Business

Nautical By Nature

Creative expression and the spirit of entrepreneurialism work together to put the wind in Ocean & Sea’s sails.

Chances are if you live in KC, you own as least one KC T-shirt. If you don’t, maybe you should. Aside from demonstrating civic pride, you’re putting money in the hands of local business owners and artists. An increasingly popular option you’ll see around town has an outline of a heart with LA on the left, NY on the right and KC in the center. It’s a subtle but clever way of saying, “Hey. We’re America’s Heartland.”

“Heartland” is a term of endearment for the Midwest. It’s used to describe the U.S. states that don’t touch an ocean. And yet the aforementioned shirt comes from a KC business that goes by the name of Ocean & Sea. Shiver me timbers. What in the world is a nautical-themed company doing here? “We get a lot of question marks,” owner J. Brendan O’Shaughnessy admits. But the reason behind the brand’s name is brilliant.

“My wife, Amanda—who is pretty much the other half of the company—works at the Nelson and teaches art at Barstow,” he says. “With our last name being 13 characters, it’s always been a challenge for her to communicate that to the kids at school. She came up with an easy learning tool and simply writes “Ocean & Sea” on the chalkboard, which—if you say it fast enough—is basically O’Shaughnessy. With the name of the brand being our last name, we love the fact that Ocean & Sea is a family-run business. And, of course, our dog Flynn is part of the crew.”

Technically, Ocean & Sea set sail in 2013, but the story begins more than a decade ago with O’Shaughnessy’s original brand, Lovesick Clothing, which he started at age 17 and grew while attending UMKC. Although he was there for a studio art degree, one of his business partners was a student at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management. Lovesick was awarded a $10,000 startup package through the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (IEI) program. “UMKC and the Kauffman Foundation were integral in pushing us towards an airtight business plan,” O’Shaughnessy notes.

The company hit some rough waters two years ago when it received a cease-and-desist letter from Hot Topic, which had a trademarked denim line called Lovesick. “We decided to start over again but reconfigure our demographic, price points, etc.,” O’Shaughnessy says. “Even though it seemed like a negative experience, ultimately, I felt it was a good change. I truly believe, as an artist, a good restart clears your mind of some of the dust lurking from your past. That’s why the tagline for our new company is ‘Dream again.’”

Ocean & Sea is more than a novelty T-shirt company showcasing the couple’s talent for graphic design and illustration—it’s a multimedia enterprise of artistic expression. O’Shaughnessy—who is the art director at Mission, Kan., branding and communication design firm Springboard Creative—is exceptionally good at using social media platforms to promote and grow the brand, which, in this day and age, is expected of a Millennial-run business.

There’s a tab on Ocean & Sea’s website (ocean-sea.com) called “Daydreams” that serves as a portal for various elements of graphic design, illustration, videos and mixed media. And when combined with an Instagram account, it showcases the couple’s creativity and promotes the brand, while simultaneously gauging customer interest in potential new products. In fact, the company’s bestseller—The Heart T-shirt—started as a daydream within the Daydreams project. “From April to this point, we haven’t been able to keep up with demand of the shirt,” O’Shaughnessy says.

“It almost seems like Instagram is made for what we do,” he continues. “We’re currently in four stores and talking to two others. Every one of those stores contacted us on Instagram. We found the perfect collaborative opportunity with Red Dirt (a local company that donates a portion of its proceeds to fund clean water access in underserved countries) not only because what they do integrally links to water, but also because they’re making the world a better place with every sale. We created a mini product line of T-shirts, water bottles and phone cases, which they’ll have on sale at their Plaza store throughout the holiday season.”