Southern Entrepreneurs: Nine Line Apparel and Their Foundation
Most entrepreneurs agree that timing is everything. Meet some of the south's most successful that have changed with the times or hit the market at just the right moment.
It wouldn’t be quite accurate to say that Nine Line Apparel, one of the largest and fastest-growing brands in the state, started on accident. But it wouldn’t be that far off.
“I always say, we really had no business in this industry at all, but we just kinda forced it,” said co-founder Daniel Merritt. “It turned out really well.”
When Daniel ended his career as active duty military five years ago, his plan was to come out and work with his brother Tyler at G.I. Custom, a promotional products company Tyler had already started. G.I. Customs enjoyed some success printing custom hats, T-shirts, patches and challenge coins, but their true mission became apparent when the two brothers begin printing T-shirts to help out a fellow veteran.
Eddie Kline, a West Point classmate of Tyler’s, had lost three limbs in Afghanistan and the Merritt brothers came up with the idea to give his family custom patriotic shirts they could sell to offset living expenses.
“Then I just said, why don’t we start a brand, and the emphasis of the brand would be that we can help give back to other service members,” said Daniel. “We started right out of the gate as a give-back organization. We started Nine Line Apparel, then the foundation, and it’s just grown from there.”
The clothing line and the foundation are linked by a mission suggested by their shared name: A Nine Line is a military term for an emergency medevac request that can often mean the difference between life and death for the most severely wounded soldiers. The Nine Line Foundation serves a similar purpose, giving much-needed financial assistance to the severely wounded soldiers and their families.
The apparel line, in contrast, approaches its mission with no small measure of attitude and what it calls “unapologetic patriotism.” One shirt, for example, lets you know that if you stomp the wearer’s flag, the wearer will stomp your ass. The other tells the world that the wearer is an “ammosexual.” You get the idea.
“There’s a huge segment of people who really loves the country and are proud to be American,” said Daniel. “We haven’t been shy about patriotic and coming out with edgy things.”
And that segment has not been shy about snapping up Nine Line gear as fast as it can be printed, giving the brand confidence to expand into new areas (they recently launched a coffee line and a wine label) and helping them make inroads into large retailers. “We’re in Cabela’s now, and every major big box store is in line to carry our products,” said Daniel. “It’s been a really wild ride.”
And one that has taken place in just a few short years, with the brand growing from three employees in Tyler’s garage to 140+ (largely veteran) in a 60,000-square-foot factory, with a customer base that has eclipsed Savannah to encompass the entire Southeast and beyond.
At a time when people are looking to support veteran-owned business, give back to wounded veterans and put Americans to work, Nine Line Apparel has been able to do all three.