So I first met Denise DeMarchis in the early ‘00s. It’s a funny and true story that we shared a hairstylist, and that stylist—Amy Vanover—gave my number to Denise.
At the time, I was working in the second floor of half of a duplex on Columbia Avenue. It was 11AM. I had just woke up and was in my pajamas, making macaroni & cheese at the stove, listening to Teenage Fanclub. It was hot outside. There was a chihuahua at my feet, barking, and when the girl on the phone said she owned a clothing company and was calling to talk about “branding,” I quickly realized she thought she was calling a real ad agency. This could be a real client, and the kind all designers and art directors dream of—a clothing company! I threw the dog’s squeaky ball down the hallway and dove into bathroom, slamming the door behind me in an attempt to find quiet. I tried to sound serious; I tried to sound like an office.
Later, when we’d finally shared that OLG was just me, and Matilda Jane Clothing was just her—two one-person companies—Denise confessed that she’d done the same. When I answered the phone, she dove into the mud room of her home on the south side of Fort Wayne, desperate to drown out the cooing sounds of baby Joe DeMarchis, and trying to sound like a real clothing company, nervous and worried she was calling a real ad agency. She tried to sound serious; she tried to sound like an office.
Over the next decade or so, we helped make each other real—there’s no doubt about that. (We also never let the other one sound serious, or like an office, again.)
I went to meet her at Daffodil Hill, the store she owned. She had just started this little clothing project as a fun idea on the side. When we met, well, it’s kinda like Bruce Springsteen sang: “Sparks flew on E Street.”
I’m probably not breaking news to David or Angie when I publicly admit I had a big ol’ crush on Denise. (I think the whole world does.)
As our companies grew, we formed a two-person business owner support group, swapping stories and trading books and both admitting we never really thought we’d ever lead anyone other than ourselves. We would trade WTF moments and situations and ask each other, “I mean, WTF?”
We loved the books we were trading so much that we decided we’d write one together.
You see, in our careers we’d each been in environments that sucked, work cultures that lacked clear values or purpose, and then we somehow built successful companies by doing things a different way, against the grain, and for no great reason other than it felt good to do good. We took cues from each other all the while.
(Another client I adore used to say, “Let’s do the right things for the right reasons,” and that’s just what Denise and I did every day.)
We were just about to start on the book when it occurred to us that we could write an even better book if we first started a company together, and went through all of the ups and downs and ups and collaboration and ups and grueling work and ups and sleepless nights and ups and memory-making and ups and curveballs and ups and travel and ups and being away from your family and ups and I-wouldn’t-trade-this-for-the-world-ness that starting a company entails. (My point is: when you start a company with Denise, it’s pretty much all ups.)
So we started The Good Ones Clothing, with Sam McDonald and the incredible team at One Lucky Guitar.
Today we have enough material for several books.
You know, I used to think I was driven, and that I woke up in the morning with my sleeves already rolled up—and then I met Denise.
I used to think I was giving and generous and selfless and that I could maybe make a difference in people’s lives—and then I met Denise.
I even thought I was adventurous and pretty smart and had some good ideas—and then…well, let me just tell you that Denise changed my life forever, time and again. Our earliest work for MJC gave OLG legitimacy and respect around the country, and she proceeded to continually challenge us with bigger and greater and bolder and genuinely AYFKM? projects that we had no choice but to rise to the challenge to accept, and rise even higher to succeed.
(A hundred mathematicians can’t calculate the number of people who have the same story I do, whose lives have been touched and made better by Denise.)
She was bringing OLG new, challenging, brilliant ideas last week, and we’re certain there’ll be more next week, and the week after that. Honestly, it’s why we go to work every day.
Oh, and one last promise: our book is gonna be fuckin’ great.
Jake and I wore our yellow shirts as part of our campaign to lobby Denise to let us design a yellow shirt for The Good Ones.
Three years later, we finally did—it’ll be out later this summer. If you buy it, you’ll prove us right. If you don’t, Denise wins.