Ash & Erie Make a Splash on Shark Tank, Score Deal with Mark Cuban
As Venture for America prepares to host a demo day event in Detroit later this month, two entrepreneurs who met as part of the VFA program recently made a splash on Shark Tank, the ABC reality show that features young companies pitching celebrated investors for growth capital.
We caught up with Steven Mazur, co-founder of Ash & Erie (formerly Ash & Anvil), to get his impression of the experience. Ash & Erie is a Detroit-based online clothing store for shorter guys, defined by the company as those who are 5’ 8” or shorter. The company launched in late 2015 and currently sells button-down shirts and jeans, with additional products planned for the immediate future.
The Ash & Erie team went to Shark Tank in search of a deal that would help it build inventory, as the company has completely sold out of its merchandise twice in the two years it’s been operating. After a lengthy application process, Mazur says the company was eventually invited to appear on the show. The episode first aired on Oct. 22 and featured plenty of b-roll footage of downtown Detroit and the Madison Building, where Ash & Erie is based.
“It was an exciting opportunity,” Mazur says. “Since we started the business, everyone has said we should go on Shark Tank. We focused on making [clothing for shorter guys] an easily understandable issue and a little bit funny. Shorter-guy clothes have a humor that we like to embrace.”
One humorous moment came when investor (and “shark”) Daymond John insisted on standing next to Mazur and his co-founder, Eric Huang, on stage, and demanded to know how tall they were—5′ 6″ and 5′ 8″, respectively—in a valiant attempt to prove he was too vertically endowed for the clothing line. (He appeared to be the same size as the Ash & Erie guys.)
The way the show is structured, each team gets on stage and gives a brief pitch explaining the company and what it hopes to accomplish, and then the sharks debate whether or not they’re interested in making an investment in exchange for an ownership stake. The sharks that aren’t interested declare themselves out of the running over the course of the discussion.
Not long after his height challenge with Ash & Anvil, John said he was out, adding that he wasn’t comfortable with the concept of needing “special clothes.” That question came up from more than one shark—is it a good idea to be singling out shorter guys? Mazur said yes, because there’s no sense beating around the bush. Plus, he told the sharks, being forced to shop in the children’s section is far more uncomfortable than a clothing line hoping to honestly solve the problem of ill-fitting garments.
The sharks seemed visibly charmed by Mazur and Huang. After a question about potential market size—according to Ash & Erie, one in three men is 5′ 8″ or shorter—two sharks, Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary, ended up offering investment deals. After some brief but tense crosstalk, Mazur and Huang accepted Cuban’s offer of $150,000 in exchange for 25 percent equity. (Cuban came thisclose to backing out of the deal because he felt Ash & Erie was taking too long to give him an answer, but one got the feeling this may have been more narrative device than actual dithering.)
“It was fascinating to hear from successful millionaires and billionaires and get their insights,” Mazur says. “For us, we didn’t have many expectations, so it was really interesting to hear the reasons to back a company or not. All of them had valid feedback.”
As for what role Cuban will play in further developing Ash & Erie, Mazur says, “When it comes to the partnership, we’re just getting started with Mark and his team, so it’s tough to say exactly where they’ll fit in. They’re excited to support us wherever it makes sense and we’re excited to see what that looks like, too.” Mazur says he appreciates that, despite being a tall guy, Cuban “really understood the problem and potential market.”
A handful of metro Detroit startups have taken a turn on Shark Tank throughout the years, but Mazur believes his is the first local company to score a deal with one of the show’s investors. The company’s name is inspired by the Motor City: “Ash” refers to Detroit’s official motto (“we hope for better things; it shall rise from the ashes”) and “Erie” references the region’s manufacturing prowess. “We were really proud to be able to share the Detroit story in our segment,” he adds.
This month, Ash & Erie is planning to launch dress shirts and flannels; in the coming year, chinos, short-sleeved shirts, and other summer wear is planned. Its newest product, jeans made in Los Angeles from North Carolina denim, was designed by a Detroit native named Lorraine Sabatini, who recently moved back to Michigan after a long stint in California. The two-man company will also be selling its clothes in downtown Detroit until Jan. 7 at Bedrock’s pop-up Holiday Market.