February 6, 2023
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Life & Culture

WATCH: Students use creativity to cultivate clothing brands

An empty canvas in Adobe Illustrator or a brainstorm session in an entrepreneurship class could be the beginning of a brand or a business for students at Ithaca College.

At least three student groups on campus have created clothing brands that express the personalities of themselves and of their target audience.

Mike Zilvetti, a sophomore integrated marketing communications major, has curated his own clothing brand. Barbed NYC is a lifestyle brand influenced by skateboard culture, hip-hop culture and New York City. While taking Presentation and Graphic Design with Edward Schneider, assistant professor in the Department of Strategic Communication, in Spring 2017, Zilvetti learned how to design and redesign logos and make a mockup of a website in the class.

ZIlvetti began the brand after he took Presentation and Graphic Design with Edward Schneider, assistant professor in the Department of Strategic Communication. (Elias Olsen/ The Ithacan)

He currently has a sweatshirt, beanie and three shirts available for purchase on his website.

Schneider teaches his students “powerful design,” which combines knowledge of technical skills with an understanding of design and its purpose in different industries. He encourages his students to turn concepts into real-life ideas.

Zilvetti said he creates clothing that he hopes will mean something to the people that wear it.

“I think art is really about you,” Zilvetti said. “It’s not what the artist means. It’s what the art means to the person wearing it.”

The process of starting his own brand has inspired him to become more familiar with Illustrator, to learn how to market on social media and to learn how to design his own clothing. He learned how to create an Instagram presence by posting often and following other accounts that are interested in similar ideas.

“It turned my procrastination into productive procrastination,” Zilvetti said.

Barbed NYC has sold over 60 pieces so far, with a $5 to $10 profit for each piece sold, Zilvetti said. Since the profits go back into the brand, Zilvetti said he hopes to use them to move on to higher quality fabrics and manufacturing over time. Although he plans to continue the brand as long as he can, if the brand’s growth exceeds what he can handle, he plans to hire other people to work on the brand or to outsource since he has other career goals, he said.

Angelique Weston and Cheng Mei Wang created Branmei to inspire people to do good things in their everyday life. (Maxine Hansford/ The Ithacan)

Seniors Angelique Weston and Cheng Mei Wang, co-founders of BranMei, began to develop their brand to spark inspiration within people’s everyday lives to do good things. BranMei creates branding opportunities and designs merchandise for YouTubers, and creates inspirational merchandise for people to purchase on their website as well.

Their idea began in the entrepreneurship class Ideas in Action with Instructor of Management  Brad Treat, where they were able to pitch a business idea to the class and develop a plan on how to carry out the idea. Treat said the real-world experience students get in the class is something employers notice.

“Employers really are seeking this entrepreneurial mindset,” Treat said. “They don’t want people who say they are going to do the same old things their predecessors do.”

Weston said she wanted to create a medium for YouTubers to increase the presence of the brand they had built for themselves. BranMei gives YouTubers the option to collaborate to create a new product for the company or to model the existing clothes.

“We went to some of the clothing made by influencers, but all of the clothing is made to inspire,” Weston said.

BranMei collaborated with their first client, Shany S. Beauty, who has a YouTube channel focusing on makeup tutorials, to design a hat. They plan to work with more YouTubers in February.

“I want people to understand that if you believe in something and want to do it, find a way to do it, and do it hard,” Wang said.

Branmei has not had significant sales yet, as it is in the process of relaunching its site, Weston said.

Freshmen Simon Gardner and Kobe Guilford have also started their own clothing brand, KAVAS.

Gardner and Guilford met before arriving on campus for their freshman year in Fall 2017. Gardner said he was always interested in fashion and had a sketchbook full of ideas before coming to the college. When he met Guilford, who had a similar interest in entrepreneurship, fashion and design, the two began planning t-shirt designs.

Simon Gardner and Kobe Guilford share an interest in entrepreneurship, fashion, and design and decided to begin their brand KAVAS. (Elias Olsen/ The Ithacan)

Guilford said both he and Gardner bring similar skills to the table, but Gardner does more of the sketching of designs, while he focuses on digitizing the designs.

“We don’t claim any specific ideas as our own, we just work on everything together,” Guilford said.

The “AVA” in KAVAS stands for the Latin “ad vitam aeternam,” which means “to eternal life.” The duo’s attitudes toward life match what the brand means to them.

“You want to be the best version of yourself, so that your ideas can outlive you,” Guilford said.

Weston said although she has a passion for the brand, it is challenging to balance class, work and the company.

“It kind of takes a strain on us because it makes us move a little slowly in the process and we just want to move fast and capitalize quickly,” she said.

Work and classes limit their ability to move as fast as they want, but Weston said the two work to overcome these challenges.

“At the end of the day, we realized we are really passionate about this, and we really want to take this to the next level,” she said. “The potential is endless and the ability for growth is crazy, and so what we are not going to do is give up.”

Weston said she and Wang plan to continue their business after graduation.

Treat said his advice to students is to focus on their business whenever they can.

The “AVA” in KAVAS stands for the Latin “ad vitam aeternam,” which means “to eternal life.” (Elias Olsen/ The Ithacan)

“I encourage students to think creatively on how to make the coursework aid your business,” he said.

If a class has an opportunity to examine the success of a business or examine a market to see who are competitors, Treat advises students to choose their businesses. Applying the coursework creates more productive and meaningful projects, Treat said.

Schneider said the most important thing for students who want to create art is to figure out what they love and home in on it. He said great work comes when students focus their attention on what they are truly passionate about.

Gardner said for a brand to be successful, the creator has to really believe in it.

“Make sure you’re making something that’s personal,” Gardner said. “Something you can hold onto for a long time.”


Sierra Guardiola can be reached at sguardiola@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @sierraguardiola