It was Homecoming night and Austin Miller was a sophomore at White River High School when he was first introduced to the drug ectasy. It was a slippery slope from that point on as he quickly slid into using marijuana as well as cocaine.
The end result, Miller said, was a combination of severe depression and anxiety as he tried to quit, and he was still going to school -- or trying to. "Every day was hell," he said. "Mornings you wake up and you think 'why am I alive?'"
For Miller who is now 18, the light at the end of the tunnel came in the form of art -- drawing to be exact. "I focused on creativity instead," he said, and used drawing as a way to express all that he was going through trying to get clean.
Those pieces he created were the start of Icy Life Clothing, an enterprise that is now front and center in Miller's life.
I 'C' Life
In Icy Life, which Miller began with four friends from White River High School, each piece of clothing features a prominent design anchored by the motif of an eye.
That idea was Miller's anchor as well in conceptualizing not only the art but also his company's name. "Our eyes really do see life," he said. "Everyone's pairs of eyes see something different.
Icy Life clothing, then, represents a play on the idea that 'I see life' as well as 'eye see life.'
Two years into his recovery, Miller's body is healing. He's worked with a therapist to deal with the emotional issues related to his addiction, and he says it's all easier to control now. But it's always going to be a battle. Operating Icy Life, however, keeps his mind away from his past, and a strong network of friends and family, along with his art, gives him the confidence and strength to remain clean.
A Community Endeavor
The line-up of Icy Life's remaining founders includes Cameron Albright, Connor McElroy, Jordan Wilson and Trent Rohm. "I wanted a team company based on trust and friendship," Miller said. "We're just weird kids who like making art and putting it on clothes."
Even during his more trying times during his recovery when Miller described himself as "twacky," these friends accepted him for who he was. "I'm most comfortable around them," he said.
Albright, who handles graphic design, said he was excited to work with Miller when he was first approached. The two were classmates in a graphic arts class at White River. "I love his imagination," he said. "I thought it was creative and weird and I love graphic design. When I got into graphic design, I wanted to do T-shirts but I got redirected to advertising, posters and business cards. I changed my mind again after he approached me. I just fell in love with it."
On working with his friends, "I don't feel awkward at our meetings," Albright said. "We're not afraid to throw ideas out there. He [Miller] has amazing ideas and I love that."
With a strong artistic vision, the boys needed someone with business acumen and they found it in Nick Cochran, their graphic design teacher at White River High School. Cochran became their business advisor and helped connect Icy Life to other local companies to get the clothing line started, including Hi-Tech Screen Graphics in Tacoma and Able Embroidery in Black Diamond.
Miller's mother even helped her son with a loan for a recent line that had an unexpectedly high demand. He's paying her back for that, he said, largely through his side business 'flipping' cars.
Currently, Rainier Boardshop in Bonney Lake carries some of Icy Life's clothing, and the team is talking with Zumiez about carrying its brand in its Everett store in the spring, with the potential to expand to other stores regionally if they do well.
A Hit Online
Icy Life Clothing (icylifeclothing.com) launched this past spring but it only got a website up and running in the last few weeks.
How does Miller account for the demand he's seen for his clothing, then? Locally, he credits word of mouth.
Then again, he's filled orders from as far away as Italy and Siberia. That's because of Facebook and Twitter. The team's Facebook page (www.facebook.com/LiveIcy) has more than 5,000 likes and they have more than 300 followers on Twitter (www.twitter.com/IcyLifeClothing).
Miller said he uses Facebook as a testing area to tease designs and get direct feedback from fans and customers. "If they like it, we make it," he said.
The designs have to be special, however. "I strive to be the most unique brand in the industry," he said, explaining what motivates him to spend an hour a day catching up on industry news online in addition to promoting his own brand.
Helping Icy Life along is their partnership with Internet celebrity Kegan Keant. Keant is based in Ohio but has a real-life friendship connection to Miller. Keant also has more than 32,000 Facebook likes and a strong following on YouTube.
Support Icy Life in Online Contest
The contest involves users both commenting and voting for their favorite design. Staff will choose among the top 10 finalists selected by the public to select a winner. The grand prize includes having 10,000 shirts printed free, $500 cash prize and full marketing on the PLNDR.com website.
Voting continues through the end of November with a winner announced on Dec. 5, 2012.
Miller will also be featured in a promotional campaign on Click 98.9 in Seattle soon to promote the contest. Keep checking Icy Life's Facebook page for updated details.
Optimism Back on the Plateau
Winning the contest would give Icy Life a definite advantage in expansion efforts, especially since Miller said his goal is to be youngest clothing brand owner in the world.
"Multiple stores around the world? Easy," he said. "We've done all this in seven months. ... 2013 is going to be a giant year for us."
The team aims to have is spring catalog ready in time for Buckley's Relay for Life next year.
Meanwhile, Miller has one more thing to do before things really take off for Icy Life - he's finishing up online courses to earn his high school diploma. "I've really been busting it out lately," he said.
Between studying and taking tests, working on vehicles to earn capital and running a clothing company, Miller's not complaining about the lack of shut eye.
The experience of creating Icy Life pulled him out of the darkest experiences of his life. "It's my whole life," he said.