic work schedule, Klok continued to toy with the idea for the next few months,
“The passion to design and create was still eating at me,” says Klok. “So I got back on my computer and started to design again, but this time with my own style in mind.”
Once Klok came up with his signature design, “Local Flavor,” and began printing shirts, the idea rapidly transformed into a business. Sales took off among college students and Kalamazoo residents. He quickly went from selling shirts out of the trunk of his car to creating a website where customers could order online from anywhere.
Before long, Klok was facing high sales volume and began struggling to keep up with demand for shirts in addition to the demanding schedule of a young entrepreneur. “I couldn’t have imagined the amount of time it takes to run your own business. Operating all aspects of Kalimizoo myself, I’ve had to give up much of my free time and devote it to the less glamorous aspects of business like responding to e-mails, shipping packages and fixing bugs on the website.”
Though it was challenging to balance this commitment along with classes and another job, Klok did not give up on his company and continued to work at creating a strong presence among young Kalamazoo residents.
So why Kalamazoo? Klok, a Kalamazoo native, believes in staying true to his roots. He wanted to “slap a new face on the city” and give it the credit it deserves.
“So many people from my town and the Midwest have dreams of heading out west, or to a big city,” says Klok. “I wanted to design a shirt that gave people a sense of pride for their hometown.”
And while he has since broadened his scope, offering new designs that appeal to more than just the local market, he remembers that original philosophy.
Not only is Klok loyal to his hometown, he is loyal to the Haworth College of Business for giving him the knowledge and know-how he needed to start his small business. Everything from lessons learned in the classroom on accounting, logistics and turnover, to important lessons learned outside the classroom from fellow students.
“The Haworth College of Business has an extremely motivated body of students. I walk around the halls and see others working just as hard as I am to create a future for themselves, and they aren’t just settling for mediocre. These students are inspired to be great in their fields and that energy is contagious. We’re all here to learn and improve ourselves, but the students here make each other better. It’s encouraging.”
What does the future hold for this college senior and his company? Klok mysteriously replies, “Time will tell.” He, like many other Western students, is approaching graduation and is well under way on his job search, but has not ruled out any possibilities. “Over the years, Kalimizoo has been a lot of things. It has been a dream, a job, a burden, and a lot more fun than I ever could have imagined. It definitely hasn’t been easy, but I’m satisfied knowing that I’m better because of it.”
In the past, customers may have purchased t-shirts from the owner’s car or apartment. Now, anyone, anywhere can purchase items from the full line of Kalimizoo Local Flavor t-shirts from the company website kalimizoo.com