Student business spotlight: Uscape Apparel

Jon Davis , Contributing Writer

 

The standard college shirt is a bland gray T-shirt plastered with a college name.

Alumnus Alex Nowlin ’14 and current student Emily Nowlin ’16 realized this is a fixable problem. What started as a Management 101 company is now Uscape Apparel, a nationwide clothing company featuring specialized designs for more than 50 different colleges.

It started in the spring of 2012 with Alex’s Management 101 class. The class splits the students into teams and has those teams create a company, giving University students an opportunity to learn about business processes. Alex’s team managed to sell its entire stock of sweatshirts within the first two hours of sales. When he traveled abroad during spring of 2013, many students from across the nation asked him about his college sweatshirt. He realized that the design was potentially marketable. During the summer, he and former company member Luke Vreeland ’15 incorporated into a limited liability company.

That fall, the two students brought on Alex’s sister Emily to help with design. At the start, Alex handled the finances and marketing while Emily utilized her graphic design skills to design the shirts. During the design process, the product changed from a sweatshirt to a T-shirt. The T-shirt incorporated the college’s colors with a black silhouette of its iconic buildings to create an appealing design. University students find this design to be worth wearing.

“Uscape is a cool way to represent your school and support Bucknellian entrepreneurs,” El McCabe ’16 said.

“It’s a great way to show my pride in my school,” David Kalb ’16 said.

You can purchase the this apparel at Retrah on Market Street.

Due to being a small, newly-founded company that was trying to compete with multibillion-dollar brands such as Nike and Under Armour, many colleges turned them away.

Persistence was the only way to overcome this barrier to entry. For example, Miami University placed an order for 24 shirts in hopes of getting Uscape Apparel to stop calling.

“They blew through the shirts in two days and gave us an order a week later,” Emily said.

Miami University is now one of Uscape Apparel’s largest customers.

Uscape Apparel has changed a lot since the start. Rather than persistently making phone calls to universities, Uscape Apparel employs several sales representatives who pitch the product directly to colleges. The graphic design work now requires several graphic designers, many of whom are University students. Alex is the CEO, working on Uscape Apparel full-time after graduating. The product line has expanded to include tank tops, short- and long-sleeve T-shirts, hats, mugs, stickers, and quarter zips. New products and designs are already in progress.

Uscape Apparel advertises through email blasts and targeted Facebook ads, many of which are often timed around major college sports games.

“When you have a hand in growing a company from the beginning stages into a full-fledged company, it’s very rewarding,” Emily said. 

Alex and Emily are a fantastic example of entrepreneurship, working hard to meet a need that many people did not even know existed.

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