Junior Brett Henderson has been a surfer and skater his entire life. As a young teenager in California, he embodied the laidback culture; however, he now spends his time on the wrestling team under head coach Rob Koll.
The story starts when Henderson’s grandparents took him shopping for clothes at age 13. He couldn’t find anything that fit his style: that melded his love of the waves with that of the pavement.
He asked his mom, Tasha to take out a “loan” (or borrow a hundred dollars) and in true Cali. swag style went out and bought a bunch of trucker hats. He had them designed with Dirty written on them and Dirty Surf and Skate, the company, was born.
“I started the company when I was 13 years old. I was walking in a surf store in Northern California with my grandparents and they said go and pick out a shirt that you want. After walking around the store, I came back to them and said, “I really don’t want anything, I think I can do this myself. And they were like okay. So I went home and started drawing out different things and coming up with different designs,” said Henderson. “I finally came up with dirty because as a little kid I was always surfing and skateboarding with the long hair, ripped jeans, I was a total California kid. I decided that it was going to be dirty … With that money [from my mom], I took my design and went and got trucker hats made. After I got them made, I took them to the park and sold them all in one day. I made a whole bunch of money and brought it back to my mom and she was like I guess that you are serious about this so from then on I had several designs and had it in five stores in California before high school.”
Fast forward to his junior year here at Cornell.
Henderson has grown the company along with his teammate and co-owner Frankie Perrelli ’12, to much more than just the few hats in California. For the past couple of months the tag team has promoted and put a ton of time into the company, balancing school, work and wrestling all at the same time. They have focused their company on, “creating a movement that teaches people to value the similarities in the differences between each other, and to realize that the cultural barriers that often keep people with similar mindsets separated can be torn down”. Their unofficial motto is “Shore2ShoreSince04,” which talks to both of the athlete’s roots: Henderson from the shore of California and Perrelli from the shore of New Jersey.
“Coming to college, I realize that, seeing other brands, that there still wasn’t anything out there that I felt was me and that I wanted to wear all of the time. I decided that I wanted to start my company up again,” said Henderson “Frankie got on board and it has been awesome working together. We started up several months ago and have had great momentum so far. He is from New Jersey and I am from California and we are kind of just bringing the two together.”
The few months that the team has been working has already shown great success. The Dirty Surf and Skate gear can be found not just in Ithaca on teammates and even Coach Koll (he wore it to practice one day), but all over the country and abroad thanks to the support from friends and family.
“I just had an Olympian text me, he lost his tuxedo tank top so I am bringing him another … this weekend when I compete with him. It is pretty cool. You can go to Russia and see Dirty Surf and Skate stickers on the light posts. We have stuff all over … It’s us, but it is also our families … I compete and everyone that comes to watch wears Dirty Surf and Skate stuff,” Perrelli said.
Coach Koll added, “I hope they go out and make millions. I hope they are the next Under Armour, because if they are I am going to hit them up for another wing on our wrestling center. It is neat to see young entrepreneurs. It is challenging to work for yourself and they are going to make some errors … [but] I hope it is very successful. If Dirty Surf and Skate ends up in everyone’s dressers, I will be a happy man.”
In the future, the duo hopes to expand the company across the country and have it be a household name like other brands that have come before them.
“[In] five years, I see us being a big company. In the future, I see us having stores and being like a Billabong or Quicksilver or one of those big names that everyone knows, but not selling out. [Just] sticking to our roots,” said Perrelli. “Being one of those big companies that everyone knows, but still producing really cool stuff.”
But at the moment, the two are not just solely entrepreneurs. Henderson also doubles as a student and a wrestler on the team and although Perrelli graduated last year from the University, he still competes on the national circuit, even competing in the national trials last year for a chance to compete in the Olympics this past summer.
“[The company takes] a lot of time and there is not a lot of sleep. You have to be able to transition from one thing to another. You have to be fully focused on school so you can stay here and then you have to go and get your workout in,” said Henderson. “Right afterwards, you have to work. Every time I have free time I am putting it into this company. Frankie and I work hours for this company every single day … It’s [all about] juggling.”