Justin Junior, a 2007 graduate of Kittatinny Regional High School is known by his mother, older brother and core group of friends as never doing anything "by the book."
So when he told them he wanted to start his own clothing and sunglasses business with no prior fashion or business experience, it wasn't too much of a shock to anyone even though they were wary about the outcome.
"I was worried it (the company) wasn't going to take off," said Junior's mother, Jane. "I didn't want it to be a disappointment for him."
But what started as simple sketches of designs at his home in Hampton has now developed into a reality as Junior's second line of shades just launched on Feb. 28.
Junior's reason for diving into the eye-wear field was similar to most entrepreneurs; he wanted to resolve a problem on his own.
"I would go out and look for sunglasses but never saw something I liked," Junior said. "I don't know if it was the shape of my head or the fit, but I couldn't find something that fit my personality."
His solution was to create a product he and his friends would like.
The new collection, entitled Elwood, is made with African zebrawood to maintain the company's aesthetic of using natural products for the wood temples and acetate lenses in the sunglasses. The first line, entitled Wayfarer Classics, launched in September of 2011 and Junior sold out all of his stock of about 12,000 to 13,000 pairs in less than a year. Junior has the wood imported directly to him so he can make a rough cut of the shape of the temples. After he has prepared the supply, it is sent to his manufacturer in China to create the final product.
The name Elwood references the street one of his friends, Chris Leppert, lived on while studying at NJIT. Junior would often visit Leppert and seek his advice on the technical aspects of his designs as Leppert recently received his master's degree in civil engineering after getting a bachelor's degree in architecture.
After fine-tuning sketches and renderings, Leppert was able to utilize his school's resources to create model mock-ups of Junior's designs that they were able to physically hold and see.
Leppert, who described his college home as an "old, beat-up mansion with a ton of space to work," said he was unaware of the name of the new collection until everything was finished, but was excited to hear the news.
"He's always been adventurous like that," Leppert said. "He sets high goals and I am proud of him that he is making these products."
Brushwood originally came to life with the name Roots in 2010 but as the business continued to progress, the name changed with it. Junior initially raised money to fund his eye-wear project by selling T-shirts that emulated the Roots logo and brand, designed by his older brother, Matt, who is referred to as the creative director. Matt Junior turns his brother's big ideas into reality and utilizes his natural talent in art to help choose colors and other design elements of the glasses.
"It's amazing to see something that was started from nothing; no financial backing, no fashion background — to see where it's gone is pretty amazing," Matt Junior said.
The beginning stages of the entrepreneurial project were full of brainstorming sessions and reworking ideas.
"I think I figured out every single way not to do something," joked Justin Junior. He said he has been grateful for the constant input of his friend, Brian Bollette, who has been aiding in the process from the start.
"In the beginning stages he would bounce ideas off me and talk things out," Bollette said. "I was just an ear for him."
Junior refers to his products as a hybrid because no other company creates sunglasses with the combination of wood and plastic. He learned about business and fashion hands-on by attending trade shows.
His first significant proof that his business had potential was when he attended a trade show in Boston where, he said, he sold more of his products than any other vendor, including well-established companies. Currently his eye-wear can be purchased online or at seven retailers across the country, one of which is in Sussex County. The front of Eric Hornung's tattoo shop Anti Hero Electric Tattoo in Andover Township is set up in a gallery format, showcasing artwork from local individuals as well as Brushwood. Another goal of Junior's is to increase his retail store numbers so that his customers' interest does not fizzle out.
The theme of using wood in his products stems from his Sussex County upbringing. Junior noted how an abundance of trees in the county is a daily sight so he wanted to incorporate subtle touches of his home into his designs.
It is especially important to him now that he has been living in Orange County, Calif., since December with his girlfriend, Katie Drew, who also was credited with being a huge asset for Junior's progression. Whenever a new order comes in, Drew is responsible for hand sewing the sunglass pouches before the eye-wear is shipped.
"I feel closer to home," said Junior who moved to California because the weather allows for sunglasses to be a year-round necessity and other big name brands originated in the same area.
Brushwood's focus is not solely on eye-wear and apparel. Junior found it imperative to integrate a sense of community within his business by giving back. Every year he donates a portion of his earnings to a charity that shares the same values he has. The first year, he donated to a local organization called the Alex Tirpack Foundation. The next two years' picks were Jane Goodalls Roots and Shoots Program, which focuses on gathering youth together to help the environment and in 2012 sales money went toward Hurricane Sandy relief. Brushwood also sponsors a few athletes such as professional long boarder Brian Bishop.
When asked how many hours a day Junior spends working on his business he simply stated, "too many." Matt Junior agreed, saying his younger brother loses sleep over it and his business is a constant topic of conversation.
"At first I thought it was just a phase, but he has gone full steam ahead," Matt Junior said. "I've never seen him so focused or passionate about anything before."
Junior admits his new business consumes his life despite having a full-time job as a manager of a surf shop. Yet he continues to brainstorm plans for his company's future.
He and Bollette are playing around with new attire ideas to expand Junior's product line on top of eventually promoting a third version of his eye-wear.
Posted: Mar 18, 2013 8:25 PM PDTUpdated: Mar 18, 2013 8:25 PM PDT