We talked at length about the journey Joe took through his upbringing and his time in the military, with all its twists and turns, and specifically how he was able to crack into the denim and apparel industry. A lot of great wisdom regarding being able to realize that as a veteran, you are more prepared than you may realize for some of the challenges you may face.

Aaron  00:09
So super excited to invite Joe Lafko to the show. Joe has been a true treat. You can actually catch one of his other episodes with me as I did feature him on The DFW Business Podcast, but he’s managing partner of Trinidad3 Jeans. He’s a fellow jarhead. And Joe, I just want to welcome to the show, my man. Thanks.

Joe  01:32
Absolutely, man. I’m glad to be here.

Aaron  01:34
For sure. For sure. There’s this great thread of discussion around veterans and then the entrepreneurship journey and for a lot of folks, it’s years long process before they end up jumping off the deep end and doing something in terms of the entrepreneurial journey. And so it seems like you followed a very similar path in that regard. So walk with us through your journey then. In fact, before we do any of that, let’s back up. Share with us the youngest version of Joe. What compelled you to join the military? What did you do when you were in the military?

Joe  02:18
Yeah. So I enlisted back in 2005, which was kind of back at the height of all the insanity going on. Iraq was raging. Everybody had started to kind of forget about Afghanistan because of all the news cycle and things like that. But I was getting to the point where I had a good job and I was living in Orlando, in the Orlando area where I kind of grew up. And I was starting to get to the point where I was a young man that needed some structure. I was getting a little crazy and I actually had an opportunity to join the Army at first. And I did. And things didn’t quite work out the way I wanted them to. And I said, you know what, I’m going to try something else.

I kind of had a sour taste in my mouth just from having to deal with the bureaucracy. So I went down the hall – and yeah, I mean, it happens. The US, the DOD, it’s a big machine. It’s not always going to give you what you want. But I walked down the hall and I saw that wooden plaque in the side of the door that said, “Pound before service”’. So the door is closed. I banged on the hatchet. For everybody else, that’s a door. I banged on the door. And I heard a loud ‘what’ come from the other side. And I knew that that was, you know what, I found my place. So, yeah. And then I had an opportunity after that. Kind of fast forward. And they never promised me really anything other than the chance just to prove myself and earn my eagle, globe and anchor as a Marine. They said everything after that is up to luck, chance or politics. So I said, you know what, I can do that. I can do it. And I left. Yeah, I left for basic training or bootcamp in June 2006, and yeah, off to the races.

Aaron  04:16
Wow. Okay. I can just imagine. So they got the door closed and then just the feeling, it was probably in your gut to actually bang on the door and then, yeah, that is such a clear snapshot of just – it’s a very small glimpse into what life in the Marine Corps can be like. It’s a totally different experience. So what was your upbringing like? So did you come from a military family? Were you the first in your family to join the military?

Joe  04:49
No, I came from a big military family. As a matter of fact, my dad volunteered for service in Vietnam back in the late 60s but he was denied because he had flat feet. So back in the day, orthotics didn’t exist. So you couldn’t really get by that. But everybody else in the family was on my father’s side. They were all either pilots in the Army, Air Force back in World War II. Back in that generation, everybody served practically or in some way, shape or form. And they were all fly boys. They’re were all pilots. My grandfather, my direct grandfather was a B-29 pilot in World War II. And then my great uncles both flew fighters. And then eventually, they flew bombers and then got out of the Air Force in the late 60s. But all of them gave 20 plus years of service. It’s pretty crazy.

And then on my mother’s side, my namesake, the man I was named after was from Mississippi. His name was Joseph Dunn and he became a two-star rear admiral and eventually commanded the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi before he retired down south. And then there was one jarhead in the whole mix and that was my great-grandfather in my mother’s side on her father’s side and his name was Harry Reid and he gave 36 years of active duty to the Marine Corps.

Aaron  06:18

Joe  06:19
Yeah. From 1932 till he retired and then did a couple of years in the reserves and he was with the 2nd Marine Division when he retired for 12 years, but he was all over the place. I mean, he had the coolest career that I’ve ever read about. And it went from being a horse Marine and fighting in Nicaragua. And he actually left basic training at Parris Island early. They kicked him out after four weeks and they said, “Okay. Here’s your rifle. Here’s your blanket.” And that was it. And then sent them down to Nicaragua to fight the Sandinistas which was pretty crazy. It was a pretty harrowing story.

Aaron  06:58
It’s kind of crazy.

Joe  06:58
Yeah. His career is way more impressive than mine to be honest with you.

Aaron  07:04
No. Well, I mean, it’s not every day that you’re like, yeah, I got kicked out of bootcamp early to go fight down in South America or Central America. That’s not something you hear every day.

Joe  07:13
No. It’s not. It kind of sort of reminds me of Archibald Henderson, the grand old man in the Marine Corps left a note for his wife, said, “Gone to fight the Indians. Be back when we won” or be back when we win or something like that. But yeah, so he was all over the place. Crazily enough, he was actually there on the parade ground when they formed the Fleet Marine Force.

Aaron  07:37
Oh, wow.

