Sports

Nate Collins' Whale of a business

During training camp, they were everywhere: Bears players rocking navy blue tees adorned on the front with a small bear face and an arrow pointing down. On the backs, in big orange, jagged letters: "BEAR DOWN." Everyone was wearing them, from Jay Cutler on down. They were gifts from Bears lineman Nate Collins from his clothing line, Young Whales.

Collins, a fourth-year pro and second-year Bear who injured his knee last week, co-founded the company with N.Y. Giants receiver Victor Cruz. RedEye talked to Collins about Young Whales, the Bears shirts and lessons from the T-shirt business.

Give us the rundown on Young Whales.

Rookie free agent, picked up by the Giants, end up rooming with Victor Cruz just by the luck of last names. Collins, Cruz. And one of the things we talked about was where we go and where we shop, because we're both from the tri-state area [in the Northeast], and we were always guys knowing when the new Jordans were coming out, and things like that. We felt like it was always hard to find a good spot to get shirts. We were like, "If we make enough money, we should start our own little thing."

The following year the lockout happened, and we both had a little bit of money in our pockets. I hit Vic up and was like, "I've really been thinking about this whole thing we were talking about. If you're really being serious, I think I'm going to go ahead and try to start something. I think we should do it together." And he was like, "All right." During the lockout, I was back in school down in Virginia finishing up my degree. He came down for a weekend and we brainstormed on all the things that we needed to do to get it started. Probably about eight months after that meeting, we started selling our first batch of shirts.

How did the "Bear Down" shirts develop?

Last year, Vic had made some shirts for everyone after they won the Super Bowl, for camp, and I just wanted to have something that everyone wears on the team. It would be nice to make a Bears shirt. I'm in a group chat with Vic, and our designers, and I always use emojis. And there's a bear emoji and a down emoji.

I saw that on a tweet.

On Twitter, yeah, yeah. I send it to them all the time. And I asked them one time, "Yo, what if we put this on a shirt?" And [the designer] was like, "I could probably design something that would make it look similar and would look cool."

Will they be available for fan purchase?

[Laughs.] We're thinking about it. It's something we might do. We're gonna see. It's something we have now—we have the presses for it—so if that was going to be the case, we'll probably strike off some more and get them out there if enough people are going to want to buy them.

For people who've never pressed their own shirts but want to get into it, what are the top things to watch out for?

Make sure you're not stealing someone's idea. Make sure on your tags it says what the T-shirt is made out of. And whenever you're talking to a company and they say something's going to be done in two weeks, plan for a month. [Laughs.]

Jack M Silverstein is a RedEye special contributor. @readjack

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Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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