Promotional Apparel Goes for a Ride
What does the subway, an idea, the promotional products industry and the Big Apple all have in common? If you ask Lynne Lambert, founder/CEO of NYC Subway Line, an apparel/accessories supplier based in Chappaqua, New York—everything.
Lambert’s journey literally began approximately 10 years ago when she worked as a voice-over/radio commercial actress in Brooklyn, N.Y. “I was slopping around on the subways to auditions and bookings. Then, one day, I looked up at the subway sign and wondered why no one had done anything with this cool imagery,” explained Lambert. “The subway is quintessential New York City, and is an integral part of New Yorkers’ everyday life. Our subways are really a part of our lifestyle. Research shows that New York City would come to a complete grinding halt if the subways were not functioning.”
In her travels [which comprised of an abundance of train rides every day] Lambert observed the New York City subway system as a sort of cultural melting pot—much like the above-ground metropolis it serviced. “In one train car there would be guys in $500 suits on their way to Wall Street sitting right next to welfare mothers and their young children or construction workers,” she said. “Everyone was together and not isolated from each other by money, class or race. We were all riding in that little tin can under the ground or waiting for those little tin cans to arrive. I became very fascinated by it.”
Churning inside of Lambert was the idea of producing apparel with the New York subway system as its sole focus. With no prior knowledge of the garment industry, she took her idea to the New York Transit Museum, which at the time, she said, had very little product. “I introduced the museum to my idea for T-shirts and other accessories that I thought would be great for them. They asked me to draw up some products. I did, and they became very interested in the idea.”
That was only the first leg of Lambert’s journey. The Transit Museum then directed her to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the governing body for the subway system, for approval of her idea. Within a short time, the MTA gave Lambert the license to legally use the likeness of its train letters, numbers and subway maps for her new business.
“When we first started, people were not interested in wearing clothing that represented the subways, which had a reputation of being dark, dirty and dangerous,” she admitted. “However, over the course of the years, the subways have undergone quite an upgrade, which has been helpful.”
Not only has refurbishing of the subway line added to the company’s growing popularity, but Lambert said people began developing a strong affinity for the trains they traveled on everyday. As word got out about the company, Lambert said her T-shirts and accessories began showing up in movies, on MTV, BET and even on the backs of musicians and high-profile rappers. To date, NYC Subway Line products have been featured in movies, including “Bring it On”, “Little Manhattan”, “Prime” and “Take the Lead”.
“We’ve recently given some wardrobe pieces to cast members of a new movie that’s currently shooting in the city,” she explained. “The rapper Fabulous wore our Brooklyn Subway Map T-shirt on a Rock the Vote video that was shown on MTV, and former president Bill Clinton has worn our T-shirts.”
Surprisingly, with the measure of success the company has enjoyed to this point, Lambert said NYC Subway Line is primarily a one-woman show, with just her and an assistant at the helm. She said much of the company’s marketing has been through word-of-mouth and sheer luck. “We’ve recently negotiated a long-term, exclusive license with the MTA, which will help us to really grow the business,” said Lambert. “Until now, we’ve been so small that we’ve been very fortunate to have people find us.”
With the new MTA license agreement, NYC Subway Line will now offer a host of other items with the city’s signature subway symbols. “We plan to make subway jeans and are introducing a line of hoodies in time for holiday delivery,” she said. “Underwear and blazers are also in the plan. Our goal is to create a full fashion line, both for the United States and internationally. Our products are all about New York, and many people have a lot of affection for the city.”
Lambert is obviously on the right track. Within the past two months, Dr. J’s, a New York-based urban specialty store chain, has agreed to carry all of her company’s products in its stores. “Dr. J’s is among a handful of similar stores that is known to be a pacemaker for urban fashion,” she explained. “When buyers come in from different parts of the country, Europe or Japan, they look to see what Dr. J’s is carrying. We would love to be in Macy’s within the next year or so, and some of our products would be a good fit for Urban Outfitters.”
Besides the obvious, Lambert noted that her company’s products are unlike most others found in the promotional products industry. “Our messenger bags feature a pocket on the outside that can be used to hold train fare, an identification card or a business card,” she explained. “That way, if a customer places his or her business card in the pocket, recipients will know who the product came from, but when they want the product for personal use, they can remove the customer’s business card. Some people are not comfortable with wearing a company’s brand on their clothing or accessories.”
About a year ago, Lambert came up with another idea that is representative of the whole New York City experience—scenes from Coney Island. “We are using the Side Show banner and other scenes from Coney Island as another way to popularize imagery from New York,” she said. “Oddly, no one ever thinks about the beach when they think of New York; but here’s this big, white, sandy beach in Brooklyn, and all you need is subway fare to get there and spend the day with your family. The side show has been in existence for a very long time.”
Going forward, Lambert said the company is looking to find the right strategic partnership to help it grow.
“I know there are a lot of companies out there who are very experienced in the industry, and who could put booster rockets on our concept, which we think is very strong, and help us take the next step in our growth.
For more information, call (914) 238-7883 or visit www.nycsubwayline.com.