Joe  07:37
I think it was in the early 40s, either late 30s or early 40s. But yeah, he was the right guide for Company A First Platoon when they formed the first Fleet Marine Force, which was pretty crazy because you don’t really hear about the founding of the modern Marine Corps, but that was the very beginning of what we know today as the Fleet Marine Force or The Fleet like we call it. But he had a gap in service from there until – but well, I say a gap. He was assigned to Washington to somebody, Department of State or something like that, and worked in Europe. And then after that, he had an assignment to the OSS in the mid-40s or early mid-40s. So ‘42, ’43, somewhere. And then I think after that, it was Saipan, Tinian, Peleliu, somewhere in there mixed in and earned a silver star at Peleliu, which was crazy. Because those guys – modern combat, it’s just two different universes from what it was back then to what it is today. But alongside a lot of heroic people there, I mean, that was a complete and utter bloodshed of an instance.

But anyway, when he finally retired and all that kind of stuff, I have one memory of meeting him when I was a baby, but that’s kind of it. But he always inspired me and I always heard those stories from my parents growing up. Growing up in Florida, it was, you know, you’re a beach kid, you’re going to surf after school and you’re just kind of riding the cultural social wave or whatever, but his service always kind of stuck with me. And when I had an opportunity to jump at it, and I saw that that door was there, I knew I had to take it. And it was one of the scariest moments of my life, looking at that sign and getting ready to bang on that door. But I’m really thankful that I did. The Marine Corps gave me everything I ever needed to be successful, whether I knew it or not. It prepared me for the world in ways that I couldn’t possibly imagine at that time. I’m really thankful I did.

Aaron  09:54
Absolutely. And I’ve heard that time and time again. People don’t always understand the positive impact that it’s had on your life until years, if not decades later. And so that’s really cool. So share with us a little bit then about what you did when you were in and then your decision to get out.

Joe  10:15
Sure. So when I did go in, most of us went in open contract. What that means is you basically are willing to go where they need you. Although I did have a job secure on the contract, so I knew good chance I wasn’t going to get it, but I asked for it anyway and they put it on the paperwork. I wanted to be a fire support man, which is MOS 0861, which was an artillery MOS. And my grandfather when he was in World War II with the 5th Marines and my great-grandfather when he was with the – God, I think it was the 2nd Marines, you’re basically a forward observer. So I wanted to kind of go do all kinds of cool stuff and that was kind of the way to do that.

But as luck would turn out when we finished basic training and then we go to combat training or the School of Infantry, depending on your job. So I get there and we get to finish. The orders are getting handed out for where you’re going to go next. And it said Naval Air Station Pensacola, aviation support. And I was kind of like, well, that’s not really what we asked for. And they’re kind of short answer is, “Well, it’s the needs of the Marine Corps and it is what it is. If you want to fight it, you’re welcome to request master or speak with the commander. And you can bring your case up and if you do get it, it’ll be six months to a year before you get orders.” And I was kind of like, you know what, I’ll take Pensacola. That’s just fine with me. So I took it and I went to school there. I had a three-week school at Pensacola of which we waited seven and a half months or eight months for.

Aaron  12:05
Holy cow.

Joe  12:05
So yeah, it was a lot of standing around. It’s a lot of formation, three times a day. Yeah. I’m not going to sit here and say it was rough. It wasn’t rough. It was boring.

Aaron  12:18
Sure. Just boring, right?

Joe  12:05
Yeah, exactly. And Pensacola, it’s not exactly… let’s say it’s not like Surf City USA or Huntington Beach or New York where there’s things to do on every corner. It’s a lovely town. It’s amazing. But at the same time, when you’re 22 years old, 23 years old and raring to do stuff and want to get out and see the world, it’s not exactly your first choice. So anyway, finished there, had a secondary school at Lemoore Naval Air Station, which is in Visalia, California which is kind of in the high desert. It’s about four and a half or five hours north of Los Angeles, kind of straight due north. Not much there other than fighter jets and cornfields and some dust. That’s about it. But it’s a wonderful installation. Once you get on board and you see it, I mean, it’s amazing. We had a gym that was opened by Governor Schwarzenegger at the time.

Aaron  13:17
Oh, nice.

Joe  13:18
So that was pretty cool to see the Terminator opened the gym. And he pumped iron with all of us and he wanted to come hang with the Marines and he kind of gave us a good pep talk. He goes, “That’s not enough. We’ll put more weights on the bar. Come on. You can do it.” And that was pretty funny. And I mean, he was just an awesomely positive individual and that was really cool. And  I got my orders to VMFA-112 at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth. So it brought me here back home where I am now. And yeah, I didn’t know they had Marines in Texas. But as most Marines learned, Marines come from generally three places in the world and it’s Ohio, California, and Texas. Everybody else has basically a bonus but that’s generally the spiel. But yeah, I was Aviation Ordnancemen there. I worked in the F/A-18 Hornet and my specialty were working on, it was the piece that I always wound up working on that I was pretty good at was the cannon that’s in the nose of the hornet. That was kind of my baby. And yeah, three years, it was basically going back and forth between San Diego at Miramar and at Port Royal, Beaufort, South Carolina doing exercises all over the country. And then we deployed to Iraq in 2009.

