Squidfire Spun From F.C. Roots

Squids, crop dusters spreading love, the grim reaper, gargoyles and smiling vegetables – these are but a handful of Baltimore-based Squidfire’s latest wares for the hip T-shirt aficionado.squidfire.jpg

Since 2004, Squidfire’s has shot out dozens of hot designs from its warehouse down in the Greek quarter of Baltimore. More recently, since this past September, Squidfire has its own storefront in Baltimore where the independent T-shirt company offers a wide assortment of shirts, shoes and accessories for men and women of all ages.

These vibrant and often wacky threads are the brainchild of ingenuity and sweat on the part of Squidfire’s co-founders, Kevin Sherry and Falls Church area native Jean-Baptiste Regnard.

The precocious Regnard speaks at a frenetic pace – nothing short of necessary for the intensity of his job at Squidfire or for his professional life before running the company.

Of the two young men who run the fledgling and highly successful Squidfire, Regnard is the consummate businessman: accountant, public relations, shipping and handler of the nitty gritty of private business.

While Regnard is designing the public image of Squidfire, he leaves the task of designing the eye-catching threads to Sherry.

As the head of a growing business, Regnard has capitalized on his childhood desire “to be a businessman,” he says.

That story began at a young age for Regnard, in the Pimmit Hills area of Falls Church, where the son of French and Costa Rican parents grew up, attending St. James Catholic School here.

Regnard has always enjoyed working “hands on, rather than listening to other people,” adding that he “never, ever wanted to go to college.”

It was at the school that the young Regnard’s venture capitalism started modestly enough – the lemonade sales, picking up profits here and there as the opportunities arose.

At 14, however, Regnard looked to hone his business acumen in the office place, working for a public relations firm.

After graduating from Madison High School in Vienna, where his parents still live, Regnard worked across the D.C. metro area.

Along the way, he found several corporate jobs that gave him experience and paychecks, stashing his earnings in the bank as he lived at home.

But as a self-described “sneaky dude,” Regnard sought greater challenges, and at 18, with no prior experience in real estate, he purchased his first home in McLean.

“It was like being a working professional,” says Regnard, taking advantage of the cheap publicity of the real estate world, with some advice and help from a sympathetic real estate agent. Playing the Northern Virginia real estate market in the late 1990s helped Regnard along as well, racking up a substantial savings.

By 2001, with the country reeling from terrorism and financial woes, Regnard found “money was scarce” and changed his game, moving into the District and taking up a “real job” at Ernst and Young.

Only a short time into his job at one of the world’s biggest auditing firms, and Regnard felt a “shock to his system.” He concluded that Ernst and Young was “a horrible, awful place” for him. A distaste for working in corporate America left Regnard to ponder a future elsewhere.

Awash with cash from his savings and after he liquidated his real estate investments, Regnard contemplated traveling up to New York City and enjoying a total spending blitz. For Regnard, it was “the rock star thing to do” – till he realized the daunting task of spending $5,000 a day on himself seemed a waste.

Rather than splurging the money on himself, Regnard turned to investing it as capital in a new business. With his friend and co-planner Sherry, who graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art, the two brainstormed during the summer of 2004. “We were always shooting out ideas,” says Regnard, thinking about where they would make a niche.

Regnard recalls one idea being bandied about was starting a hookah bar near Skyline Drive. The overall goal was to find a unique business, he says, where they could capitalize on customers’ interests.

Eventually, they arrived at T-shirt design, which would become Squidfire – a concerted effort that utilized the strengths of Regnard, the feverish businessman, and Sherry, the prolific artist. The name Squidfire came to the duo after weeks of poring through possible web site addresses, and voilĂ , the company was born.

Their design relationship allows Sherry a good deal of artistic license, with Regnard as the final “green light” for smiling vegetables or other prints of Sherry’s to see their time on Squidfire T-shirts.

Most of the time, however, Regnard says that he stays silent in the creative process. “I’m not a maniac,” says Regnard when it comes to his own artistic drive. That said, he claims that “some of the bestselling shirts we’ll collaborate on together.”

For Regnard, the most “nerve-wracking part” of the job is preparing the web site for the new releases. Squidfire released its latest line-up in May.

Just as Squidfire is not the typical designer or fashion-fad T-shirt, Squidfire’s prints are, neither complicated nor too glitzy. One shirt depicts a sparrow perched on a tree teaching lessons out of a picture book to a small host of baby sparrows; another has some dancing veggies. The reason for these nonsensical designs? The genius is in the mundane, says Regnard. “There’s no explanation for them.”

Regnard says that he likes the Baltimore niche. It’s there that Squidfire has made a significant name for itself. When Squidfire first opened up shop, Regnard recalls how “everyone came out to support us because we’re a hometown story with a prominent location in a tightknit merchant community.”

Nowadays, Squidfire is coming close to fulfilling Regnard’s “global intentions” for the enterprise, selling shirts across the globe. With Squidfire T-shirts sold online at the company’s web site, at the Baltimore store, street festivals and art shows and, with plans to reach more than 100 clothing boutiques worldwide, the business continues to prosper.