I just want to say thank you so much for being here today.
Whether you’re browsing, reading, or shopping, I wanted to tell you just how much your being here means to me.
Entry Level was an idea I came up with a year ago, right around the time I was supposed to take the March 2020 law school entrance exam. Of course, the novel coronavirus had other plans. Following a surge of cases across the country and a number of lockdowns, the March test was indefinitely postponed and all remaining classes I had with my $1,500 prep course were swiftly canceled. I was not offered a refund in part or whole to cover the classes that were no longer set to be held. They didn’t even extend a rain-check to let me take a course with them in the future for subsequent test dates.
What might have come as a crushing blow and bitter disappointment to some was actually kind of a relief to me. Sure, I was pissed having spent all that money with nothing to show for it. But I was forced to confront a reality I’d been ducking for a long time—that I had zero desire to actually become a lawyer.
Despite this realization it remained a difficult thing to grapple with. Graduating law school and passing the bar had been my goal since college. After my junior year I spent the entire summer interning for the Rochester Public Defender’s Office. The only jobs I applied for my senior year were for jobs in law firms in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. I wanted to work with lawyers. I wanted to work on cases. I wanted to learn how to build arguments and how to analyze evidence. I had a vision in my head of what that job looked like and how I’d be best suited to it. I wanted to experience it for myself.
I remember my first day as a paralegal so vividly. Stepping off the metro in downtown D.C., walking down bustling city blocks flanked on either side by expensive designer stores, Michelin-starred restaurants, and coffee chains that felt comfortable charging $7.50 for a medium coffee with half and half. The firm was nestled comfortably atop a Gucci store, a Ferragamo store, and several restaurants and cafés. Not to mention it took up an entire block in an area comprised of some of the most expensive commercial real estate in the District. Walking into this shiny urban castle, it looked like it was built of 50% limestone and 50% glass. Immediately I noticed how clean everything was. Not so much as a muffin crumb dared touch these slick white tiled floors. There may have been more chrome in that lobby than in the episode of SpongeBob where Squidward goes to the future after getting locked in the freezer at the Krusty Krab.
The interior of the 12 story-building was decidedly minimalist but ornately so, boasting the kind of modern architecture and design that looks expensive but also sterile and uncomfortable, rife with jagged right angles and perfectly smooth surfaces. Think Suits but in a nicer office with even less furniture.
In a way, the building itself served as a metaphor for my naïve perception of what being an attorney was. From the outside, everything looked so impressive, so unblemished—like a beacon of success to all who passed by. But the inside was far more complicated and confusing.
Unfortunately for me, in the two years I worked there, I found the work done by my attorneys to be hideously dull, crushingly tedious, and inescapably time-consuming. Certainly not what I was expecting after years of believing this was exactly the kind of place I was meant to be doing the kind of work I was meant to do. Obviously being a lawyer isn’t as fun in real life as it is on TV but like? Come on, there’s gotta be a little “you can’t handle the truth” type work you get to do every once in a while, right?
Sure it was one job at one law firm and I wasn’t actually practicing law. My experiences would have no doubt been different if I’d worked in an adjacent field doing different kinds of legal work. What if I’d worked in a district attorney’s office, or in real-estate law, or in contracts…? Boy wouldn’t that be fun. In fact, I did take a job at a second law firm, one that dealt primarily in food and drug law. And guess what? Major snooze fest.
So why, after all of that accumulated disinterest, did it take a global pandemic, a postponement of my LSATs, and the canceling of a $1,500 prep course to push me over the edge to finally abandon my pursuit of the profession? Honestly, I felt stuck, like I was trapped in some kind of vortex. I had gotten so caught up in where I was at currently that it had become difficult to imagine myself doing literally anything else other than law. I caught myself wondering why I would even want to pursue a new line of work. After all, why would I sacrifice a perfectly good living to take a chance on some entry-level job that pays less than my current position and might not give me any greater sense of purpose or fulfillment?
It’s kind of a rock and a hard place situation right? It’s hard to know exactly what to do. And that’s if you even have a job.
It’s getting harder than ever just to enter the workforce. Forget a dream-job. It’s hard enough to get a job-job. If you don’t come from the right background, aren’t born with desirable physical characteristics, have access to a certain level of wealth, attend the right school, or know the right people, you’re already fighting an uphill battle in pursuit of a limited number of opportunities that never have enough spots and always seem to be for people more qualified than you. The job market has become so competitive and so specialized that there is now a billion-dollar industry set up to teach people how to be better at applying for jobs.
Having to deal with the pressure of finding work that will compensate you enough to live comfortably is hard enough on its own (especially if you live in a metropolitan area). And that’s before factoring in issues like the student loan crisis, stagnating wages, lack of access to affordable healthcare, the rising cost of housing, and the deterioration of mental health in this country.
So, what does all this have to do with t-shirts? Selling them isn’t going to solve any of those problems. So what’s the point?
The idea behind what motivated me to start Entry Level was one that stands diametrically opposed to any kind of notion that the system in its current form is benefitting you. The entire concept was meant to satirize the power dynamic between you and the company you work for, and more broadly, the relationship between you and the idea of work. You may have been dealt a shitty hand. Maybe you’re struggling to hold down a job. Maybe you’re feeling overworked or under-appreciated. Maybe you’re just trying to figure out your next steps in life. Maybe you think the shirts are really fucking cool. My hope for this brand and the promise I want to make is that it never feels cynical or inauthentic in its messaging. This is a brand for you and I promise that it will strive to embody principles that you are proud to support.
I lost my job due to a COVID-related hardship in August of 2020, about 5 months after realizing I didn’t want to be a lawyer and 5 months after coming up with the name “Entry Level”. It’s weird being let go from a job you already didn’t enjoy. It’s kind of like your college roommate reminding you that you have a 20 page paper due at midnight. Maybe you had the first 5 pages planned in your head for the past couple weeks and now you actually have to write the thing but hey now you only need 15 more pages. Did that make sense? Like you’re desperate, yes. But you’ve also got a little bit of a head start. And that goes a long way.
After losing my job, I figured I could try a couple different things but I would need to act quick.
Number 1. I could look for a job that identical to the one I just lost. I’d be compensated similarly. I’d be familiar with the work. But I’d be miserable.
Number 2. I could look for a new job in a new field. I’d probably be paid way less. I’d be unfamiliar with the work but who knows it could be fun. But it might also suck just as much as my last job and now I’d be poorer for it.
Number 3. Or I could just do Number 1 and take the money I make and use it to do something really fucking cool that I’m proud of that even if it doesn’t last and costs me way more money than it brings in just makes me feel really fucking happy for trying.
Guess we’ll see what happens.
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