Aaron  14:46

Joe  14:46
For OIF 9.2. And we kind of called it the cleanup crew. We were there at the end and then we actually got sent home early. Believe it or not, we were. I say that it was politics that kicked us out of the country but it was because of a political deal, at least as far as I understand it, the Iraqi government didn’t want American fighter jets buzzing around and doing whatever it is that they were – we were supporting over there, supporting our troops and the task forces and the joint task forces at the time. And they wanted everybody to kind of calm down and they wanted to do things their way. So as politics would go, the president said it’s time for the Marines to come home and spend Christmas with their families.

And I’m thankful we did. But we all came home. We did 87 days in the desert. So we were the last Marines in the desert. We were at Al-Asad Air Base, which is kind of in the western part of the country, near the Syrian border. But it’s the biggest base in the country that was like Saddam’s airport/air force palace and it’s where he all his big MiG fighter jets. And the story was that he buried them in the desert there, so that the airplanes wouldn’t blow them up. And that was a sad mistake that he made. God bless 20th century technology. But yeah, we were there and then we made it home just in time for Christmas. Left in late August, came home in early December. And thank God, everybody we went with, we came home with. We’re very lucky. And moreover, there’s something kind of about that deployment that was really unique. It’s that we didn’t expend a single piece of ordnance.

Aaron  16:39
Oh, wow.

Joe  16:40
So we trained super hard in the event that we had to, but luckily, the perfect scenario did happen. One, everybody came home and nobody got hurt, and that was the most important thing that we took away from it. Because when you think about it, if we have to expend a single 500-pound bomb that goes into a structure of some sort because there’s bad dudes in there and they’re looking to do harm to innocent people and they have to do what they have to do when that call comes in. But when you think about the kind of structural integrity of buildings in the Middle East most of the time, they’re not exactly first world, perfect commercial grade structure or residential grade structure, that we would have in a neighborhood here. And when that kind of impact goes into a structure, it levels a whole neighborhood, or at least a piece of it. And there’s huge amounts of collateral damage. And it’s a really sad state. It’s a terrible thing. And we never had to suffer any of that. We were really, really lucky. And also, the pilots don’t have to deal with it and we don’t have to go through that. There’s an emotional toll that goes with it. Yeah, we did our job, but there’s other things connected to it. Second, third, fourth order after effects.

Aaron  17:59
Yeah, for sure, man.

Joe  18:01
So we came home clean. It was as perfect a deployment as you could ask for given the circumstances. We’re very lucky.

Aaron  18:09
Wow, man, glad you made it back in one piece and that everybody had all their fingers and toes and a sound mind. That’s always good. But what was the transition like for you? So where did you end up when you decided to leave the military? What was your first stop?

Joe  18:31
So I got out in June of 2010. So about seven months later after we got home. I actually tried reenlisting four times. Believe it or not. And I didn’t want to stay in the job necessarily that I was in because it’s not what I wanted. And growing up around aircraft, my dad eventually became an aircraft mechanic at Textron. He worked on Cessna citation jets. And so I grew up around airplanes basically my whole life as a kid. I didn’t exactly want to spend the rest of my life fixing other people’s broken airplanes. They’re very nice, very cool broken airplanes, but my time around flying things was kind of done at least from a maintainer’s perspective. And I wanted to go on and do something more challenging.

And I found a couple of other opportunities and openings when we were overseas. And of course, we want to reenlist overseas because it’s all tax-free and all that kind of stuff. There were a lot of bonuses at the time, which is kind of icing on the cake. But the jobs that I had reenlisted to, every time I kind of put my package in, something would happen to it. Whether somebody at the headquarters would lose the paperwork, or an I wasn’t dotted or a T wasn’t crossed. It was just a continuance of a kind of bureaucratic or clerical nonsense. Eventually they came back around and said, “Well, you could serve as an active reserve component where you’d be active duty at a reserve unit and you could be an administrative specialist.”

And I was like, you know what, nobody joins the Marine Corps to do paperwork because that’s not why Marines get excited to get out of bed at the end of the day or in the morning. You don’t want to join the Marine Corps to shuffle pay, right? You joined the Marine Corps because you watch the Sands of Iwo Jima, or you watch Full Metal Jacket or you watch Heartbreak Ridge and Gunny Highway and all that kind of stuff. But nobody really wants to join the Marine Corps because of they just need a job. You join the Marine Corps because it’s hard, it’s a challenge. It’s oftentimes the toughest thing we’ll ever do as human beings mentally and physically. And it was just not something I was interested in. So I said, “You know what, I’m just going to take my DD 214,” the paper we get when we get out and separate from the military. And I said, “I’m going to find a challenge in the civilian world.”

So I got out. I was kind of sour grapes about it. I didn’t want to get out necessarily, but it is what it is. I had some tough time in separation. I missed that camaraderie. I didn’t miss the Marine Corps like I thought I did. And of course, every time somebody gets out, you always think, oh, well, I should think about going back in if I’m not happy in the civilian world. And that’s definitely a terrible idea for most people. Because the Marine Corps, unlike the other services, literally changes every day from a big picture perspective. The Marine Corps of literally yesterday is not the same Marine Corps it is today and tomorrow it will be different too. We just have to stay light on our feet and we’re always moving, right? We’re always in movement. We’re always on deployment. We’re always doing something.

