August 26th, 2015 Last Updated on: January 20th, 2022
(Founder Aaron Silva left, Co-Founder Sam Rosebear right.)
A little over a year ago, we stumbled upon this small business just in time for my upcoming birthday and Christmas. I fell in love with their designs and was so happy to wear their shirts that I have since ordered more. This Minneapolis-based company is quickly growing into an internet success with over 11K followers on their Instagram page @ntvsclothing. I had the chance to speak with Founder Aaron Silva about his business and about what drives his designs.
Powwows: What made you decide to start your own business selling clothing?
Aaron: I'm a very artistic person and have always had a passion for apparel design and clothing brands. Growing up, I was really into the skate/surf/snow board culture. I would use the clothes I wore as a way to express myself. As a kid I was always good at drawing so I decided to go into graphic design at The Art Institutes International Minnesota. I remember having a project in one of my classes that required us to design our own screen printed t-shirt. During the project is when I realized this is something that I love doing.
My business partner/brother-in-law (Sam Rosebear)'s mother and grandmother own BearHawk Designs. At first we were just selling a couple t-shirts out of their stand. We soon realized that our tees were selling out fast! The demand was there so we kept printing more and more. That is when I realized that we have something here and I could turn this into a real brand. thentvs.com was born. I never imagined how fast we would grow.
Powwows: Who designs the shirts?
Aaron: I design most of the shirts but recently I've been reaching out to other native artists to collaborate. The last two releases we partnered with Steven Paul Judd. I came across his artwork on Instagram and immediately fell in love with his creativity and artistic wit. The collaboration has been great and I definitely plan to reach out to other native artists in the future.
(Steven Paul Judd collaboration design)
Powwows: Tell us a little about yourself, the environment you grew up in and what drives you to participate in this arena
Aaron: I'm 29 and my business partner/brother-in-law is 28. We both grew up in the Twin Cities. We were tired of seeing the same “Native Pride” designs everywhere so that is what inspired us to start our own. We want to give Native Americans and supporters something they can be proud to wear without necessarily saying “Native Pride”. We're looking to create fresh designs and strong messages through our work.
Powwows: What has been your most popular product to date?
Aaron: Most of our designs are very limited and we sell out a lot. The idea was inspired by the “sneaker head” shoe drop culture. Making things limited gives the customer who bought it a sense of satisfaction and pride of ownership when the product sells out. We try not to restock too often for that reason. Sometimes we will re-release designs in a different color way to keep things truly limited and special. One of our most popular designs is “It Ends Now” – a tee that was designed to try and bring light to abuse, rape, and murder to Native American women. The design shows the side profile of a native woman and a tear drop falling with a dreamcatcher behind her. Our “Native Flag” design is also very popular. Our fastest sell out has probably been a toss up between “The Indian Hulk” and “Invaders”, both designed by Steven Paul Judd. The combination of our followers, along with his, makes the release sell out extremely fast. The last release sold out in less than 24 hours!
Powwows: Have you faced adversity as a small business owner?
Aaron: We've definitely faced adversity. I think it's almost impossible not to as a startup brand; especially a Native American brand. Our biggest struggles and challenges have been with our online store. It was very manageable for the first few months but as our company keeps growing it gets more difficult. Our last release we sold over 400 shirts in 24 hours. That's a lot of folding and packaging, haha. It's such a great feeling though when we get them all shipped out! Another challenge has been staying current and up to date with all the issues we are facing as Native Americans. We know it's very important to stay educated and if there's any way we can bring awareness to some of those issues we do.
Powwows: Where do you see your business going? Aside from selling at powwows in the midwest, I discovered you through Instagram. Has that proven successful for you?
Aaron: We want to keep growing and pushing ourselves to explore new areas of fashion. So much of it is about making connections. Eventually we would love to get into leggings, dresses, jackets and more custom/cut&sew pieces. We also want to explore wholesale and making our brand available to native shops around the world.
Instagram has been our biggest reason for success. Currently, we have over 11,000 followers who are mostly all Native American. When we release a new design, we post it on IG and immediately see orders come in. Now we're starting to become more present on Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook. We try to be active on social media by responding to questions and engaging in conversation so our followers can see that we are real people behind the brand.
Powwows: What is your tribe? Are you involved with your local community?
I am Fond du Lac Lake Superior Chippewa and my business partner, Sam Rosebear, is Red Lake Ojibwe. The NTVS is just over a year old and one of our goals is to be more involved in the community and give back in any way we can.
To check out The NTVS and see all of their designs visit thentvs.com
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