Ramapo alum Eric Bonkoski is a local example of Gen Z’s affinity for entrepreneurship in action. Graduating last spring with a degree in marketing, the Sloatsburg native is the owner of Turtles Fitness and co-owner of Promofect, a screen printing and embroidery shop five minutes from campus in Suffern.
When asked about his decision to attend Ramapo, Bonkoski said it was an easy one to make.
“My mom and my grandpa both went to Ramapo. It’s a generational thing. I was kind of meant to go to Ramapo. It was a perfect storm,” he said.
Entrepreneurship was also something Bonkoski had been interested in for years. He grew up running multiple businesses, like a lemonade stand, a snow shoveling business and landscaping. He knew he wanted to own his own business, but saw the importance of pursuing a college degree first.
“Marketing, I thought, was kind of the perfect storm where my cousin did it and she was very successful and I thought ‘All right, let me follow in her footsteps,’ and if I do want to go off and do my own thing, I can,” he said.
The idea for Turtles Fitness was born when Bonkoski was in high school. The turtle logo for his business was inspired by his pet turtle he had growing up named Frank. He and his friends started making stickers with that turtle at first but decided to take the idea further.
“People were like, ‘You should make this into a t-shirt.’ And I thought, ‘All right, cool.’ At the time, me and my friends were all very big into the gym in high school and we were like, ‘You know what, let’s make Turtles Fitness into a thing,’” he said.
They started selling the design during lunch and school and the business began to take off from there.
One of the most important lessons from Ramapo when it comes to his business, he said, is consumers and consumer behavior.
“A big thing I learned from Ramapo is brands listen to their consumers and they’re unique. They know what their consumers want and they sell exactly to that. That’s kind of a big thing I took away from Ramapo and use in my own business,” he said.
Bonkoski’s ideal consumer is the Gen Z crowd. Turtles Fitness’ advertising and brand is heavily focused on social media, which can be seen on its Instagram, Facebook and TikTok accounts. There, the company posts images of new clothing, updates about drops and fun photos of the Turtles Fitness and Promofect team. The company also had a partnership with the Rockland Boulders.
However, Bonkoski said Turtles Fitness as a brand is not exclusive to just Gen Z or the gym crowd.
“We also try to show ourselves as being a brand for anyone where it doesn’t matter if you’re old, young, in shape, out of shape. As long as you like fitness and the idea of the turtle, this brand is for you… We have people that are 50 years old that just started going to the gym wearing our shirts while we also have guys who have been going to for 20 years wearing our shirts. It’s just kind of fitness clothing for everyone,” he said.
Instead of having a store open 24/7, Turtles Fitness operates by releasing clothing in drops. He said the idea came from how popular it is to see with streetwear brands and to keep products unique.
“I feel like a lot of brands that just leave their designs open 24/7 all the time kind of get stale, they get boring. It also doesn’t make it kind of unique and also rare. Whereas, if someone buys a shirt from us, that’s it. Once we’re done with the drop and sell out, no one can get that shirt again and it makes people feel they have something special,” he said.
Turtles Fitness also never remakes a design, Bonkoski said. Every new drop takes about a month, from production to launch on the website. He comes up with the concepts, while his two designers create different mockups and those designs are usually posted on Instagram stories for consumers to vote on. Everything is produced in-house at Promofect.
The most recent drop launched on Oct. 8 and featured new t-shirts, a duffle bag and a quarter-zip pullover made in collaboration with Colombia. Bonkoski said he tries to keep products affordable. The t-shirts were $20 each while pullovers ranged from $45 to $49 depending on quality. The drop ended on Oct. 19, but you can follow their Instagram account @turtlesfitness or their Facebook and TikTok for updates on new drops and for the drop store link.
Photo courtesy of Eric Bonkoski.