If you’ve lived in Iowa long enough, you’re probably familiar with Mike Draper’s work. The owner of the Des Moines-based RAYGUN store has brought t-shirts like “Des Moines: Hell Yes” and “Iowa University, Idaho City, Ohio” to the masses.
What started as a single storefront in Des Moines has since blossomed into a successful online store and additional locations in Iowa City and Kansas City, Mo. We sat down with Draper in his Des Moines headquarters to learn more about RAYGUN and its unique history.
What made you want to start a store like RAYGUN?
In 2004 I was a senior at the University of Pennsylvania graduating with a history degree and that segued into me selling t-shirts on the street. My senior year of college my friend and I sold a t-shirt out of a bag and then for the next several months I traveled around the East Coast selling t-shirts out of a bag. And then in 2005 I moved back to Iowa where I’m from and opened the store.
How would you describe RAYGUN to someone who isn’t familiar with your brand?
RAYGUN is the greatest store in the universe. We screen-print our own t-shirts and we design a lot of our stuff from posters, notebooks, coasters as well as glassware and we also sell other products. If you were to walk in, you’d think to yourself, “this is a clothing store.”
What’s your favorite RAYGUN shirt so far?
My favorite t-shirt is probably “Des Moines: Hell Yes” for two reasons: One, we sell a lot of it and you don’t pay rent with sunshine. Two, it was the idea that when I moved, I moved back to Des Moines, which was kind of a surprise because I was moving from the East Coast back to Iowa to sell t-shirts that were really pro-Des Moines and pro-Iowa. It didn’t seem like the best business model. And when I did the “Des Moines: Hell Yes” shirt, the fact that it was successful made me think that people really understood what we were trying to do.
How did you connect with MidWestOne Bank?
MidWestOne kind of fits our goal of working with a bank where, you know, the president is in the building that we walk into to deposit money. Everything can get done within one place. Nothing has to get called in to a different city for approval for what we want to do. They’re also based out of Iowa. We are currently located in Iowa. And so everything about that is kind of the way we like to do business.
What do you like about working with MidWestOne?
When we wanted to open the Iowa City location, our bank here in Des Moines would not loan us money, which was a surprise. MidWestOne not only approved us, but I really liked working with our banker on a personal level. And so we have worked with them ever since. They gave us advice on where they thought we would succeed and over time they have been interested in the business overall.
For more information about Mike Draper and RAYGUN, watch this video.