When Brian Eayrs and John Watkins, owners of the Washougal-based Feed Me Fight Me fitness apparel company, don’t feel like strolling through their 6,000-square-foot distribution center in Building 18 at the Port of Camas-Washougal’s industrial park, they don’t have to.
“The warehouse is big enough that we get to skateboard everywhere,” Eayrs said before hopping onto his skateboard and riding toward the front of the warehouse.
Eayrs and Watkins have built Feed Me Fight Me into a successful business because they’ve tried “to just stay true to who (they) are,” according to Eayrs.
And who are they? In addition to being skateboarders and jiu-jitsu enthusiasts, they are United States Marine Corps veterans who know the value of having strong organizational skills and a dedicated work ethic. What they lack in formal fashion design backgrounds, they make up for in confidence and ingenuity.
“When you make a mistake or are planning for something in the military, you consider not only all options, but all outcomes,” Watkins said. “It’s called ORM – operational risk management. That’s what we apply to everything we do here. Sometimes the risk, the chance of failure, is through the roof, but we still have faith that some of these things will work. It doesn’t really go off of an analytical calculation. It goes by our gut feeling.”
Their gut feelings have turned out to be correct quite often. In less than five years, Feed Me Fight Me has gone from a shirt-printing side gig to a full-fledged fitness apparel business that employs 10 people, is on track to sell more than $2 million worth of product this year and recently logged its 60,000th order.
“It’s maybe not the best business model in the world, but it’s like, ‘We’re interested in this, let’s do this,’ and people have definitely seemed to follow it,” Eayrs said.
Feed Me Fight Me designs, produces and sells clothing items such as leggings, swimwear, shorts, sports bras, hats, socks, shirts and baby and toddler wear with food-themed patterns, mostly from its website, feedme fightme.com. The company has shipped its products to about 50 countries around the world, according to Eayrs.
“We are generalized fitness apparel,” he said. “We do target a lot of CrossFit, powerlifting, mixed martial arts (MMA) and jiu-jitsu (practitioners) — not just your average daily gym-goer, but people who are a bit more focused. However, we are trying to expand and offer some different lines now that are just your ‘all day, every day.'”
And as for the name?
“I made a T-shirt that said ‘Feed Me or Fight Me’ on it. That’s where it all started,” Eayrs said. “People thought it was funny. MMA fighters related to it because it says, ‘fight me.’ Food brands relate to it because it says, ‘feed me.’ In 2015, we got lucky with some timing. ‘Hangry’ was a popular hashtag, so we kind of rode that wave a little bit. People just related to it for a bunch of different reasons, but we never told anybody why they should relate to it. We let them make their own connections and just rolled with it.”
Steady growth leads to northern relocation
Feed Me Fight Me started in 2015 in San Diego, California, where Earys was working as a physical therapist assistant after his time in the Marine Corps.
After ill-fated attempts to print T-shirts in his oven and with a mechanic’s gun, Eayrs purchased a press for $450 off Craigslist and began to print and sell T-shirts.
His business steadily grew to the point that Eayrs had a decision to make: get some help or find something else to do with his spare time. That’s when he reached out to Watkins, one of his former roommates in the Marine Corps who, at the time, was stationed in Hawaii on his final assignment.
“When I started, I basically begged five close friends to do this with me, and I couldn’t get any of them to bite,” Eayrs said. “Then John was in Hawaii and I sent him a shirt and said, ‘Wear this on the base.’ People started asking him where to buy it, and he was like, ‘Oh yeah, you can buy it on the website.’ He got in touch with me and said, ‘Brian, make a website.'”
With Watkins on board, Eayrs launched the Feed Me Fight Me website on April 25, 2015. He moved around a bit after launching his online company: first to Fresno, California for a job, then to Klamath Falls, Oregon, where he grew up, then Eugene, Oregon, before heading back to Klamath Falls.
The company was doing steady, but unspectacular, business in late 2016 when Eayrs and Watkins decided to put doughnut sprinkles on a pair of shorts. That seemingly innocuous decision ended up changing “absolutely everything basically overnight” for the company as it sold 1,200 pairs in the first month.
Buoyed by their success, Eayrs and Watkins decided to expand again. In 2017, they moved to Washougal and bought a house, where they lived, along with Watkins’ wife and two children, and worked.
“We’re used to running as lean as possible being in the Marine Corps. We make the most of what we have,” Watkins said. “We’re like, ‘We’re going to have to buy a house and live with each other. Are we ready to do this?’ Adults this age don’t really do that, you know? He had all of the first level and my family had the second level and we shared some common spaces. For one-and-a-half years he had to put up with living with a family of four. I’m telling you, it could’ve been a reality television show.”
In the summer of 2018, the business moved to the industrial park, and Eayrs moved to the Pearl District in Portland.
“We are both very happy now that we don’t live together anymore,” Eayrs said with a laugh. “There was a lot of lines crossed. We were like, ‘Let’s have some sanity.'”
Owners focus on philanthropy, mentorship
Eight of Feed Me Fight Me’s 10 employees are either active or former military personnel. Watkins believes the skills they learned in the military have translated well to the business environment.
“(We have) discipline, and we’re used to the stress and pressure put on us,” Watkins said. “The standards that we set from the military, not settling for mediocre, set us up for success by providing customers with quality products.”
Feed Me Fight Me regularly donates proceeds to Northwest Battle Buddies, a Battle Ground-based nonprofit that endeavors to supply post-traumatic stress disorder service dogs to military veterans.
“A lot of our buddies have overdosed or killed themselves,” Watkins said. “When I was still on active duty, I was off a deployment, in a room, and I looked my buddy in the eye — he was going through a divorce — and said, ‘Dude, are you thinking of hurting yourself?’ He said, ‘No, I would never do that.’ A week later he hung himself by kneeling down in a closet.”
“I did everything I could’ve. Everybody in that room did everything they could’ve. We’re not the professionals,” he continued. “But if we can’t help them, we know there’s people out there who can. Training these dogs to recognize these episodes, it’s incredible.”
The relationship with Northwest Battle Buddies fits in nicely with Eayrs’ overarching goals for the company: philanthropy and mentorship. He wants to pass along the knowledge he gained along the way to other business owners so they don’t have to encounter some of the obstacles that he did.
“We want to become a fulfillment company,” he said. “We have our own brand, but then we can kind of mentor and guide other smaller brands along the way. I’m sure everyone goes through this – there are people who are willing to help you and there are people who turn their nose up, and we don’t want to be (the latter). I want to be better than some of the people we expected help from.”
They also want to provide mentorship to military veterans.
“We want to create the transition that we didn’t have,” Watkins said. “It’s important for us to share our experiences and pay it forward.”
Eayrs and Watkins have been approached about selling the company, but said they aren’t ready to do so. The way these two ex-Marines see it, their next mission is just getting started.
“I understand that people see the potential, but the thing is, so do we, and it’s our baby,” Watkins said. “I have no fear that we’ll continue to grow and this snowballs. There’s not a speck of doubt in my mind.”