Member of Adelphi University’s 10 Under 10
Co-founder and Co-owner of South Shore Customs
Even when he was very young, Kevin Ciminelli ’12 was passionate about art.
Ciminelli grew up in Wantagh as the second youngest of four boys. He credits his older brother Bryan with igniting his passion for art. “He was really into art and he got me into it,” Ciminelli said. “Since I was about five years old I’ve been painting, drawing and writing. I came up with hundreds of different animated characters and stories that I still have saved.” When he was in middle school, Ciminelli started using his computer to create art. “I saw a couple of artists on the internet who were doing stuff like web comics and that inspired me,” he said. “So I started making these little video games which introduced me to things like coding.” During that time, Ciminelli also discovered artwork by Eric Drobile, an animator who specializes in a wide range of styles. “I followed his work closely,” he said. “Eventually I got in contact with him and he sort of mentored me and showed me some things.”
In high school, Ciminelli started a t-shirt printing business with his close friend and classmate Ian Borneman. “We just wanted to put our artwork on t-shirts,” said Ciminelli, “That’s all we wanted to do.” Ciminelli and Borneman started working out of their families’ homes printing shirts by hand on the floor. “The business was just a baby back then. It was nothing like it is today,” he said. “I had literally hundreds of shirts lying around my room and drying on clotheslines outside. We were originally just designing shirts for friends and local bands and the business grew from there.”
Ciminelli chose to attend Adelphi not only because he wanted to stay close to home to tend to his business but also because of the University’s campus, faculty and staff. “Of all the campuses I visited, Adelphi was by far the most amazing,” he said. “I liked how modern it was and I liked how supportive and helpful the staff and faculty all were when I did my interview for the art program. Everyone had such amazing energy. You could tell they had a passion for what they were doing and really valued their students.”
During his initial visit to Adelphi, Ciminelli met someone who would profoundly impact his life: Professor Dale Flashner, Adelphi’s director of the graphic design studio. “I loved all the classes I took with her,” he said. “I was given the opportunity to pretty much do anything and everything. It was practical because you were designing for clients and things of that nature but it was also very experimental and exploratory. For instance, with our senior thesis, you were allowed to be your own boss.”
Ciminelli’s thesis eventually turned into another business venture. For his thesis, Ciminelli formed the Passenger Project, an organization that from 2012 through 2014, sold clothing through an online store. Every piece of clothing sold generated donations for a different charitable organization each month. In two years, The Passenger Project helped raise over $18,000 for various causes. “The company was an experiment in marketing, crowd-funding, and raising awareness,” Ciminelli said.
Professor Graham Hanson, who was Ciminelli’s introduction to business professor, helped guide him through the process of forming the organization. “I originally just thought that we would be a 501c3 charity,” said Ciminelli, “But, the structure to be a 501c3 is very rigid and our company was kind of breaking the mold and doing things differently than other charities. Professor Hanson helped me navigate through all of the paperwork. We decided not to become a 501c3, but we did all the things a charity does.”
During his time at Adelphi, Ciminelli found more guidance and inspiration from alumnus Jon Contino at one of University’s visiting artist events. “He was so inspiring,” Ciminelli said. “He opened a door to me that I didn’t even know existed. His artistic style and his story were just amazing. He is one of the greats of our time.”
Also, while he was at Adelphi, Ciminelli secured an internship at Sawyer Studios, a full service marketing and advertising agency providing media, digital, and creative services to the entertainment industry. While at Sawyer Studios, Ciminelli worked with HBO and other prominent clients in the entertainment industry.
Following Ciminelli’s graduation from Adelphi and after years of growing their small business and perfecting their craft, Ciminelli and Borneman moved their operation to a storefront location in their hometown of Wantagh. “We only decided to move when we knew we could be more successful,” Ciminelli said. “I don’t believe in doing anything you’re not sure of.”
Ciminelli and Borneman have since moved to a larger space in Amityville to meet the demand for their products. Today their company, which is now known as South Shore Customs, designs and prints t-shirts for clients such as Massapequa High School, Calhoun High School, and Wantagh High School (where Ciminelli and Borneman first met as classmates). South Shore Customs has also been tasked with designing and printing shirts for other clients such as the globally recognized band Radiohead. “We got a call from their people who asked us if we could produce and deliver 1,000 shirts to Madison Square Garden in a single,” Ciminelli said. “We printed the first 500 and Ian drove them to MSG while I made the next 500. He picked those up and went right back to MSG to deliver them. It was tough, but we got the job done.”
Ciminelli says his greatest professional accomplishment is, “Just being here. We didn’t give up.” He credits Adelphi with helping him achieve much of his success. “Adelphi gave me the freedom to discover who I was as an artist,” he said. His advice for current students is, “Don’t squander the time. Put in the effort, pursue things with passion and explore as much as you possibly can.”