Last October, friends and family of Steven Mazur and Eric Huang gathered at the Madison Building in Detroit for a Shark Tank viewing party. The duo, who co-founded Ash & Erie, a fashion brand for men 5 feet 8 inches and under, had flown to Los Angeles a year prior to tape an episode of the show. The crowd filled the auditorium space and watched as the duo pitched the concept, the “Sharks” grilled the co-founders, and Mazur and Haung accepted billionaire Mark Cuban’s $150,000 offer for 25 percent of the company.
“[Shark Tank is] one of those things where it feels like a one-in-a-million shot,” says Mazur, recalling the cheers and congratulatory comments after the show.
In the weeks that followed the airing, the startup business was inundated with new orders, customer questions, and media attention. But despite all this, Mazur claims that life after Shark Tank isn’t all that different for the Detroit-based brand.
Prior to Ash & Erie’s moment in the spotlight, the co-founders were fellows at Venture for America, a nonprofit organization that pairs entrepreneurial recent grads with startups. Passionate about launching their own business, the self-identifying “shorter guys” — Mazur is 5 feet 6 inches, and Huang is 5 feet 8 inches — began searching for problems they could solve. That brainstorming resulted in the realization that they, as well as other shorter men, struggle to find off-the-rack clothing that works for them.
“I can never find clothes that fit well,” Mazur says. “I go to a store, and everything’s too long. It’s not really proportioned for a guy like me.”
Mazur and Huang began developing the brand, which started as Ash & Anvil, and held hundreds of fittings with “shorter guys,” whose sizes ranged from XS to 2XL. In 2015, they launched on crowd-funding site Indiegogo with just an “everyday” men’s shirt and raised about $26,000 in pre-orders.
Despite the concept’s initial success, Mazur, a metro Detroit-native who studied chemical engineering, and Huang, a Washington, D.C.-native who studied entrepreneurship, knew they didn’t have the fashion background needed for long-term growth. Because of this, they’ve been persistent about surrounding themselves with opportunities and people that can help Ash & Erie grow. They’ve won funding competitions, and have linked up with people who are familiar with the industry, like Lorraine Sabatini, a Detroit-based former technical designer for national denim brands, and, of course, Shark Tank’s Cuban.
Today, along with the “everyday” shirt, the brand sells dress shirts, flannels, and denim from its own website. However, Mazur and Huang have bigger goals. They’d like Ash & Erie to be “the first major brand for shorter guys,” like what Lane Bryant is for plus-size women.
“Shark Tank was a good start,” says Mazur, who anticipates the product lineup will expand with time. “But there’s still a long way to go before every single guy in this country, five eight and below, knows who we are.”
For more information, visit ashanderie.com
Fashion Tips from Ash & Erie’s Steven Mazur
1. “The chest has to be the first thing that fits. If [the shirt] doesn’t fit in the chest, it’s not comfortable. For a lot of guys, they’re so used to hearing things like, sleeve length, body length, and collar for a button-down shirt, but it’s all about the chest [first].”
2. “[An] obvious [fit issue] is things being too long — a body length that’s too long, sleeves that are too long. That just doesn’t look good, and it’s not comfortable. Then it’s also things like, the shape of the arm hole, or the wrist circumference, or the collar and how that’s shaped.”
3. “Men’s denim is sold with a waist and an inseam, and most traditional brands don’t go below a 30-inch inseam. Our rise is proportionate, and made for a guy with a smaller body [and] smaller frame. Our legs are shaped in a way where we actually know where certain points hit.”
4. “Something we’ve learned from talking to guys five eight and below, is that fit is still personal. If different people have a different idea about what looks good, and what fashion choices they want to make, that’s totally OK. Fashion is a personal choice.”