So I thought about other things. And I was like, I’m just going to go back to school. Finally settled on school. I was still kind of perturbed about the separation and the way things went. I felt like, you know, I had a kind of a bout of self-righteousness and it was like, you know, I wasn’t given a fair shake and it’s somebody else’s fault and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And then I remembered I had this gunnery sergeant who was my supervisor on our deployment and when I got out. His name was Gunnery Sergeant Valdez, Steve Valdez. So shoutout to Big Steve over at Lockheed Martin where he is now.

But he told me something that never left me ever. And he said, “Look, at the end of the day, no matter what happens, you can’t do everybody else’s job and the only person responsible for you and your livelihood is you. So you need to make the choice that you feel is going to be the best thing for you today, tomorrow and whenever. You can’t rely on other people to do that for you because they’re looking out for their own best interest. You’re not first in their life.” So that stuck with me. And I’d said to myself, thinking about that, I’m going to go back to school and give it a shot because I know that can do me well. I had the post 9/11 GI Bill and all of that. So I was like, you know what, I’m going to give that a shot.

So I did. I went back to school and went to community college for a while. And I realized I didn’t fit in very well. I was incredibly bored with the work. After the first semester, I felt like I weighed 300 pounds mentally. And I said, there’s gotta be something more challenging where I feel like I’ve got all this energy, I’ve got all this motivation, I’ve got to have something to offer. But I feel like I’m just grinding gears here.

So politics came around and I heard an ad. I heard a political ad for campaign on the radio. And it was on an AM sports radio station or something like that. And I was like, I’m going to hit that guy up. I’m going to see what he was about. And I did. I went and talked to him. I met him and I said, “Hey, this is where I’m from. This is what I’m doing. And I would like to volunteer and learn more about what’s going on.” So I did. I realized I loved it at the time. And then as things progressed, I eventually became a paid member of the staff. And I wound up learning how to confront and talk with other personalities, but it also gave me an opportunity to kind of realize what I looked at in the mirror every day wasn’t the same guy I was when I got out of the military. I had evolved and I had learned and I kind of learned were the direction I wanted to go and how I wanted to kind of be around people again and not just Marines.

Aaron  24:48
Yeah. But what provoked you to call? What provoked you? You hear this ad and, I mean, what was going on in your head and in your life at the time when you’re like, you know what, I’m going to check this out?

Joe  25:02
I was married at the time and it was perfectly fine. There was nothing, no issues at all at the time. And I wanted something more. I wanted to go out and do something that I knew was going to be incredibly hard. And everybody always says, “Oh, don’t go to politics. Don’t go to politics. Don’t go to politics.” And I was like, you know what, it’s kind of like telling Dennis the Menace don’t push the little red button.

Aaron  25:29

Joe  25:30
You know it’s going to get pushed. And I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge or a dare per se. So I was like, you know what, I’m going to give it a shot. I know it’s hard. And it’s one of those things but I joined the Marine Corps because it wasn’t easy. I had other reasons, but because it was hard. And I felt like being the youngish idealistic guy that I was, and I was like, I know I can do something to make a difference. So I joined up and that’s how I got into politics and just kind of one thing led to another there.

Aaron  26:02
Wow, man. That’s crazy. So you did that. I mean, you’ve had a pretty varied career over the last several years. There’s been a lot of different things that you’ve done. Walk me through then the journey of getting to where you are now. What helped you land where you are today?

Joe  26:26
So kind of a multipiece chess move, I guess, or checkered checker’s move, however you want to call it. I got into politics and worked on the campaign. It was in the primary season of 2011-2012. And people in politics refer to that as – because of the redistricting the 2010 census, it was the primary that never ended, or the primary that God forgot. Because basically, it went on, I think, for 11 months and it was supposed to only last like six. So it was one of the most expensive political seasons in history, which they always say that every season. Most money ever.

Aaron  27:14
Well, they always figured out a way to spend more. I’ll tell you that. They got to spend a crap ton of money.

Joe  27:19
Exactly that. I mean, for other reasons, there’s always the PACs (political action committees) and then there’s the depreciation of the dollar. So the dollar today is not the dollar in 2010. So let’s just be real here. But outside of that, I finished the season. We didn’t quite come up victorious, but we put up a hell of a fight and I was real proud of it. And I got a call from a gentleman who had won his congressional district after the general election. I took a bit of a break after the primary and just kind of focused on being a family man. I was a new father at the time in 2012. And I just wanted to stay at home with my little girl and I was lucky enough that I could do that for a short time.

And then I got a call from the Congressman-elect, I guess the Representative-elect. And he said, “Hey, I would like to talk to you about an opportunity being the veterans liaison or the military liaison for our office in Texas.” And I said okay. So I went in and had an interview down in Austin and said, “Thank you very much.” And about a week later, I got a call. And they said, “We’d like for you to join the team.” And we were off to the races and that was congressional district 25 in Texas. It was Roger Williams who’s still the sitting congressman there, who’s a small businessman and preeminent salesman if I’ve ever met one. And working for him was a blessing in disguise. Working in Congress is not one of these places where you go for a high-paying paycheck. It’s the government, right? So I got to continue my federal service, which was great because it goes towards your retirement. But I had an opportunity to meet so many different people from all different walks of life, from people on the street to billionaires and everybody in between.

