5 May 2020

Bucking the trends in business #4 - Rohan Thomas

| Suzanne Kiraly
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Blink if you want meWe all know that words have power, but have you seen some funny phrases on T-Shirts lately? My favourites so far are: “Blink if you want me”, “Consider this diem carped”, “Nerd? I prefer the term ‘more intelligent than you’, and “Super Mum, Super Wife, Super Tired”.

Today, I reveal a business going places – where you can get the best t-shirts and be creative with your own words. Lots of fun really and room for your own creativity!

Local proprietor Rohan Thomas is one of a new breed of young entrepreneurs in Canberra to be bucking the trends in business. Unlike many of the younger generation who leave as soon as they can, Rohan was born in Canberra and loves this city he grew up in. He tells me he does not come from entrepreneurial stock, but is definitely entrepreneurial himself; he is not afraid of hard work, taking risks and is driven by passion and creativity.

A former Marist boy, he was originally good at maths and science, but he found design whilst at school and was soon designing household products at home, to his mum’s great delight. He went on to study industrial design at UC and was particularly enthused by creating unique furniture, followed up by art of a different kind; art that was stuck on walls instead of pictures and was unique.

After university, Rohan was offered a job in a top agency, where he worked for a few years and gained experience and on-the-job training. But the job was not enough for Rohan and with his best friend, John Shirley, they started up a business on the side. It was a unique clothing brand called E4 Clothing and the boys attended printing courses in Sydney, purchased all of the necessary equipment and started to sell them.

They sold at markets and did so well that companies were approaching them to purchase clothing for their businesses; uniforms and such. But, the boys got their first big break when Patty Mills and the Boomers ordered 800 T-shirts to be turned around in a week (up until then they had only done about 20 T-shirts per week on average). It was a big ask and as Rohan was still working full time, he had to get all his friends in to help him complete the order, but they made it.

That order was the ‘aha’ moment when Rohan knew that this could become a full-time business for them. So they ramped up the sales and let everyone know that they were looking for business; they worked hard and had high-quality standards plus a quick turnaround.

Well, word got out and some of the clients started to ask if they did signage as well – so of course, they did. The processes were similar and with a few quick courses and further purchases of equipment, they had expanded their offerings to include clothing and signage!

It’s a case of consumer-driven demand driving the expansion – and it’s the best way, really!

Six months after the Boomers order, Rohan took the plunge, quit his job and went out on his own. He and his girlfriend at the time moved into a specially designed house that Rohan had purposely built (and designed of course), with a large office space right in the front, from where he could run his business.

Rojo took off and the T-shirts and signage business – a unique combination in Canberra, continued to grow organically. After a year of full-time by himself, Rohan needed more staff. His partner, a talented graphic designer in his own right, went out on his own, although he does lots of Rohan’s design work because he’s brilliant, according to Rohan. So then, Renee came on board as Rohan’s first full-time employee, and as he had come from a similar background they found that they were on the same page.

Rohan Thomas - ROJO CUSTOMS

The business grew and grew and then it came to a point where they had to take on further staff – another full-time member and two casuals followed, so the home office was a little stretched. It became time to search for bigger premises. Not a decision one makes lightly, but Rohan looked around for eighteen months. He found his new premises right in the heart of the city, near the Merry-Go-Round.

“You couldn’t find a better place,” he thought and so he took the plunge.

So, in December 2016, the new shop opened and he already has big plans for the business there. Knowing how Canberrans love their coffee, Rohan wants to open a walk-through cafe through the two front glass windows, where he would sell coffee in cups with his T-Shirt designs so that people could go away and think about what they wanted to design for their own T-shirts. He intends to partner with two local bakers who bake Canberra themed cookies and are also brilliant entrepreneurs (Rosebery Street Bakehouse).

Not only that, but he has plans to have industrial designers come in and sell their wares, like unique light fittings, etc. And there is to be a wall with rotating canvases to feature local artists.

Custom patterns of concrete with geometric shapes and glass art are another interest and passion for Rohan, and so he has also started another brand called Devant Art, on the side – but as he points out, this is just his passion, and not so much for the dollars.

One thing is for sure, Rohan is never short of ideas and he loves his work so much, it’s difficult for him to have more than a day off here and there before his mind wanders back to the business. To illustrate the point, he went to a wedding in the US last year and after the second day, found himself calling the guys at the business. He couldn’t help himself. He knew he could trust them, but he was just missing it too much. That’s the kind of drive you have to have to buck the trend of business failure and become wildly successful and we wish him well in that journey!

Rohan’s business, Rojo Customs was at the Multicultural Festival last weekend, selling onsite printing of t-shirts, hats and singlets, as well as some of those delicious home-baked cookies, coffee, and cakes. You might have seen him there.

Why not drop in and meet the team at Rojo Customs near the Merry-Go-Round? And get a t-shirt designed while you are at it.

Do share any great T-shirt designs you’ve seen, won’t you – we’d love to know about them. Especially the funny ones!

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Suzanne Kiraly1:32 pm 22 Feb 17

Thanks Serina and Jdles – he sure is special! And all indications are that he is going places I think you’d agree:-)

Love RoJo’s work! Super excited to see them partnering with Rosebery Street Bakehouse (think the Rosemary is a typo 🙂 )

Serina Huang10:23 am 21 Feb 17

What an inspiration story. And what fun the T-shirts are! I will have to think about some cool, poignant sayings to put on some.

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