When UTSA launched its football program in 2011, student Chris Allison, sensing an opportunity, created a fan site offering everything from game tickets to team apparel. The site wasn’t meant to be a money-making endeavor — he sold apparel at cost — but a hobby to help keep fans connected and engaged.
More than a decade later, the former police officer and U.S. Army veteran in early 2021 launched Palms Out Apparel, an online store spun off from his original site that sells UTSA hats, T-shirts, hoodies and accessories.
Palms Out Apparel (a reference to UTSA’s distinctive “birds up” hand gesture) is a side hustle for 44-year-old Allison, who works as a financial analyst for a local financial services company. He earned two undergraduate degrees as well as his master’s degree in finance from UTSA in 2015. The idea for the company began to take shape last year, when one of Allison’s buddies and a fellow UTSA alumnus designed themed hats for friends and family. Allison offered to manage the distribution of the hats, then the two friends opened up orders to all fans and alumni, selling out their initial inventory of hats in just a few days.
While the two were gearing up for further production, Allison’s friend had to back out of the endeavor Allison said, but gave Allison his blessing to move forward with the company using his design.
“I just picked it up and ran with it,” Allison said. “And it kind of snowballed from there.”
After the initial production run of hats, Allison procured more inventory, selling hats out of his Ford Explorer at tailgate parties and other events. He even enlisted another buddy to help deliver some of the hats.
“I felt like a drug dealer, driving all over San Antonio meeting people in parking lots and at parties,” he said. “But the demand never stopped. And with all the time and money I was investing, I said, ‘Let me really explore this and see if I can do something with it.'”
This is indicative of Allison’s ambitious work ethic. He was in the Army from 1996 to 2002, serving as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division and then another 18th Airborne Corps unit. He later served as a police officer for 11 years, retiring in 2021 from the Blanco Police Department.
As Allison relied solely on word-of-mouth marketing for his new attire business, the orders kept coming, including from markets across Texas and the country.
During busy times of the year, like college football and baseball season, the company sells more than $3,000 worth of goods per week, Allison said. To help manage the growing business, Allison said he brought on four partners to serve as advisors on product types, design and general product feedback. “They are gracious enough to do it pro bono,” he said.
In producing T-shirts and other items, many of which have “210” emblazoned on them (a nod to San Antonio’s area code), Allison said the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office and UTSA system data help the company steer clear of copyright infringements. “It presents a bit of a challenge at times, particularly with customer requests,” he said. “We have contemplated getting licensed and will likely do so in the future once we want to expand our product lines and subsequent growth.”
With the exception of accessories like phone cases, most of Palms Out Apparel’s items are sourced and assembled in the U.S., including hats from Idaho and T-shirts from a small, family-owned printing company on San Antonio’s North Side. The company currently sells hats (priced at about $25), along with beanies ($15), T-shirts, ($25) hoodies ($45) and accessories like iPhone and AirPod cases.
“I’m really big on sourcing items domestically,” Allison said. “I won’t tell you that 100% of everything that is offered is made in America, but I will tell you that’s absolutely the goal.”
At this point, the next goal is to expand the company with additional clothing lines, including Texas-themed items as well as items made specifically for veterans.
Allison said that as Palms Out Apparel continues to take up more of his time, he’s determined not to take on any debt and instead focus on slow and steady company growth, which he said will also help him control product quality.
Allison remains Palms Out’s sole employee. He still ships some items from his home, but a few months ago he rented a small warehouse space to help accommodate the growing inventory. He said he plans to hire someone next year to help manage packaging and shipping.
“I’m trying to be purposeful and taking the revenue from sales and reinvesting it back into the business,” Allison said. “That will allow us to expand into different clothing lines and products.”
Looking forward, Allison said he’d like to one day get his UTSA- or veteran-themed items into retail stores, but not if it means sacrificing quality or his overall objectives.
“This is a business and the goal is to make money, but that’s not the most important thing,” he said. “At this point all our growth has been organic. I know that won’t continue forever, but I want to make sure our products are available to a wide variety of people at an affordable price.”