What started as conversations and drawings during a training exercise has led Fort Bragg soldier Sgt. Michael “Mikey” Orszulak to manage his own clothing company.
Orszulak, who is originally from El Paso, Texas, has been in the Army for about 10 years and at Fort Bragg since 2017.
“I have kids. My oldest is the reason why I joined,” said Orszulak, who also comes from a military family. “I was living in Florida, and I decided it was time to grow up and support my family.”
Orszulak traded his sales job in Jacksonville, Florida, to enlist in the Army and become a medic.
About a 1 1/2 ago, Orszulak was at a training exercise in Louisiana, when he overheard a few other soldiers talking about wanting to share a T-shirt business.
“It seems to me that’s what a lot of people in the veteran community go to, because it’s almost very intuitive,” Orszulak said.
Orszulak pressed the other guys about where they were in the process and told them he was an artist.
About 24 hours later, he showed them a design, making enough of an impression to be asked to be the designer for their shirts.
“It kind of spiraled after that, and we ended up going on a couple of rapid deployments,” Orszulak said.
The other guys who started the company went their separate ways, leaving Orszulak at the helm to continue “running with it.”
Launching a website in September last year, Orszulak has worked with friends and others to promote the company when he’s not on the military’s time.
“I’ve met a lot of great people with it, and it’s brought together unlikely groups of people — a lot of military people, but we try to reach non-military people, too, cause there is still life after the military,” Orszulak said.
While Orzulak said he appreciates military service and everything the military has done for him, he’s not letting it be his only defining point.
He’s recently decided to transition out of the Army by December next year.
“Right now, I don’t want to spread myself too thin with running a clothing line and my obligation to the military, which I am following through with,” Orszulak said.
That way, he said, he can set himself up as the company continues to grow to either become a full-time gig or a “strong supportive income,” once he transitions out of the Army.
Currently operating as an online e-commerce store, there’s, of course, the T-shirts, but also beanies, hats, socks, hoodies, sweatshirts, long sleeve shirts, bikinis and board shorts — all bearing Orszulak’s creative designs.
And the clothing and designs change with each season.
With the click of a mouse, customers are able to order an item online, which is confirmed by a manufacturer, made and shipped directly to the customer.
Called Shady Clothing Co., Orszulak said the name comes from the idea that he doesn’t “look like a stereotypical soldier.”
“I have neck tattoos, and sometimes people think that means I’m an automatic trouble maker,” he said. “I used to get called shady — ‘That weird shady neck tattoo guy,’ and so it kind of stuck with me, but once people got to know me, they realized, ‘You’re not this crazy neck tattoo person.’ I have kids. I love my daughters. I’m passionate about art.”
Orszulak said calling his company “Shady” takes ownership of the word.
Describing the clothing as having an edgy style, he said it’s for anyone who’s ever “ever gotten a bad wrap,” or stereotyped based on how they look.
But it’s also for anyone — from tattoo models to house moms, those who like street stunts on bikes or video games or are dads.
“We’ve kind of been labeled a tough guy brand, and that’s what we’re trying to get away from this next year,” Orszulak said.
An example, he said, is one of his friends from New York who he was unsure about whether she liked the clothing brand had positive comments about a pink beanie with the word degenerate on it that launched this fall.
“She said it’s ‘cute, adorable and tough,’ so that’s what we would like to see …. I don’t want it to be ‘just another T-shirt company.’ It’s kind of like when I was in high school, I was friends with all groups of people … that’s basically what I want the brand to be — a common interest for unlikely groups to be brought together.”
The clothing can be ordered online at shadyclothing.com and also supported by following Shady Clothing Co. on Instagram.
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