How to Start a One-of-One Fashion Business

Meet Jack Lyons of Pythia Clothing

how to start a one of one business hero
Courtesy of Jack Lyons

The streetwear industry continues to pierce mainstream fashion. Lyst’s 2019 Year in Fashion report said, “This year, customers spent on average $192 on a new pair of sneakers, a 39% increase year on year and the average spend on a T-shirt also increased 16% to $67.” One brand is intent on retaining its rebellious and punk roots. Pythia, a clothing company that offers unique one-of-one items, was started by Jack Lyons, a college student at the University of Arizona. What began as several custom offers have since expanded into full collections that sell out in mere minutes. As a student studying computer science, Lyons approaches fashion from a different perspective than most. While his peers are shotgunning beers, Lyons is hard at work in his tiny apartment, hand-sewing each of his pieces and focusing on building a brand that will last for decades. 

His clothes sometimes reference computer science-specific terminology and blend elements from both tech and underground music subcultures. Even though the brand has only existed for a year, Lyons has been creating several collections that have pushed his nascent brand from obscurity to the limelight. Despite his background in programming, Lyons hopes to make Pythia his full-time gig upon graduating in the spring.

ONE37pm had the opportunity to chat with Lyons about building a one-of-one business and owning and operating a business out of a college dorm room. Take a look.

Tell us about your recent drop.

Jack Lyons: It was uploaded at 3 p.m. my time. The first 28 hoodies I made were all custom orders, which involved me either reaching out to artists and offering them a hoodie or someone hitting me up to make them one. The latter was how I commissioned my first 50 items. Then I went into making collections and dropping them all at once. I stick with a similar theme: I make one or two products, then make the rest based on them. But each one is somewhat different, with varying colors or fabrics.

Which artists do you give them to?

Lyons: The first one I sent was to a rapper named Seezyn. He did a collab with Juice Wrld and was on the Spider-Man movie soundtrack. All the artists that I sent my clothes [to] I got in contact with them through direct messages on Instagram. I would send them a picture of a previous hoodie I made and ask them if they would want one. I had no ins [with any artists] at all.

When did you launch Pythia?

Lyons: The brand launched one year ago—exactly a year. The first thing I posted on Instagram was on Nov. 12. I had just turned 20 when I started Pythia. My roommate kind of got me into fashion. We went to JoAnn Fabric and got a sewing machine, and I got really into it. I wanted to put zippers on the back of Converses and ran with that for a while. Then I bought 32 hoodies to work on, which got me through my first 32 custom orders. I'm going to the University of Arizona, so I’m in Tucson, but I’m from San Francisco originally.

pythia cowboy pants
Courtesy of Jack Lyons
pythia sneakers
Courtesy of Jack Lyons

Are you working on Pythia alone?

Lyons: Yup, it’s just me. Most of what I do is custom. I’ll source the hoodie then get the screenprint done professionally and locally. I do own a press, but I don’t have space, really. 

How'd you pick the name?

Lyons: I learned it in ancient Greek mythology class. Pythia (the high priestess of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi) was the middle-woman between rulers and the Gods of Greece. She was only allowed to come out during a particular time in the year, but rulers would come from afar to get in touch with her.

What is your clothing’s aesthetic?

Lyons: I run with the patches, so it's a grungy type of look, but I’m a computer science major, so I play with binary numbers. Prototype in fashion is not the same as the computer science definition of the term. In my head, when I start a piece, I don't have a design idea at all. I start with a small part of the garment and keep adding until it is finished. That's why they are prototypes: I don't know how they are going to look, and I explore the capabilities of what I can make.

Does your computer science knowledge influence your clothing?

Lyons: I have a lot more I want to do related to computer science, but being tech-minded helps me put things together. My major requires problem-solving and planning and structure, so when I build a piece, my background in programming helps me break things down. I think computer science is cool and uses interesting words, so it's given me a broader design perspective. 

How does this drop compare to your previous ones?

Lyons: The first drop was all crewnecks, only ten items, and all were one-of-one designs. When I do a drop, I don't know who is going to buy it. But they sold out in six hours, which was exciting at the time. The second drop was hoodies—a similar aesthetic with a multicolor theme. My third drop was crewnecks again, and it sold out in 15 minutes. Each time, I get a little bit better at marketing, and with each new drop, people expect the time for selling out will be less, so shoppers know to be on the site if they want one.

The first three were pure crewnecks and hoodies, but the recent collection is mock necks inspired by Steve Jobs. I numbered each with a one through ten—each has its own. This drop is my most significant so far with 50 T-shirts. I really like the one-of-one thing, so I’m only producing 50 tops. Once they are gone, they are gone.

You mentioned that you are getting better at marketing. How did your strategies evolve?

Lyons: Ever since the beginning, I’ve been appreciative of anyone who has reached out or followed my brand. I like to be personal with my fans. It's not like you follow Nike and don’t know who is behind it—you are following me, and if you follow my brand, you are a friend of mine. 

pythia cowboy pants horizontal
Courtesy of Jack Lyons

Is this your last drop of 2019? What is coming up in 2020 for the brand?

Lyons: I don't think it will be the last. I’ll do one more in December. Usually, I do one per month, and my overall goal is to keep up with the one-of-one drops and limited T-shirts, branching off into graphic tees. There are no remakes—I want a finite number of each made.

What brands inspire you?

Lyons: I like the Supreme model: When you go on the site, everything is sold out. That's ingenious. I'm inspired by smaller brands, too, and as I’ve gotten more prominent, some people are reaching out and helping me. I like brands that engage with their followers. I was anonymous for the first seven months that I started Pythia—no one knew my name. I learned that engagement was necessary—I’m just myself and staying real. I don't hide anything. Keeping things personal and organic is a big deal for me. 

What was it like starting your own one-of-one brand?

Lyons: I get messages often on how to start a brand. You gotta just do it—just start and grind and know you will be awful for a long time. People start things and suck, but for some reason, they expect they will be good right away. You need to let go of your ego. 

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