And yeah, it was a really unique opportunity, but I also got the – best part was I spent two to three days a week down at Fort Hood and around the Austin area. And I got to spend a lot of time with the men and women in uniform from all the services and helping them prepare their VA packages and working on their constituency issues coming out of the military so that they could have a more successful life in the civilian world and that gave me a lot of satisfaction. It’s probably my favorite part of the job.

Aaron  29:41
That’s awesome.

Joe  29:41
Yeah. It was really, really cool. And after that, I started to follow a friend of mine’s company that I had met just through other political connections and saw that what he was doing was really cool. He was working in men’s wear making really cool performance fabric dress shirts and sports shirts and stuff based in Dallas. And he had kind of come into that through politics as well because he was he was an intern on The Hill.

Aaron  30:10
Let’s say that’s a crazy thread to draw. Ooh, you see what I did there with my pun there? That’s a crazy thread. Yeah. But going from politics into that industry, I mean, how does that leap even happen? What’s going on there?

Joe  30:27
Well, essentially, how it actually happened was he had put up on his social media and on his website that he needed some help, some paid help basically for a part-time intern. And I really wanted out of politics at this time.

Aaron  30:45

Joe  30:46
You know, the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze. And it was just too much time away from my family. I was spending six days a week on the road all over the district. And it was too much going on and I just didn’t want to spend that much time away from my family. So then I saw what he was doing and I was like, “You know what, man, I love hanging out with you. We love talking business. And I really want to learn what’s going on. I’d like to apply for the job.“ And he goes, “No, no, no, no, no. This is just like basic intern work for somebody who’s in school.” And I said, “Oh, well, that’s really cool. I appreciate that. But I’ve already applied. So I’m going to come talk to you about it.” And he just kind of laughed at me, kind of like, you’re an idiot. But I was like, you know what, you have to create opportunity. You can’t just sit around and wait for it to happen.

So I was like, “You know what, I’m going to give it a shot. Let me come help you anyway. If you don’t like what I’m doing or it doesn’t work, don’t pay me.” And he’s like, “Okay. Come on down.” So I immediately hung up the phone and started to head that way in Dallas. And I started to think like, if it doesn’t work out, my wife is going to kill me. I was like, you know what, I’m just going to make it work. We’re going to make this work. And from that point forward, that’s how I did it. And I sat with them and he’s like, “I don’t know how this is going to work” or whatever. And I said, “Well, why don’t you let me worry about that. You just give me the things to do. And we’ll put it down and we’ll put the square peg in a round hole if we need to. We’ll find a way.” And that was kind of the startup mentality because at the time, he had an office at a co-working space that was literally a converted janitor’s closet that they turned into an office.

Aaron  32:31
That’s awesome.

Joe  32:31
Yeah. I think it was like eight feet by six feet. It was tiny. And there were four of us in there.

Aaron  32:37
Oh my gosh.

Joe  32:37
And not a single one of us at the time think we’re getting paid. It was pretty amazing. So Kev, thanks for that experience, man. It was exactly what I needed. And it gave me a huge great start and perspective the industry that I love today.

Aaron  32:52
That’s so cool.

Joe  32:52
Yeah, that’s actually how it happened.

Aaron  32:55
Wow. Well, I mean, and mad respect too, right? An eight by six closet getting things started. I mean, you gotta do what you gotta do, man. So I mean, hats off to them for doing – again, just doing what you gotta do. So then what’s the story behind Trinidad3 Jeans? How did that connection happen? What drew you in into that?

Joe  33:20
Oh, man, I wish I could have Trinidad here to tell you the story himself. I’m going to have to introduce you guys. But Trinidad was a machine gunner and he was with 27, 29 Stumps and then wound up on a MEU all over the Pacific, but he was born and raised in the Southern California are, in Oxnard, which was about an hour north of LA, right just south of Santa Barbara and it’s in Ventura County. He had always had a passion for denim and what he basically did was when he was still his last year or two in the Marine Corps, he was stationed at an I&I billet, which is at a reserve unit, but you’re active duty. So you’re kind of the head janitors and kind of looking after the place while the reserves aren’t there. But he had an opportunity to go to night school at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) in Downtown LA, which is a world-renowned fashion school. A lot like the Parsons institute in New York or the Parsons School rather in New York. Sorry. I hope we don’t get yelled at for that.

But anyway, he had pursued denim and men’s wear and things like that. And eventually, I was introduced to him in the summer of 2019. And I think we may have talked about this a little bit on the other episode, but I’ll share it again. And he was introduced by a friend of mine, Eric, who met him in New York. And he said, “Hey, I have this guy that you could use some help with his brand and with his label and you used to work in denim, you love denim and you have a great reputation,” and I’m not blowing my own horn. That’s what he told me. But like, “If you can help him, here’s his number.” And I was like, “Great.” So I called him up and eventually I said, “Look, I’ll be in Las Vegas at a trade show. Take me out to dinner. And as long as I’m still upright and can function, I’ll tell you whatever it is you want to know.”

Aaron  35:19

Joe  35:19
No problem. And for another brother, for another Marine, I’ll do that. They sweat right alongside me. And we went out to dinner and we about closed the place down. So I said, “There’s something special about that.” And long story short, we took some months to get to know each other and put a little free work in there and kind of made some things happen. And we came to a partnership and now we’re business partners today.

