Polk County Itemizer-Observer
By Craig Coleman
MONMOUTH — Kent Tolzmann dropped by Frozen Flag one morning last week to unpack inventory and work on T-shirt designs for an upcoming order.
He has a shipment of clothes to a Bend boutique due to go out soon. And a trip to Portland for a convention to check out new stuff from alternative sportswear giant, Fox.
Somehow, he’ll have to squeeze in a few moments for reading and homework for his business classes at Western Oregon University.
But that’s life for a 19-year-old CEO.
“I try my hardest in both — school and the company — as I can,” Tolzmann said. “It gets to be quite a jumble.”
“I would guess right now my priority is Frozen Flag,” Tolzmann added. “I run into that issue of, `do I want to read something for class or do I want to design a new shirt?'”
The interior of Frozen Flag’s headquarters and store near the corner of Main Street and Monmouth Avenue is a glossy mix of black, blue and graphic design prints.
Colorful T-shirts, hats and outerwear, for guys and girls, line shelves and racks. Ski videos air on a flat screen television. That a sleek boutique like this exists in the bowels of an unassuming office plaza is sort of a surprise.
Then again, that’s sort of a nod to owners Tolzmann and Stuart Shepard, 22, former Central High School students; their age and appearance belie an ambitious venture connected to their love of winter sports and fashion.
The duo designs their own T-shirts, jeans and other clothing. Along with business partner Soethura Naing, they opened a boutique last November to sell their apparel and other name-brand alternative sportswear.
“We had taken our designs to this lady in Salem, working on hats for us,” Shepard recalled. “We did this over the phone, then we show up there … she was surprised how young we were.
“It’s terrifying in a sense,” Shepard said of running a business. “We’re all still trying to figure it out, but I don’t think any of us would trade it for anything.”
Frozen Flag is an extension of hobbies and interests, said Tolzmann, who grew up in Monmouth. While in elementary school, he used to wear T-shirts featuring cartoon characters he had drawn on with a permanent marker.
By high school, Tolzmann was adept at graphic design. He experimented with screen-printing using a friend’s equipment in Salem, and sold custom T-shirts to classmates.
Requests for designs floated in — “random things, like tattoos and business cards.” So Tolzmann started a company, its name inspired by a flag frozen into place he had seen on a ski lift once.
Shepard, an artist as well, joined Tolzmann in 2008. The two created a new logo, made shirts and sold them online. Soon, they were making merchandise for area bands.
The idea for a store in Monmouth gathered steam after they scored financing from a family trust last year — and an investor six months ago in Naing.
A friend of Shepard’s and his boss at Miyami Sushi, Naing provided start-up money and is now Frozen Flag’s chief operating officer.
“I saw their logo and a lot of potential,”said Naing, a WOU graduate.
“To have somebody believe in your idea is great,” Tolzmann said. “Rather than, you know, just grandma saying, `hey, that’s great, you guys are great.'”
There’s a lot at stake. Shepard said about $100,000 has been invested in inventory, on a high-end garment printer, leasing and a major transformation of a storefront on Monmouth Avenue into a trendy boutique.
“A lot of kids walk in here and are amazed,” Shepard said. “They expect a small-town skate shop and that’s not this place.”
Clothing beyond T-shirts is in the works. A trip to a fabric store last year for denim and jean templates has resulted in Frozen Flag now creating its own line of jeans.
Kellen Desmarteau, a friend, employee and WOU student, has taken the lead in this effort and uses a photo illustrating program to fine-tune features for templates that can be given to manufacturers.
“My mom taught me to sew,” Desmarteau said. “But I never thought I would be making jeans.”
While the company is still in its infancy, that hasn’t hindered ambition. Naing has made overtures for Frozen Flag storefronts in Portland’s Pearl District and even San Francisco.
Shepard, a ski technician, and Tolzmann debuted a ski and snowboard tuning shop on Jan. 3. And the founders have established a side business, Custom Carbon, to do clothing printing.
It’s been an education, Tolzmann said. He and his partners have written business plans and consulted with attorneys for components such as legal partnerships and trademarking their logo.
“We’ve learned that cash flow is an important concept,” Tolzmann said. “We were at a halt before because we were using one source.
“That and problem solving,” he continued. “Every day, there’s at least 20 problems you have to deal with.”
That their clothes are being worn by kids in Monmouth, Independence and beyond — they’ve had a few online orders from London — makes it worth it.
“I have a friend in Los Angeles, in a band, who saw somebody wearing our shirts,” Shepard said. “That’s pretty awesome.”
Check ‘Em Out
* Frozen Flag is located at 110 N. Monmouth Ave, Suite 104, in Monmouth. For more information, call 503-837-0333 or find the company online at www.frozenflag.com or on Facebook.