To an outsider, Iain Duffus, 27, seems to live a fairly normal life in his Chester suburb: He goes to work early in the morning, works hard all day and returns home hours later to be with his family.
But the insider sees a compounded version of that life, where the term “normal” also requires hours of midnight work in a dimly-lit garage, working off his creative energy.
“I always wanted to pursue art somehow,” said Duffus, a utilities locator. “I wanted to be able to make a living off of creating it.”
A local resident for over 20 years, Duffus’ drive surfaced during his teen years as he found art consuming his mind and time. Years later, this obsession was replaced with the responsibility of providing for a family.
But when the demands from his job placed a strain on time with family, he knew that a change was invited. “I missed my daughter’s first everything – her first steps, her first words,” he said about his four-year old, Mackenzie. “I missed all of that because I was always sent out of town for work.”
A solution to this problem came in May 2010 with his vision of launching a successful clothing line. He then took to researching the silk-screen craft and started printing his hand-drawn designs on t-shirts to one day be sold.
“The original motivation was to get out of doing work for other people…,” he said. “This kind of brings to the end of the tunnel, so it softens the blow from all the other stuff. It’s nice to finally have a focus and to be able to channel all this unexplained energy.”
The vision officially took form last fall when Duffus printed 260 shirts for ChesterFest. From the profits he made during the event, he was able to upgrade his equipment to a single-colored print press which allowed him to properly cure his clothing at a much faster pace.
Around this time, the Grape clothing line was officially created. Not long after the event, Duffus began selling Grape’s fall clothing line online at www.grapecloth.com. Now, Grape sells a variety of clothes – t-shirts, sweatshirts, hooded sweatshirts, crewnecks and beanies.
According to Duffus, the motivation behind Grape meant “surrounding yourself with goodness and the more goodness you surround yourself with the easier it is to be good.”
Not at all a rip on “Fruit of the Loom” clothing brand, the vision behind Grape is simple: “As a company, we want other people to grow better, stronger, and wiser as they age,” said Duffus. “It’s kind of like wine: We also grow better with age, so if we present that to people it can become infectious.”
For Duffus and his wife, Erin, 27, who also co-owns the business, the best part of it all was planting the seed.
“It’s not going to be a fast-moneymaker, or the fast track to getting rich,” he said. “This is a slow-building fire that may eventually become an inferno, so it will take a while.”
For the past two months, two local retail stores have stocked Grape products – West Coast Kicks in Cary Street and The Pizza Shop in Old Town, Petersburg, igniting a small fire for the business. Since the fall, Duffus has sponsored numerous charity events, such as Clothes for Cures, which helps to build HIV/AIDS awareness; the other, Grape provides free shirts for Promises, a charitable event at John Marshall High School that offers students a series of etiquette courses.
Also, Grape is the official clothing sponsor of Audra the Rapper, a signed artist going on tour this summer. The product also sponsors other rap artists, most recently “Official Freeze”, last Thursday at The Camel, on Broad Street. There, Duffus sold from this year’s spring collection for the first time.
With numerous events pulling Grape simultaneously in various directions, Duffus sees Erin as the “glue” that holds everything together.
“I try to get him organized; otherwise he’d be all over the place,” she said. “He’s always working and doesn’t sleep much.”
Currently, Erin takes classes online through University of Phoenix, majoring in Business and minoring in Management. Despite working together to build a dream, they make it a point to not always discuss business matters.
On April 3, Grape’s spring collection will be complete, adding three more shirts online. They are currently designing for a summer collection and at The Canal Club on April 8 they will sponsor Against Grace, a Richmond-based rock band signed to a major record label, and D.O.E the Paperboy from Petersburg.
“Every artist we link ourselves with has a positive message,” said Duffus. “It’s tough, but I think in the long run it’s going to allow us to be an entity. …When it comes down to it, I want to make sure my children have a positive image to mold themselves after.”
On April 9, Grape will be co-sponsoring a silent art auction at “Books, Bikes and Beyond”, an event created to assist the homeless by repairing bikes and donating books and clothes.
For people interested in upcoming events regarding the clothing line, Grape can be found on Twitter and Facebook or they can visit the online website for retail prices.
“If I could live without money, I would. I just can’t do it,” said Duffus. “So that’s why I do what I hate every single day so I can come home to create something I love… I think that’s empowering; I think it’s important that if somebody has that willingness and that dream and that drive to do it, then they need to just go ahead and try it and see how it pans out.”