Aaron  35:49
Wow. Oh, man. That’s amazing. And it’s interesting. Because like it’s not every day that you hear military veterans going into the business of apparel. I mean, it’s not an everyday thing. So just the fact that there is an interest and there is a passion behind that is really, really cool. It’s not very common. There’s a lot of other more common than not progressions that a lot of folks do when they get out of the military. So it’s really, really neat to hear and kind of see the progression of where are you started and then where you slowly kind of picked up speed and then really ultimate to where you are now. So I just think it’s an incredible story that just shows you that you absolutely can follow your passions. You can follow your interests. You can follow things that really get you excited and you just kind of go out there and figure it out.

Joe  36:46
Yeah. That’s exactly it. You got to work. And the work is excruciatingly hard sometimes. Sometimes it’s pretty easy. It’s just as easy as sending an email or picking up the phone and making a phone call or shooting a text message. I mean, it happens all the time. There’s opportunities in the least likely of places and there’s opportunities in the most likely of places. But they’re never in one place at the same time, right? It’s always going to be really hard or it’s always going to be really easy. You don’t find a lot of things – there aren’t a lot of opportunities in the business world that you work a little bit here, a little bit there, and then it comes to fruition. Most of the time you either find yourself celebrating because you spent a year trying to make something happen and then finally come to fruition or something happens overnight and you feel like you need to go buy a lottery ticket because your luckiest SOB in the planet.

Aaron  37:37
Exactly, exactly right. Yeah. Well, it’s this consistency of continuing to work and to work and to stay diligent. And I’ve made this joke and I actually think it was on a previous podcast episode of the show with Jay Rogers. And we were talking about how it’s the journey of a 20-year overnight success. And so you’ll find people are like, man, where did this dude come from? Where did this lady come from? It’s like all of a sudden things are just blown up in a good way with their business or with whatever’s going on. Then you come to find out actually, they’ve been hustling like crazy for the last 11 years, the last four years, the last 14 years. And then all of a sudden things start to kind of snowball and gain momentum. And so it’s a fascinating study for sure.

Joe  38:30
Yeah. I mean, everybody approaches it differently, right? Which is great because we all bring our different experiences and points of view and all of those kinds of things onto bear whatever challenge it may be. So we’re going to get a different result, even if it was somebody else next to us doing the same thing. And how we approach that – especially as veterans. As a society, as an American society and American culture, we like to divide things up because that’s how we understand patterns, at least that’s my take on it. So complex matters are most easily understood if you can divide them up into small groups and then put things across the board kind of so you can understand them. The problem is we never really stop doing that.

And what that means is, so now as a society and as a culture, we kind of pigeonhole ourselves and other people into certain areas. So people think, oh, well somebody was in the military, they should be a good firefighter, police officer, paramedic or whatever something in continued civil service. Because that’s how they understand civil service, right? That’s how they understand federal service. They don’t think about, oh, well, it takes a million secretaries. It takes a half a million federal investigators or agents or this or that, or whatever you want to call it, bureaucrats, in order to get the machine to work. So their idea of service is very different. So they automatically think, oh, well, when you get out of the military, you should go be a firefighter or you should go back to school or if you were working on aircraft, you should be an aircraft mechanic because that’s what your trade is.

But what that is – when we look at the 2000s now and forward, what it really is, is they’re trying to solve a 20th century or they’re trying to think about a 21st century problem with 20th century thinking or even 19th century thinking. And that’s not going to get you anywhere. It’s not innovative, right? And not that it lacks innovation, but it lacks any kind of thought at all. Because it’s just kind of how you want to see the world. And as that grows, as our population has grown, at least in my worldview, it’s become kind of systemic and culturally invasive with people coming out of the military. Because look, college isn’t right for everybody. It’s right for some people that they want it to be right for them or for any other kind of specific reason. But just the same way the police department might be good for some folks because they’re naturally better with people or they enjoy that part of the job or whatever it happens to be. And that’s fine.

But I think as a society, we kind of pigeonhole a lot of people coming out of military service and we don’t give them the credit that they deserve simply because of the fact that a lot of the American population doesn’t understand what military service is in totality, right? They just know that my cousin Bill was in the Air Force. He is retired now. Okay. Bill’s 42, right? He’s got another 20 to 30 years of good work left in him if he wants it or whatever he wants. So he doesn’t just have to be an airplane mechanic or be a security guard or do things like that because we’re so much more than that as human beings. We’re more than just what society kind of thinks we ought to be.

Aaron  42:01
Yeah. That’s real. That’s really, really well said. And one, I mean, obviously, there’s nothing wrong with continuing that. You have a passion for security or for aircraft maintenance or whatever, go do that. But to your point, though, don’t allow yourself to be pigeonholed and be told that that’s what you have to do because that’s what you came from. I mean, really, really well said. Because there’s so many different things that we get through training, and I don’t care what branch of the military you come from. We’re obviously a little biased, but there’s a tremendous amount of learning and adaptability that you gain coming out of the military that forces you to look at problem solving in a whole different way. And you don’t get to hire your people, right? When you’re leading a group of people, there isn’t this job board or you’re not hiring and firing people. You get who you get and you have to deal with that. And so it creates a whole different, unique set of leadership challenges and it forces you to look at problems in a whole different way.

