Pinoy brothers in NJ race to protect their clothing brand from bootlegging
Two New Jersey-based Filipino-American brothers have created a lifestyle apparel company by combining their passions for drag racing and graphic design.
Founders of ESR, from left: Francis Mabutas, Brian Mabutas and Hugo Han. The FilAm photo
Brian Mabutas, 30, and brother Francis, 36, are the owners of the clothing brand Eat Sleep Race (ESR), which recently moved into a large property in Edison, N.J. that serves as the warehouse, office, and show room. They have a third partner, Hugo Han, whom the brothers trust to help "build the brand."
Around early 2000, the import/sport compact scene in the US was made up mostly of Asians, many of them Filipino-Americans. They raced and customized imported European cars, including Japanese luxury cars of the Honda, Acura and Toyota brands.
Brian, 30, was part of grassroots drag racing team in New Jersey called Team Alpha Racing. He was passionate over race cars that he created a design that would become the primary logo for East Sleep Race.
"In 2002 I created a design for Eat Sleep Race," he said. "It was a 3-box design — the first box with a plate with a fork and knife, the second box with a bed, and the third with a civic hatchback with a parachute."
"At the time," continued Brian, who now works as a marketing executive for OGS1320 drag racing event production company, "our drag racing team was the fastest street car team in the Tri-state and at a local level we were well known at drag racing events and car shows. People at the events would ask if they can buy the shirts and stickers with my design on them and I would turn them down because I created it to be exclusive to our team."
It got to a point where Brian and his brother Francis, 36, started seeing similar designs being sold at car shows and racing events.
"All they did was change the last box to random things like Honda, Mitsubishi, Ford, which doesn’t even make sense because you can’t Eat Sleep Ford. At that point a lightbulb went off in my head and made me realize that other people were making money off of my idea,” he said.
This bootlegging mischief has crossed over thousands of miles to the Philippines. In stores across Greenhills, Brian learned that there were vendors selling imitations of his designs alongside many other knock-off shirts. He personally saw them sold in several booths in Greenhills during a 2013 visit.
“I was flattered at first to see that our brand is recognized internationally and has grown enough to be bootlegged,” he said. “But, they are taking away from our sales and misleading consumers with counterfeits of our designs.”
Designing began as a juvenile hobby.
“I started with graffiti sketches,” said Brian. “Then I learned how to design on my Packard Bell computer. I taught myself all of my computer graphic design knowledge.”
Car racing, however, was something he picked up from older brother Francis. “He took me to the events and street races with his friends and from then I was hooked,” he said.
When Brian was 16, his parents bought him a Honda Civic from a friend who had died. At a young age, he began modifying the car to his own unique style and needs.
“I loved racing and at that time my life revolved around racing. We were at the events on the weekends, street races on week nights, in friends’ garages wrenching, or hanging out in parking lots with our cars.”
It dawned on Brian and Francis that they could not go on simply pursuing their hobby, although their parents who work in health care – mother is a nurse and father worked in hospital pharmacies — were supportive. Such passion needs to make a little money.
“In 2007, I started a brand that combined what I loved –cars/racing, and graphic design,” said Brian. ““I started the brand with 2 t-shirt designs with a couple hundred bucks I saved up from working multiple jobs not knowing if anyone would even buy them.”
“I started by asking my friends if they would pre-order them at cost just so I could afford to get the minimum amount that the printer wanted me to order. I folded and bagged every shirt myself and hand-wrote the sizes on name tag stickers that I cut into small pieces. I stored the shirts in my parents’ garage and sold them at Englishtown Raceway Park with the help of my friends and family. I designed eatsleeprace.com to start a blog for the brand and learned how to set up an e-commerce site on my own. With the profit from these shirts I reinvested the money into new designs and eventually after about a year outgrew my parents’ garage and moved my inventory to my friend’s basement.”
The turning point came when the ESR brand was featured in two racing magazines, “Super Street” and “Import Tuner.” Orders stared rolling in through the online store. The brand grew from being a local Jersey brand and gained national and global exposure.
“I quickly outgrew my friend’s basement and moved into my first warehouse which was a 3,000 sq. ft. garage at a lumber yard,” said Brian.
The ESR branding was phenomenal. ESR shirts were showing up on Philippine television worn by entertainment celebrities. Unfortunately, they’re wearing the bogus brands.
“Someone had taken my design and printed their own shirt, and it made its way into a TV show. I was upset but flattered and proud that my brand was on TV in my family’s native country.”
From a business perspective, the brothers view this as part of the challenges facing many entrepreneurs: protecting what they have created.
Said Brian, “It would be great to find out who the owners of these (bootleg) stores are and potentially work with them to sell authentic Eat Sleep Race products.” —The FilAm