There’s more to COB student Michael Smith’s burgeoning sportswear line than just a large social media following
Smith, a senior marketing major, has the support of his professors and uses lessons learned in the classroom to help him grow TITAFit, the business he launched during his freshman year.
When Michael Smith didn’t like the material or fit of his workout clothing, the UM-Dearborn men’s soccer player decided to create his own. And thanks to social media and a marketing mind, the College of Business senior’s sportswear business has grown substantially since he founded it during his freshman year.
Smith’s company, TITAFit, has nearly 19,000 followers on Instagram, which is where he does 90 percent of sales. More than 450 athletes globally serve as brand ambassadors, representing the brand online in exchange for discount merchandise and presale access. And Smith, a marketing major, takes hundreds of orders each week in between balancing studies and playing defense for the soccer team.
“I’ve always loved helping others reach their fitness goals through sharing advice or being a part of a team. I saw creating clothing as another way to help people achieve their fitness goals,” said Smith, who researches clothing materials through wear, looking for qualities like effectiveness in wicking sweat. He also designs for fit and look. The men’s soccer team recently ordered team stadium jackets that Smith’s company made.
His business has experienced a level of success early on — but he was nearly sidelined after receiving a cease and desist letter from a well-known sportswear and outerwear company earlier this year.
Smith started his company at age 18 with a tax ID and LLC, but didn’t look too much into trademarking the name. “My company’s original name contained the word ‘titanium,’ which this company had trademarked when used on clothing and sporting materials. I didn’t realize you could trademark an element name. But I learned quickly that you can.”
Smith — who attributes growth to a nearly 24/7 focus on maintaining his social media channels and having brand ambassadors post photos wearing his merchandise — said he needed to keep his profitable company in tact, but wanted to avoid a legal mess and conflict with a large-scale brand.
“I started this business by reaching out to everyone I knew through social media and personal connections. I grew this fitness community organically over the past few years and didn’t want to lose what I worked so hard to build.”
So what was Smith’s next step? Getting advice from COB faculty.
“Right after I received the letter, I went up to [Marketing Lecturer] Jeremy Sutton and we talked for a half hour after my digital marketing class. He spoke on trademark and patents during lecture the week before. The timing was incredible,” he said. “I still lost a couple nights of sleep over this, but I am grateful for his help. He gave me a contact in a trademark office and pointed me in the right direction.”
Smith successfully rebranded to TITAFit Co. in late January. He said TITA means “Team is Together Always,” which signifies the feeling of durability and strength that he was going for in the original company name.
“It ended up being a very smooth transition. I had the right people available to answer questions,” he said. “This experience has taught me the importance of trademarking — even if you think it is something that’s fair use. I appreciate getting that lesson now. This experience and the advice I’ve gotten from my professors will only help me grow even stronger as a business owner.”