AKRON, Ohio – Any Means Necessary clothing and merchandise founders Shawn Coss and Mike Nemitz have turned a $200 investment into $1 million in sales over the past five years.
Now, the friends-turned-business-partners are on track to record another $1 million in sales in 2021.
Located in a 3,000-square foot studio space in the Bounce Innovation Hub in downtown Akron, Any Means Necessary sells T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, pants, shorts, accessories, prints and books featuring Coss’ original artwork. Coss’ work is equal parts dark and humorous, and fans around the world have been taking notice.
But it took longer for the company’s clothing and merchandise to catch on in Ohio.
“It took a very long time for Ohio to show any type of support, which was always a big thing for us,” said Nemitz, 37, who lives in Akron. “But Ohio in general isn’t necessarily a supportive state. It’s all about minding your business and making sure you’re getting ahead. Probably over the last year we’ve definitely seen a lot more Ohio support — Cleveland, Canton, Wooster. We kind of went backwards, we sold to the world first, now we are starting to see people take notice here.”
Coss and Nemitz describe themselves as unlikely friends.
“When we first met we were polar opposite people. I grew up as a hip-hop kid. I liked rap music. He grew up as a goth kid wearing black fishnets. We would have never been friends growing up,” Nemitz said.
The pair met at a concert in their early 20s when Nemitz, who was working on a rap album, approached Coss, who was presenting his artwork at the concert.
“Generally, I would never walk up to a stranger, but I approached him and said I’m making an album and I want you to make the album cover. He was like ‘Yeah ok.’ I ended up friending him on Myspace and got him to do my artwork,” said Nemitz, who attended East High School in Akron.
After Nemitz paid Coss, he joked that Coss had no idea what he was doing business-wise and could have charged more. The duo laughed about it and became friends. But when Nemitz approached Coss about printing his artwork on T-shirts to sell, Coss initially said no.
“I had done two different clothing brands beforehand that never really took off,” said Coss, 38, who lives in Rootstown. “I was big in the music scene when I was 18- to 24-years-old, opening up for a lot of big bands. Every band I was in, the band members always (had me) fronting the cost for any merchandise and I never got my money from any of those people.”
But Nemitz persisted, and convinced Coss to put out a shirt for a 2015 art show at Akron tattoo shop Empire Ink.
“I was like, ‘If you pay for this, I’ll make sure you get your money back,’” Nemitz said. “It was $200 for a run of shirts. Within the first hour of the event, I went over and handed him his $200 back. And then we ended up selling out of all the shirts.”
Nemitz and Coss invested the $600 they earned into another run of shirts.
From 2015-16, creating and selling shirts was a hobby for Coss and Nemitz because they were busy with their full-time jobs. Coss worked as an ER nurse and Nemitz worked installing cable. That all changed when the cable company Nemitz worked for was bought out in 2017 and he lost his job.
“I was 30, had a wife and two kids and had the rug pulled out from under me,” Nemitz said.
Even though Nemitz had an established career and a family to support, he said he knew he could not spend the rest of his life working out of a van. So he began to focus all his attention on building the Any Means Necessary brand.
“We’re both very persistent,” Nemitz said. “That’s why we ended up using the hyena for our logo. Once we get our minds made up on something, whether we are chasing a lion, the lion’s only natural predator is the hyena, that’s our mindset. We look at Any Means Necessary as a mindset and the lifestyle we have really always lived. We do whatever we can, however we can, to get where we need to go.”
One of the company’s breakthroughs came in 2016 when Coss created a series of ink drawings of mental health imagery for a month-long online art series called Inktober. Doing the series about mental health was personal for Coss, who frequently treats mental health patients as an ER nurse.
“I did a bunch of these pieces and pretty much overnight I had BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, Bored Panda, all these online entities reaching out to meto do a feature story on our stuff,” Coss said. “It kind of blew up overnight. I went from 20,000 followers to like 110,000 followers on Instagram and Facebook in less than a couple of days.”
Due to demand from Inktober, Nemitz and Coss decide to publish a pamphlet of the series to sell.
“We did like $60,000 to $70,000 in a couple of days, which was the most money we ever earned,” said Coss, who attended Field High School in Mogadore. “So we thought maybe we could use dark artwork as a fashion style.”
In a little more than five years, Any Means Necessary has gone from a home-based business, to a 400 square-foot office space in Ellet, to a 3,000 square-foot space in the Bounce Innovation Hub.
The duo moved into Bounce in October 2020 after doing a photoshoot there a few months prior and falling in love with the space. When Nemitz reached out to Bounce to see if space was available, he realized Ace Epps, who signed him to his record label years ago, manages programs for entrepreneurs at the business incubator. Nemitz called the coincidence a “full circle” moment.
“We were looking to find a bigger space because we were growing quite a bit and it was perfect timing,” Nemitz said.
The studio space offers enough room for the company’s operations, including inventory storage, shipping and marketing. The company uses local printers to screen-print the merchandise Coss designs. Since moving into Bounce, Any Means Necessary has hired two part-time employees to help with shipping and operations. The business incubator offers significant support for Coss and Nemitz, who admittedly don’t have a business background. From business questions to marketing support to interns, Bounce is always there to help, Nemitz said.
Even though the duo missed out on in-person sales as events folded due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was their best year to date by 60 percent, Nemitz said.
Any Means Necessary was able to quickly pivot and expanded its offerings to include masks and bandanas, selling thousands. One design featured a hyena and said “Stay away.”
“A lot of what we are, we’re resilient, we don’t stop. And we always say we thrive under pressure,” Nemitz said.
The brand releases a new merchandise collection about every 45 days. And it continues to create a new mental health collection each May for Mental Health Awareness Month.
This year, the clothing company is planning to sell its merchandise at the New York Comic Con event in October. It’s also looking to expand its online sales on platforms such as eBay and Amazon. Coss and Nemitz are also considering wholesale opportunities for their clothing and artwork.
“We are putting together a brand deck for retail stores and mom and pop shops, just to get different eyes on the brand,” Nemitz said.
Coss still works part time as a nurse. But Nemitz is glad his days installing cable are over.
“I always tell people, ‘What I think people lack is the ability to trust themselves and bet on themselves,’” Nemitz said. “A lot of people don’t realize you can literally do what you love to do if you just take that risk and have a plan and stick to it. I would pick this ride over working a 9-5 that I hate any day.”
The friends credit their wives’ support for their success. But despite the success they have achieved, Coss and Nemitz haven’t had much time to sit back and enjoy it.
“Right now we’re battling with the Apple operating system update that killed Facebook ads,” Coss said. “So that’s something we’re currently trying to overcome because it’s affecting sales. Every day is different and there is a new problem to solve, so there is no time to just sit back and relax, but I don’t think either of us would trade it for anything else. We own the company, we make the decisions on where this thing goes. We don’t have to answer to anyone else besides ourselves.”
Want more Akron news? Sign up for cleveland.com’s Rubber City Update, an email newsletter delivered at 5:30 a.m. Wednesdays.