With a background as a stockbroker and the powerful build of his father — a pro football player turned police officer — it’s no surprise that Mahlon Williams owns a business, or that it revolves around sports.
What’s hard to believe is that his entrepreneurial streak can be traced to selling hand-knit snowflakes door to door as a boy.
“My father could crochet like nobody’s business, and because he was so big nobody made fun of him,” recalled Williams, who founded Boston Sports Apparel Co. in 2008. “He would make these snowflakes and send me and my sister out to sell them. I would pray to God that I did not run into anybody I went to school with.”
In many ways, Williams is still that kid hawking homemade crafts on the street.
Boston Sports Apparel, based in Everett, doesn’t hold a merchandise license from any professional team or league. You won’t find the company’s T-shirts — cleverly designed without trademarked logos — in the pro shops at Fenway Park, TD Garden, or Gillette Stadium. But if you’ve visited any of those arenas, you’ve probably seen Boston Sports Apparel stands outside the gates.
Williams became a diehard Boston sports fan a decade ago, after moving to the city for a job at Fidelity Investments. He left the company in 2010 to focus on his startup and has carved out a niche making tees that mesh sports and pop culture.
Williams’ company hit the big time last year, when Sports Authority started carrying some of its shirts in New England stores. This year, the retail giant asked Williams to produce tees for non-Boston teams that it could sell all over the country.
Some of his most popular shirts are meant to be inside jokes.
A best-selling hockey tee in the colors of the Montreal Canadiens reads “Canadien Dive Team.”
The design appeals to devoted Bruins fans, who love to mock top rival players for diving to the ice in an effort to draw penalties.
Even with a major distribution channel, Williams is still a street vendor at his core.
“The big thing for us is we always have to be out on the street because that feedback from fans is so valuable,” he said. “That’s a free focus group.”
Know a cool shop in Boston? E-mail email@example.com.