I mean, very, very well said. I love that because there’s a lot of people out there who think that they may have to continue on with whatever it is that they’ve been taught to do. And with a little bit of thoughtfulness, a little bit of strategy, a little bit of planning and a crap ton of hard work, you’d go study, you apply. I mean, I mean, you’re a great example of this, man. You went and you basically offered yourself for free to go work at some places just so you could get the experience. I mean, we’re talking very low pay and you’re getting paid well below which what your value is, but you saw you were playing the big game. You’re playing a larger macro level chess game of where you wanted to go and what you want to do. Am I characterizing that right?

Joe  43:49
Yeah. I mean, I think so. I mean, I’m never the guy to kind of pound his own chest about things. So it’s kind of different hearing somebody else talk about my experience.

Aaron  44:01
I just want to do that, man.

Joe  44:02
And well, you do a good job at it.

Aaron  44:05
Appreciate it.

Joe  44:05
But I think here’s really where it threw me off the hardest, and maybe this is why I had such a rough – or this is one of the reasons why I had a rough transition. The first thing that we were told is that we went through the transition assistance preparation program or TAP as they call it. And look, I’m going to criticize it here for a second. Maybe it’s changing now.

Aaron  44:32
No, it’s all good.

Joe  44:33
But the thing is that, look, I understand you can’t be everything to everybody and you’re not going to have a one-size-fits-all program from the American government that’s going to work really well for anyone, much less a group of people. But the thing is that the first thing they told us after we filled out our name cards like kindergarten, you fill out your little name card, you put it on your desk and you have your seats and that’s where Joe sits. And the day one, page one, they said, “This is how we’re going to prepare you for the job world.” They said, “This is how to write a resume.” And it was like the most ridiculous thing I’d ever been through.

And then the second thing was, how do I apply for unemployment benefits? And it was like a knife in the heart. And it just took the wind out of my sails. Because it was kind of like, well, we were told that there’d be opportunity. We’re told this, we’re told that. And it’s kind of you never really get the whole story until you’re there. And when we learned that it was kind of like, oh, well this is reality setting in, but it also kind of took some time to understand that one, they didn’t want us to be someplace where we were unprepared or destitute or ended up homeless on the street. And I understand that and I give them credit for that. But at the same time, it was kind of in a self-righteous kind of way, it was kind of a slap in the face. It was kind of like, that’s what I’m worth.

And a lot of us had that same point of view from guys and girls who are getting out after 20 years of service versus eight or 12 or four like me. We all kind of thought about it the same way. This is BS, man. And then we kind of break. And then the next day, we came back and we heard from people from the fire department and then we heard from people from the police department and then we heard from city hall. And then we heard from the big defense contractors there in Texas of which they all are in some fashion. And it was just kind of the same old thing from the same old people.

And then the only difference at least to me was a guy came in from the railroad, from BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) and they’re based in Fort Worth and one of the biggest railroads in the world. And he came in and said, “We do a really, really hard job. It stinks you’re away from home a lot of the time, but there’s great benefits. And you get to see all kinds of new stuff and different people and all that.” And he really kind of left it at that. And I was kind of like, that sounds like a pretty good challenge to me. And I kind of wanted to go down that road for a minute and then eventually I found other ways to go.

But the thing was, with the exception of him, it was just the same old stuff from the same old people. And it really didn’t do anything to kind of get the brain juices flowing of continuing to live that kind of challenge-oriented lifestyle or that mission-oriented lifestyle because it just felt like settling, right? It just felt like, okay, well, we go from doing things at a hundred miles an hour especially in the Marine Corps, when you’re always go, go, go, go, go. And we have to do things on a shoestring budget, if we have a budget at all. We always have to kind of procure everything on the go. We never get the cool, shiny new stuff necessarily without huge costs. And we kind of have to make do for a lot of things.

And that being the case, you go from doing that every day for four years, and then all of a sudden, you go to, well, here’s how you apply for unemployment. And it’s like a screeching halt. And it’s crazy that that’s the reality, but it is what it is. And I’m sure the TAPs program has gotten better and there’s more transition assistance and there’s more veteran service organizations that help with that stuff, a couple of which we work with and support personally.

Aaron  48:40
That’s cool.

Joe  58:40
Here in California. Yeah. That really strive to work with people every day to kind of make a better life. But it was that kind of harsh reality that we kind of lit the fire for me to do something better at the end of the day. And just like my old gunnery sergeant said, “Look, if you want to do it and you’re responsible for your livelihood, so you go make it happen.”

Aaron  49:00
Yeah, exactly. And that’s an important trait. It’s important for people to realize you alone are responsible for where you end up and it’s so easy to make excuses and to blame the system or to blame circumstance or blame your employer or your wife or whatever. We can sit here all day and think of every reason in the book to not do something. And I think it’s so important. And one, acknowledge, right? Absolutely, there’s challenges. You may not have seen that relationship blowing up in your face or that business deal blowing up in your face or whatever. I’m not making light of that. But at the end of the day, though, you have to be responsible for you. And you’ve got to get yourself together and to continue to drive forward. And if there’s something that you want to go achieve, you alone have to put the focus and the attention into doing it and then grab a team of people around you to do that.

