For those of you who have experienced many inebriated weekends at the notoriously lenient Thirsty Turtle bar and restaurant, a previous staple of College Park nightlife, the “Turtle Survivor” jersey is the perfect memorabilia.
Many students at the University of Maryland can be seen wearing the red jersey emblazoned with the words “Turtle Survivor”, which was designed by Janna Skinner, a junior marketing major, along with her friend Ali von Paris, a senior finance and supply chain management major and former Thirsty Turtle employee.
Skinner and von Paris initially created the shirt for their own friends and Turtle staff members in November 2010 after the bar was closed down, but imagine their surprise when more demands for the shirt came pouring in.
Von Paris began to help Skinner with taking pre-orders for the jersey and appointing sales representatives from various fraternities and sororities. Soon, many students outside of Greek life also began to demand shirts, so they created a Facebook event for shirt orders.
A total of 4,000 to 5,000 people subscribed to the event and sent order requests through e-mail, and it didn’t take long before the “Turtle Survivor” jersey laid the foundation for von Paris’ idea to start her own online clothing company, Route One Apparel.
Since its establishment last November, Route One Apparel’s progress as an online business has expanded way beyond these jerseys. The clothing line became an official LLC over the summer and now has a staff of over 40 employees, many of whom are considered unpaid interns or independent contractors who assist with sales and receive commission. Von Paris is not sure of the exact number of employees because each of her 10 to 12 sales managers hires their own team of three to five people.
In addition to the sales team, Route One Apparel also has a design team responsible for designing the company’s merchandise, which currently consists of only apparel. However, von Paris said that they will soon begin to create other products like bracelets, shot glasses and socks.
She also said that most of the designs are based on upcoming events; for example, a tailgating shirt was released just in time for football season. These designs are then sent to wholesale companies specializing in screen-printing and the shirts are then delivered back to von Paris and her team for distribution.
Route One Apparel employee Emily Carson, a senior communications major, is also working on building the business’ marketing committee that will be responsible for advertising and further promoting the brand’s name.
“This committee is really the only marketing experience I have, and I’m currently applying to a marketing internship,” Carson said. “My involvement with Route One Apparel will look great on my resume, especially because I was there from the very beginning of what is now a successful business.”
Von Paris said her philosophy is simply to serve university students and the rest of the College Park community. “As students, we pay enough to attend this school, so I came up with the strategy to supply clothes and other products at a much cheaper price than the university does,” von Paris said. Clearly, von Paris’ business approach has proven very successful with students.
“I usually don’t like to walk around wearing shirts that make blatant references to drinking, but I do think this company is a great business idea because the shirts are all so cheap,” said junior electric engineering major Pauline Ziadeh.
In under a year, Route One Apparel has generated around $30,000 in revenue and a little less than $15,000 in profit, despite competition from university stores like the Maryland Book Exchange on Route 1. According to von Paris, such university stores could easily claim that the company’s designs are an imitation of the school’s trademarks, but she says Route One Apparel’s website clearly states that their designs “strive to capture the essence of the community” and “do not intend to infringe on any copyrights or trademarks.”
In addition to Route One Apparel, von Paris does side work for MTV as a street teamer for their A Thin Line campaign. Through MTV, von Paris heard about a casting call for a new show hosted by fashion and PR guru Kelly Cutrone, which will feature young adults who have a passion for the fashion industry. Von Paris submitted her business, and received notice that Route One Apparel was in the selection process and was being considered to appear on the show.
“They gave me an interview over the phone and then said they are forwarding my information to the casting director of the show,” von Paris said. “They haven’t told me much yet, but he will be contacting us.”
Von Paris said she hopes to keep the business running after she graduates and plans on passing management to someone else if she moves away from College Park.