The odds were stacked against sophomore Anthony Naimo from day one. He was born to 18-year-old parents in St. Louis and made it to Northwest to study studio comprehension.
Not only is he a success as a student in the honors program, but he just started his own company right out of his dorm room.
“Part of the struggles growing up with the young parents was the lack of financial stability,” Naimo said. “They had to work weird hours so that one of them would be home with me. I had to spend a lot of time with my grandparents or in daycare.”
Thankfully for Naimo, his parents were able to move up in their jobs and their schedules evened out. His dad started out as a tattoo artist before doing an apprenticeship for a locksmith. He started and sold his own locksmith company so the family could afford to move to St. Charles.
His mother worked at Baskin Robbins before getting a job at Equifax, where she helps maintain company accounts and travels frequently.
Perhaps it was Naimo’s parents that inspired him to become a young entrepreneur. Regardless, he arrived at Northwest with a clear understanding of what it means to work for what you want.
“I knew Northwest was very good at giving students hands-on experience early on, which was critical to my decision to come to school here,” Naimo said. “I didn’t want to spend three years at another university before I finally got hands-on experience and then end up hating it.”
However, the transition into college is never easy.
“We had to take a personality test in University Seminar to tell us different characteristics about ourselves,” Naimo said. “Mine came back and told me I had a 90 percent chance of not finishing my degree. That was really disheartening.”
While education is extremely important to Naimo, he has peers who dropped out of college and went on to be successful by following their passions.
“I do not know if college is the right path for me,” Naimo said. “Is this investment worth it to me?”
Naimo’s business is called I Failed Art Class Designs, a t shirt company with a fitting name for the unique designs.
“It is a commentary on the idea that there are different definitions of art,” Naimo said. “I do apparel, accessories and print design. We are fairly early on in establishing ourselves. It has been a childhood dream of mine to run a business.”
Naimo first realized the importance of expressing yourself through clothing when he was a child. He even pleaded with his mother to buy him one particular T-shirt.
“It was military green with poorly drawn stick figures and in this sans font it said ‘Don’t make me get my flying monkeys!’ It doesn’t make any sense, but I really wanted it,” Naimo said. “My mom wouldn’t let me get it, but the idea of expression through apparel has stuck around.”
Naimo puts his own artwork on the clothing and has been accumulating designs for several years. He keeps an art journal in his backpack. Whenever he has an inspiration, he either draws ideas or writes down notes to base a design off of later.
His favorite kind of art is a unique form called blind contour, a style that was introduced to him in his senior year of high school.
“I look at an object and do not look at my page at all, which is why they are more free form and expressive,” Naimo said.
This style forces the artist to draw without criticizing every line he or she makes or over-analyzing the piece.
Naimo has a functional website, but he is hoping to put more effort into making the website look better, now that he is finished with midterms. He has taught himself all of the designing and programming he has done so far.
When people order a shirt, they pick the cut of the shirt as well as the color, then they select the design. T-shirts sell for $17 and sweatshirts sell for $25.
Naimo takes a picture of the design, uploads it to photoshop to edit it and perfects the final product. He then prints the design and uses a hot press to transfer the design onto the shirt.
Naimo has not turned a profit quite yet, but he has had many orders.
“It is also really satisfying to know that there is a want for it and people are buying my work,” Naimo said.
Tim Ferriss is an entrepreneur that Naimo has taken inspiration from.
“Scratch your own itch,” Ferriss said in his list of 10 tips for business start ups. “Make what you want to see or see yourself.”
Naimo is not sure if he wants to make a career out of his business. Right now, it is just a project.
“This could still fail; I have no idea what I am doing, but I am figuring it out and it is a really fun adventure,” Naimo said.
Freshman Theater Technical and Design major Brenna Michels met Naimo at Summer Orientation Advisement and Registration.
“I was sitting by myself, and he came over and struck up a conversation,” Michels said. “We stayed in contact over the summer, and he was the only person I knew here at Northwest when school started. We’ve been really good friends since then.”
Michels played a key role in Naimo’s business, because he made the first t-shirt in her dorm room.
“I think the business is fantastic,” Michels said. “It is such a cool concept, especially because it’s all his original artwork.”
Michels is inspired by Naimo’s constant drive.
“Anthony is probably the most passionate person I know. He is so creative and talented, which fuels his passion. If he wants to do something, he will work so hard to achieve his goals,” Michels said. “Anthony is going to be incredibly successful in his future, no matter where life takes him.”
Despite the obvious success, Naimo hit a low point shortly after his family moved. He saw the new town as an opportunity to reinvent himself, but things went wrong quickly.
“I fell into the wrong group of people. I realized I needed out before I ruined my life,” Naimo said. “They were doing drugs, vandalizing property and getting drunk, and I wasn’t like that.”
Naimo follows the philosophy that people are the sum of the five peers they surround themselves with. He removed himself from the group, but was left feeling alone and isolated.
“There were some nights I seriously considered killing myself,” Naimo said. “I lived right next to where Louis and Clark started their expedition. I was going to drown myself.”
The only thing that kept Naimo going was the belief the difficult times would eventually be over.
“You have to go through the lowest lows to feel the highest highs,” Naimo said.
To keep himself busy, he joined theater, a decision that ultimately changed his life.
“I found a new family and purpose there,” Naimo said. “Growing up, it was hard for me to express myself and communicate, but theater gave me an outlet to do that.”
One of the things to drag him out of this dark place was the purchase of his first camera.
Naimo’s friend Brendan Batchelor had his 15-minutes-of-fame when his photos of a girl’s senior pictures in Taco Bell went viral. Shortly after this, he decided to invest in a newer camera, so Naimo bought his old one.
“It was the camera he learned to shoot on; it was his baby. It meant a whole lot to me,” Naimo said.
Naimo used urban exploration to document some of the abandoned buildings in his hometown.
“I would take pictures of beautifully crafted buildings that had been abandoned. More and more, these buildings are being demolished and replaced by cookie cutter housing developments,” Naimo said. “I just wanted to preserve it as much as I could.”
One of the things Naimo loves about art is how much there is still left for him to learn.
“I took photos of the stars for the first time and I was amazed about how much I could see,” Naimo said.
Eventually, he wants his company to incorporate his photos as well as his artwork.
“One of the reasons I started this company was because I wanted a foundation to put my art out there,” Naimo said. “I really hope this takes me on my next big adventure.”
Regardless of where the company ends up, Naimo is proud of what he accomplished and thankful for what the experience taught him.
“I am an artist. It is what I was meant to do,” Naimo said.