Norwich business rebrands after flooding, reopens in Waterford mall
Waterford — Just over eight months after Hurricane Ida flooded Ashon Avent's custom design and printing company in Norwich, his business has found a new name, a new focus and a new home.
Through perseverance and resilience, Avent's T-Shirt World had its grand opening on May 14 in Crystal Mall.
Avent originally had opened the business in 2012 as Main Avent Athletics and Apparel. The Sept. 2, 2021, hurricane had left much of its stock and equipment under 4 feet of water at Foundry 66's Sunlight Building on Franklin Street in Norwich. At the time, the business owner and professor at Eastern Connecticut State University estimated his losses at about $30,000.
On Monday, he said, “Thirty might have been a small number. I lost everything. All our inventory ... We lost our repeat customer’s files, plus our machines got damaged so with that, there’s nothing I could really recoup.”
Avent said his insurance would not cover the losses, and Federal Emergency Management Agency relief would have come in the form of a loan that had to be amortized over 30 years, so he didn't think that was a feasible option.
"I said, ‘I’ll find a way to get it done and I will,’” Avent said.
The business had its soft opening in the Waterford mall at 850 Hartford Turnpike at the end of March.
“I don’t even know how I did it,” the 42-year-old said. “We had to rebrand a lot and find a way to bring in more ancillary services to people ... That’s why we went from the Main Avent to T-Shirt World — something a little more universal. I was thinking about the bigger picture then.”
Part of that included the creation of two personal brands, which Avent describes as fashion forward.
“It’s not just a normal T-shirt,” he said, holding a hockey-style laced, long-sleeved shirt with "BLK" written in puffy letters on the front. Another example hanging in the store has the logo in black and white rhinestones on a tailored hooded sweatshirt.
“BLK,” or “Bold Loyal and Kind,” was inspired by recent events.
“I thought it was fitting with the times with George Floyd and everyone talking about diversity, equity and inclusion,” Avent said, referring to Floyd, who was killed by police in Minneapolis in 2020, setting off Black Lives Matter demonstrations around the country. “I just figured that subtly we would just blend everything together and come up with a message that was positive.”
The second, “No Luck All Hustle,” is a nod to the obstacles Avent has had to overcome in his life, including the devastation of his business that he still gets emotional talking about. "That's me: no luck, all hustle — that's the definition of it," he said.
When asked how he dealt with the loss and setbacks he faced, he said, “coming from how I grew up in Hartford, you just find a way to get through it. You just find an alternative — to hold on, because you know that a better thing will come.”
He said, “Everyone always talks about ‘peaks and valleys’ but no one really talks about the valleys. I think that’s how you get to the peak. You stand in the valley ... When you’re in the valley, you become more creative; you work a little bit harder.”
In addition to his branded merchandise, his store sells pre-printed clothing, plain T-shirts and custom T-shirts which can be made on demand depending on his current order volume. T-Shirt World also takes wholesale orders, custom orders for companies or fundraisers, offers screen printing, embroidery and sublimation printing, a process where ink is transferred directly onto fabric.
Additionally, it offers an online shop option for other entrepreneurs, such as an individual who currently does small-scale production or has an idea. “He might not have a website; he might not have all the resources, but he’s got a hunger ... he just needs an opportunity, so we’ll give him an ecommerce platform,” Avent said.
The customer gets a website but Avent controls the back end of it, taking care of production, order fulfillment and shipping.
As a graduate of ECSU with a master's degree in business administration from Albertus Magnus College, Avent says his education has helped him with all the reinventing and innovation he has had to do, and he tries to pass on the knowledge he has gained to his students. He accepts ECSU students for internships, which he tailors to their goals.
“I call it ‘entrepreneur your own internship.’ I put them in the position to test out every theory they ever had in the classroom to bring it to life here, so if you like social media marketing, here’s our social media. Let’s see what you can do ... They get real hands-on work experience,” he said.
As Avent moves forward in his new venture, he is prepared to keep innovating and adapting.
“Nothing in life comes easy," he said, "you’ve got to get out there and work for it.”
What: T-shirt World
Where: Crystal Mall, 850 Hartford Turnpike, Waterford