Small Business Significance: Jennifer Knef of KnefTee

Meet Jennifer Knef and her husband, Sam:

Jennifer has been my best friend for nearly 15 years. They currently reside in Michigan where Sam works as a news reporter. Jennifer has a degree in teaching, works in dental assisting, teaches ESL (English as a Second Language), is a Poshmark ambassador, and now has her very own Etsy shop alongside her husband! To say she inspires me daily is an understatement. This woman is a powerhouse and I’m so grateful she sat down with me to talk about the importance of running a small business.

    L: So tell me about KnefTee. Who are you?

    J: KnefTee is an Etsy shop where my husband and I create our own fun-loving, colorful graphic tees.

    L: When did you all get started?

    J: YouTube actually inspired me to get the ball rolling. The creators I was watching at the time were talking a lot about entrepreneurship and being creative. I’ve always been a creative soul; I love to draw and design. So it got me thinking, “what could I do at home to where I don’t need a lot of up-front capital?” I had the idea back in April during the stay-at-home-order. We launched our Etsy shop in May.

    L: Awesome! I know the stay-at-home order gave a lot of people time in their homes to spark creativity. So KnefTee was your idea to get started?

    J: Yes. Sam was a little more hesitant because he was under the impression that we’d have to buy inventory and have lots of money upfront. I can’t blame him because that’s what a lot of people think! Luckily, I had done my research beforehand and found ways we could do a partnership with a manufacturer. We create the designs and they put it on the physical product. That way, we didn’t have to bring money to the table at the start. It’s a very beginner-friendly system!

    L: Absolutely — I can see how it’d be intimidating not knowing about the partnership when you’re just starting. So, you and Sam draw all your designs by hand, correct?

    J: Right. We both draw them by hand on our sketch app on our iPad.

    L: That’s so cool! Was there any sort of learning curve when drawing that way compared to drawing on a piece of paper?

    J: For sure. You need to make sure you have a quality stylus, too, to ensure you don’t have an issue with your artwork not looking how you picture it. I would definitely say having a well-made stylus is essential to what we do.

    L: That’s a great tip for anyone starting in digital artwork. Speaking of, what gives you the inspiration behind your designs? Do you make an effort to follow current trends?

    J: I focus most of my efforts on creating what I could see myself wearing or something unique that you can’t find anywhere else. I know graphic tees are everywhere, so Sam and I use our combined efforts to create designs you wouldn’t normally see walking into the mall, for example.

    L: And I think that’s great! It leads me to my follow-up question: how do you feel KnefTee separates itself from other graphic t-shirt brands?

    J: Our tees aren’t manufactured in the masses. When it comes from KnefTee it’s going to be an original design, to where when you buy from a big box store, you know there will be lots of other people with the same shirt. That’s one thing I love about small business, you will more than likely be one of the only people around wearing that tee in your city.

    L: We love a unique sister! Okay here’s a tough one: what’s your favorite design that you’ve created so far, and what’s your favorite design that Sam has created so far?

    J: Oh gosh that is tough! I can definitely say that Sam’s “Updog” shirt is my favorite that he’s created because it’s a good icebreaker into getting people talking about KnefTee. Plus, it’s hilarious! Wearing something that can make someone laugh is extremely important.

    J: As far as my designs go, my “Be Kind” shirt is definitely my most popular seller, and I can see why. It spreads a positive message which I feel is what people want to wear and want to see other people wearing.

    J: Other than that, I’d probably say the teacher shirts that I design. I remember back when I was teaching, I loved wearing the colorful tees! The “Get Your Cray-On” is specifically my favorite.

    L: Those are adorable. I have both the “Be Kind” and “Updog” shirts and I get compliments every time I wear them! Moving forward, would you ever want to move the business to full-time — opening a physical storefront or boutique?

    J: NO. Definitely not, but I have a good reason why! Sam and I love the freedom of being able to dive into other passions on top of KnefTee. I’d never want a brick-and-mortar store because I feel like online is the way the world is working nowadays. Online shopping is the way to go. This way, I can do something that I love but still have free time to do other things that I’m passionate about. If I spent all my time on the shop, I’d miss out on other hobbies. Our current arrangement is perfect for me, especially since we partner with a manufacturer. It’s not that I don’t love doing it, but I have other passions, you know?

    L: That’s really respectable. I love that you have set boundaries and know when it’s time to stop for the week. I believe very strongly in setting aside time to work on things you love. Can you see KnefTee ever branching out to making things besides tees? I know “tee” is literally in the name of your business.

    J: Actually, I’ve been taking courses for the past three months on how to better your brand taught by a professional Etsy seller. She talks about how you need to be able to excel in one specific category rather than having a little bit of everything. Think about when you go to a restaurant: if you have a menu with burgers, fish, pizza, tacos, etc. it can be a little overwhelming, right? That’s not what I want for my business. I don’t want to oversaturate my customers and I don’t want to spread myself too thin.

    J: If we ever did, however, they would be what my teacher calls “sister products”. A sister product is an item that goes along with a shirt. You wouldn’t want to sell a shirt and then all of a sudden you’re selling something like candles — it’s too random. But maybe we could sell baseball caps with our logo, hoodies, long sleeves, or crew necks. I do want to say, though, if you do that at your shop and it works for you, that’s great! I’m going for more of a boutique feel; that’s the kind of buyer experience I want online.

    L: Yes for sure! You are absolutely entitled to that. It’s your business, so you have the freedom to sell whatever you want. Switching gears a little, how has the dreaded coronavirus impacted KnefTee?

    J: Both negatively and positively. One positive has come from being home all the time. We were able to create designs and have them in our arsenal before we launched so we’d have a good variety when we opened the shop. Negatively, from June to July, our manufacturer was very backed up on our orders. Our processing time for shirts was up to 12 weeks! We probably got three orders that entire time which makes sense, who wants to wait that long for a t-shirt? Not me. That has been one downside to the partnership because Sam and I don’t have the manufacturing tools to physically make the shirts.

    J: It’s not the manufacturer’s fault, though! I don’t blame them for having to reduce their employees. We are going through a world-wide pandemic, after all. People weren’t wanting to spend money on t-shirts, myself included! There were more important things to buy during that time. Luckily, sales have gotten better since then! People are buying more and our processing time is anywhere from 5-10 days, not three months like it was earlier this year.

    L: Thank goodness! I know that was a very stressful time for many small business owners. Where can people find you online to see more?

    J: It’s super easy, we’re KnefTee everywhere! Instagram, Facebook, and Etsy. I love it because it’s my last name along with a play off the word “nifty”. Nifty / KnefTee, get it?

    *mind blown*

    J: Yeah! Originally we were going to call the shop “Nifty Tee”, but Sam had the genius idea, “what if we just called it ‘Knef Tee’?”

    L: I’m shocked and ashamed I didn’t piece that together earlier! That’s amazing. Before we wrap things up, is there anything else you want to share about KnefTee?

    J: I’d like everyone to keep in mind that with small businesses, there’s an actual person behind every design that we make. Sam and I care so much about our customers and truly enjoy putting in the effort to make our designs the best they can be. I’m sitting in my home putting these together — the artwork behind it is inspired by us thinking “what do people want to wear? What could we design that will make somebody smile?” Yes, we do partner with a manufacturer who physically makes and ships our tees, but each design that goes onto them is unique and created from my husband and me. The designs are made from the heart.