Is there anything a beach bum hates more than the changing of the leaves as summer fades away and fall creeps in?
For the Will family of Marshfield, summer means walks on the beach, cookouts and family time before autumn brings the return of college classes and frigid ocean air. It was a conversation about the changing of the seasons with his dad in 2018 that put a question in Zachary Will’s head: How can we make the feeling of summer last into fall?
“It was September, it was getting cold at night, so I put on my flannel and he’s being a typical dad wearing a tacky Hawaiian shirt and getting the chills,” Will said. “He said he wanted the feeling of summer to last, and it just clicked.”
That fateful walk on the beach four years ago became a full-fledged business called Kona Brand for now 22-year-old Will. After much trial and error, testing of fabrics and designing patterns, the brand now sells several button-up flannels with the Hawaiian prints commonly seen in months too warm to don a cozy shirt.
“I’m hell-bent on being an entrepreneur and have been my entire life,” he said. “It just kind of clicked – this whole idea of bringing a summer feeling to winter and making people stand out in a sea full of dull.”
Kona started in a bedroom of his family’s home, where he stull runs the business in the summers, but has largely shifted operations to his dorm at the University of Connecticut, where he runs the website, plans new products, packages orders and manages customer service.
Kona sells two hats and three flannels, with more designs on the way. November will bring two new shirts, one with a pattern of swordfish and sharks and one with palm trees and islands. Will hopes to expand into T-shirts with fun graphics, and has recruited his brother Lucas, a senior at Marshfield High, to help with the art.
“I love having Lucas involved. It’s something productive we can do together,” Will, an entrepreneurship major, said. “It gives me a purpose. … It’s overwhelming, my to-do list is so long, but I love it. I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s going to be tough going straight into this as a full-time job when I graduate (in May), but I’m determined to make it happen.”
Designing the perfect shirt is harder than you think, Will said, and he spent months ordering fabric samples, working with distributors and finding the right manufacturers before ever making a thing. The result is a line of shirts with sleeves a little longer than average – meant to fit perfectly after an initial shrink in the wash – and a cloth meant for cleaning sunglasses sewn into the inside corner.
“We’ve had a lot of positive feedback,” he said. “Every now and then we’ll hear from someone random and they’re always complimenting the weight and the style.”
Even more than creating the perfect flannel, Will said he hopes the Kona Brand encourages wearers to live a “care-filled life.” The name of his company was inspired by his family’s 13-year-old Rhodesian ridgeback Kona, and 10% of the brand’s profits go to find homes for rescue dogs. Almost $3,000 has been donated so far.
“I love dogs, so I’ve always wanted to create a business that gives back,” Will said. “Tied to these shirts is the idea of building a care-filled life, a life you live surrounded by the people and things you care about.”
Photos in this post were taken by the wonderfully talented Greg Derr. They were originally published in The Patriot Ledger.