Over the last several years, a group of enterprising students has worked to create a collection of apparel and accessories that reflects Oberlin’s culture. Originally launched as ObieWear, the project created designs that were produced and distributed in the college bookstore.
Bronwen Schumacher ’15 and fourth-year Shea Renusch revived the effort in 2015 when they participated in LaunchU, Oberlin’s venture accelerator, and received an ignition fund to rework their business model. Rebranding themselves as Oberlin Apparel Collective, the group is working toward becoming an autonomous, self-sustained venture by creating and selling its own products.
This spring, the collective is producing a minimalist line of T-shirts, stickers, and a tote bag with student-designed sketches celebrating Oberlin icons. They plan to sell limited quantities of each item during Commencement/Reunion Weekend, May 20-23.
In addition to T-shirts, the group is “focusing on smaller, more accessible items,” says second-year Griffin Hogrogian, a neuroscience and psychology double major who joined the collective this year as co-president. He led an Experimental Course last fall that recruited new designers. “We try to listen to the student body. We found that everyone gravitates toward icons such as DeCafé, the Feve, Blue Rooster Bakery, and the Apollo Theatre. Most people come here for a unique experience. We want to offer an affordable, unstigmatized way to show your school spirit.”
The concept of Oberlin icons is carried throughout their current line. The T-shirts feature DeCafé creamer carafes, a menagerie of campus containers (including Mason jars and DeCafé smoothies), Oberlin windows, and a sketch of Tappan Square. A tote bag depicts the Claes Oldenburg-designed giant three-way plug sculpture outside the Allen Memorial Art Museum, and a “Drunk in Mudd” sticker is a playful twist on the Beyoncé song. Hogrogian says the collective plans to offer several T-shirt styles along with two new poster designs, vinyl decal bundles, and the tote bag for commencement.
“The icons are kind of our response to a school mascot or logo,” says Renusch, a studio art major and Hispanic studies minor. “I think that a lot of students at Oberlin don't really identify with the sporty-style college spirit wear, so we are trying to create an alternative. The icons we choose are all things that the designers, and ourselves, think represent or speak to our Oberlin experience in some way. We are trying to represent what is so special and unique about this place, and I think that really appeals to the students, alumni, and Oberlin community.”
A new partnership with the student printmaking collective YeoPress will provide access to silkscreen equipment and will allow them to produce items by individual order. Renusch says her ultimate goal for the apparel collective is to have a physical space on campus where the products can be sold.
“We want it to continue to be a place where students are able to gain entrepreneurial and design experience that is really hands-on,” she says. We also want our products to speak to the Oberlin College community and experience in a way that feels very personal. Hopefully alumni and students see our products and are reminded of something they love about their time at Oberlin.”