And so on that note, this is a great segue to my next question, which was for those that are considering the entrepreneurship route, right? So there’s a few different types of people that are listening to this show right now. So you’ve got the group that are either in the entrepreneurial journey. So people like you and I, where we’re leading or partnering in business to get things done. Or you’ve got other people that are in Corporate America that are thinking about – they have this idea, they’ve got something that they want to go do and they’re maybe a little unsure of what to do next. But what advice would you have for people in either of those stages of like, okay, this is what has worked for me in business. These are a couple of really big takeaways that I didn’t know when I started, that I know now. And man, if I could go tell my younger self even five years ago a couple of these little tidbits of information, what do you think those things would be?

Joe  50:54
Wow. There’s so many of them, to be honest.

Aaron  50:58
There are, man. That’s a long list.

Joe  50:59
I wish I could be as eloquent and prophetic is like we hear all these people on LinkedIn as thought leaders, right? Thought leaders. But really, and I think we should go back to those shower ideas, that shower time idea, or those notepads or scribbles or liner notes or whatever you want to call it on your notebooks and thinking about those little things like, oh, wow, that’d be really cool if, you know, and things you don’t see. And when it comes to that, I think the best thing to do, the best way to approach that is one, talk about it with somebody else in an objective manner and get feedback and start putting the work and the due diligence and do some homework. Have some late nights just googling around, looking for things. And you’d be surprised what people make businesses out of.

And when everybody says, well, what kind of advice do you have for businesses? And then everybody kind of wants to start with well, follow your passion. I’m like, well, that’s not right for everybody. Just the same way that civil service isn’t right for all veterans. It really is just find something that you’re interested in or find something that you think you can make better. Because really, that’s the whole point of being an entrepreneur, right? It’s just finding something that doesn’t work very well and convincing people to invest in a way to make it better and whatever that is. And that can be as big as moving an object from one point to another a lot like FedEx and Fred Smith, another Marine. Or you can look at politics and making things better. I mean, countless veterans there. Not enough in my opinion. But with other things, it doesn’t matter what it is. Whether you’ve got an ice cream shop or you make French fries, or you make fried chicken, I don’t care. There’s always a better way to do something or you can create a perceived better way to do it.

But really, it comes down to two things. One, the opportunity itself and whether or not it exists or you need to make it exists. And the other is are you going to put the diligence and hard work behind it? And that’s the two things you have to figure out is, the opportunity, does it exist? And am I willing to put the work in to make it happen? And if you can put those two things together in some combination that you know that you can perceivably be comfortable with, or your family is comfortable with, don’t forget about their place in this world. That’ll cause issues down the road for the business. But at the same time, if you can put those things together, man, you’d be surprised at the wonderment and empowerment you can bring to the world.

Aaron  53:47
Yeah, for sure. No, I think that’s great advice and you’re not shying away from the fact that yes, it requires a ton of work. There’s a lot of sacrifice involved in it. And if it’s something you’re passionate about and it’s something that you really want to go pursue, then you just gotta go out there, and like you said, do the due diligence and do your homework and figure it out, but then just to continue to work hard at it, man. So, I mean, I think that’s solid. So appreciate you sharing that. How can people get ahold of you? What’s the best way to – one, how can they find Trinidad3 Jeans? So where can they buy them and then how can people get in touch with you?

Joe  54:27
Sure. So Trinidad3 Jeans, you can go to trinidad3.com. That’s trinidad the word and then the number 3 (dot)com. You can find us in store. We have eight to ten stores that you can find us in where you can go shop. We’re all over the country. You can find links to that in our social media, Instagram, which is @trinidad3jeans. And then I mean, you can also find us on nordstrom.com. So you can go to nordstrom.com and then go to their search link and hit Trinidad3 and we’ll pop up there and you can check us out.

Aaron  55:02
That’s pretty cool.

Joe  55:02
If people want to get ahold of me, I’m just JL the letters jl@trinidad3.com. And feel free to shoot me an email at any time. And I am pretty busy. Just as a heads up. But I’m always willing to – if somebody has a question or they need advice or somebody just wants to have coffee at some point or whatever, I’m always there. I’m pretty responsive to the best of my ability. So if anybody ever needs anything, I’m always around.

Aaron  55:28
That’s cool. Well, and for those that are watching, listening, Joe shares a little bit more of the Nordstrom story, which is really, really cool, and we didn’t have time to get that, which is perfect, right? Actually, I felt like we did great because there’s a lot of new stuff we talked about today. Not a tremendous amount of overlap from the other show. So if you’re watching, listening, you wanna learn more about Joe, a little bit more his story, we covered a lot of other topics as well on The DFW Business Podcast. And so his Nordstrom story was pretty cool. And there’s a whole bunch of other stuff in there, too, that was really cool. But Joe, man, yes, I thank you for being here. I realize, again, yeah, you’re busy. In fact, you’re out in California right now. So thanks for making time for me. Thanks for making time for the show. It’s been a blast as always.

Joe  56:15
Thanks a lot, man. I really appreciate the opportunity and let’s do it again sometime.

Aaron  56:18
Absofreakinglutely. Yeah, for sure.

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