A T-shirt company in downtown Van Buren got its start a year ago as a project for veterans by a veteran, but has it has grown into a one-size-fits-all business.
BrokenJoes was born from a dream by Jeff “Gonzo” Gonzagowski after his time with the U.S. Army. The orders Gonzagowski takes now are not from officers, but from customers.
Gonzagowski started the company with some basic training in his garage and then upgraded to full-scale equipment with help from Fort Smith Vocational Rehabilitation Services.
T-shirts made by BrokenJoes have helped families raise funds for unexpected expenses from the tragic loss of family members. Families like those of Brandon Gann of Van Buren, who was electrocuted in Oklahoma City’s Bricktown Canal trying to save a man in October.
“I started this just wanting to do something for veterans,” Gonzagowski said last week.
BrokenJoes has grown into a business that prints T-shirts for everything from Fort Smith Brewing Co. to the Bat Attitudes baseball team. While he can also do designs for hats and banners, too, Broken Joes only prints T-shirts now. Gonzagwoski said he can keep his costs competitive with low overhead. His orders have all come through word-of-mouth referrals or his Facebook page. Small runs with a minimum of 12 shirts are available.
Along with his business partner Rick Jones, Gonzagowski also has temp help from Edward Paradela — famous as the model for one of the figures in Guido van Helten’s massive triptych at the OK Foods silos in Fort Smith.
Gonzagowski is a graphic artist by trade, starting out as one of the first crews at Precision Graphics in Fort Smith. He counts Alison Lewis and Cory Brandan as his graphic arts mentors. Brandan, a friend and former colleague of Gonzagowski’s, now spends most of his time as the lead singer of the metal band Norma Jean — now on tour in Germany.
Gonzagowski has drawn inspiration from his friend, Carlos Cotton, a fellow veteran who is from Memphis. Cotton has helped Gonzagowski find some focus to go with his business.
“Carlos said ‘If you want something bad enough you have to speak it into existence,’ so when I could sleep I’d dream about having my own shop,” Gonzagowski said.
Two Marines, Justin and Joey, encouraged Gonzagowski’s dream to become a reality. The buddies wanted to call his shop “Three Js.” With U.S. servicemen historically called “Joes” going back to World Work II, Gonzagowski settled on the name BrokenJoes.
Rick Jones, owner of 515 Main St. where BrokenJoes is currently located, is a business partner now.
“That’s what the military men are called, and so many of them are coming back broken,” Jones said.
Sergio Sanchez Jr., one of Gonzagowski’s best Army buddies from the war in Iraq, was one of those BrokenJoes who Gonzagowski honors. He keeps Sanchez’s Army helmet close by on a white-bearded mannequin in the shop.
Next month will conclude the first year in business for BrokenJoes in Van Buren. After starting out his garage, the shop was first operated out of a building in the 100 block of Main Street and then moved to 515 Main St. in mid-2018.