When Nick and Garrett Bernardo were featured on the cover of Harvest magazine in 2013, they were teammates on the University of Maine baseball team who never let their sports success overshadow their faith.
Fast-forward nine years, and the brothers are still teammates, but now, they’ve replaced the diamond with a crown, one that has led to success in business, while not reducing the importance of faith in their lives.
“It’s having your faith first. That is what was instilled in us from a young age, and that is what got us through UMaine, and that is what is carrying us through our business,” says Nick.
“God calls everyone to do different things, but Christ can be at the center of it all if you let Him,” says Garrett.
Nick, Garrett, and longtime friend Scott Klimchak own and operate the NOVUS Clothing Company, based in Albany, New York, near where the brothers grew up. NOVUS, a word that means “fresh” or “novel” in Latin, creates custom apparel for sports teams, athletes, and organizations. It uses a crown as its logo, which the brothers say brings to mind a quote from Scripture.
“We thought about a verse from James 1:12, which is the verse from a poster that hung on Nick’s and my childhood bedroom about persevering in trial and receiving the crown of life that God promised to those who love Him. We thought, with our crown logo, that is the perfect verse that kind of embodies who we are, but it’s also a relatable mission that could connect with anyone,” says Garrett. NOVUS got its start when Nick was a junior and Garrett a sophomore at UMaine in Orono. Garrett remembers scribbling designs on a notepad, which they would then have screen printed on tank tops and sweatshirts. Their first customers were their teammates.
“We had a notebook. We just passed it around the locker room, asking for everyone’s size. We didn’t really say, ‘Do you want one?’ We just said, ‘What color do you want and give us your size,’” Nick recalls.
Before long, their merchandise caught on.
“We basically were selling them for what we were making them for, just to get them out on the guys, and it started to become a thing on campus,” says Nick. “We would get asked, ‘When is the next NOVUS line going to come out?’”
Despite its early popularity, Garrett and Nick still viewed NOVUS as a hobby, and after college, they went in different directions. Having been introduced to missionaries from the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) while at UMaine, Garrett decided to serve as one.
“I had an opportunity to work with FOCUS as a missionary and was sent to Seton Hall [University in New Jersey] to work with the student athletes to help them grow in their faith,” says Garrett.
Nick married a woman he met at one of FOCUS’ annual SEEK conferences and got a job selling insurance in Georgia, where she was serving as a missionary.
NOVUS, however, never completely faded away, and in 2018, Garrett decided to pursue it full-time.
“I had to make a decision with FOCUS, sometime around February, to let them know if I was going to stay on staff or not. I went to daily Mass, and the first reading in daily Mass was James 1:12,” he recalls. “That was my sign and affirmation from God that it’s time to get out there and claim your crown and take this leap of faith.”
The fledgling company’s first major customer was FOCUS.
“At the SEEK conference that they hold annually, we had the opportunity to outfit the conference and do a lot of different apparel for FOCUS,” says Garrett. “We got to see some of our hoodies on hundreds and hundreds of attendees at the conference, and that really gave us a jolt of confidence.”
Nick joined his brother full time, and Scott, who was already working for a sportswear company, helped the brothers understand how to make overseas manufacturing connections. Their first connection was with two brothers in Dubai.
“We’re manufacturing now in multiple countries around the world, but our relationship with these guys to start is really what has catapulted our business to be able to source our own materials and really build out our own custom products,” says Garrett.
NOVUS took off. Their many clients have included Christ in the City, which is a Denver-based missionary organization, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in the Archdiocese of New York, the New York State Police, and the Capital District Transportation Authority in upstate New York.
They also developed a line of apparel for Harrison Butker, the placekicker for the Kansas City Chiefs, who is also a devout Catholic, and through him, they connected with the Chiefs’ pro shop. NOVUS has also created apparel for MLB’s Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies and for the University of Maine Black Bears.
Garrett and Nick say what sets NOVUS apart is the customization they provide.
“Everybody likes to make their own sundae — put whatever toppings they want. We kind of offer that type of experience,” says Garrett.
The brothers say they also want their customers to have an experience representative of the values with which they were raised.
“The faith is never pushed upon our team or our clients, but people know that when they experience working with NOVUS, they get the faith without us really saying it,” says Nick. “We’re trying to be Jesus in our conversations every day when we pick up the phone.”
Although it’s not a prerequisite to work with them, Nick and Garrett say their workforce, which has grown to 10 employees and five outsourced designers, includes several colleagues with similar beliefs.
“We have some really amazing role models within our team of just faith-filled people who call you higher. If there is a feast day or there is a holy day of obligation, they’re trying to get to daily Mass before work starts. It’s really cool, and that’s obviously not the case everywhere,” says Nick.
The brothers say they want NOVUS to be known as a mission-driven company, one that partners with the community for the greater good. It is why the company is involved in several charitable endeavors, such as the Hometown Crown Initiative, which gives college athletes the opportunity to build their own brand, while giving back to their communities.
“We work with so many young sports teams, kids who look up to college athletes who came from their hometowns, so we thought, what better way to work with these athletes than to connect them with the young kids that we’re already working with?” says Garrett. “We’re helping people be outward facing and to use what God has given them to impact others for the greater good. It’s been super exciting to have these college athletes really work with us and put on clinics and summer camps. Then, we’ve developed logos for them, and put them on shirts, which their fans can buy.”
NOVUS also hosts a volleyball tournament that raises money for the American Cancer Society and a golf tournament that supports the Double H Ranch, which serves families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. The brothers also established the NOVUS ‘Claim Your Crown” fund at UMaine, which provides funding so members of championship teams can receive mementos of their winning efforts.
Nick and Garrett say they are grateful for the people in their lives who set a positive example for them, most especially their parents.
“They lived the faith on us, and they were just our role models,” says Nick. “They still have remained constant in the faith through the good and bad. We are so thankful that we have them to look to.”
They are also grateful to Father Wilfred Labbe, who was the campus minister at UMaine when the brothers were there and who later presided at both of their weddings.
“He is just one of our great friends,” says Nick, “He was there for us during a very memorable part of our lives. He was the first priest that we had a real relationship with.”
Despite the demands of a growing business, both Nick and Garrett continue to show that, for them, faith is not out of fashion.
“Our relationship with God is number one, and then each other and our families, and then, we let the rest flow from there,” says Garrett.
The brothers regularly attend Mass, and Nick and his wife, Kirsten, who is a marriage prep coordinator, mentor engaged couples.
“Kirsten is a role model to me as she’s very prayerful,” says Nick. “We do just the simple tasks of making sure we do the readings every morning, but also, we just pray for each other for five minutes each day at any point in the day.”
Nick and Garrett say just as they came to know God at a young age, they want to be sure their children do as well. Nick now has an 11-month-old son, while Garrett is soon to be a father.
“If you have your faith and you have a relationship with God, He can carry you through even when you don’t know where to go,” Nick says. “It’s just knowing that He is there. I definitely want to instill that in my