Recent graduates John Shi and Woody Hines are trying to change the design of college apparel.
“I wanted to get something that really captured authentically the heart and soul of my college,” Shi, who graduated from Dartmouth in 2012, said to Business Insider.
Typical, boxy, screen-printed shirts with ungainly logos didn’t appeal to him.
“Everything in the book store was pretty commoditized, heartless, uninspired athletic wear and there was nothing that really captured my experience in a quality way,” Shi said. “And so I wanted to come out with something that really did elevate that experience to a product that is actually high quality and representative of these schools and teams that we have a lot of pride in,” he said.
Shi came out with the first sweater in 2012. Soon his friend Woody Hines — who ran the men’s style blog Men of Habit and graduated from Princeton in 2012 — jumped on board. Hillflint was born.
The company’s catchphrase on the website is “break up with your college hoodie.” That’s what Hillflint is aiming to get college students to do.
Yet on the surface, the two are bringing back the ‘old Ivy’ vintage look. But they’re also looking ahead with today’s consumer, who loves premium activewear.
“…the consumer that might be embracing or wearing Lululemon yoga pants to work is not necessarily wearing a college t-shirt,” Hines said to Business Insider. “Because nothing really caught up to that in terms of the quality, authenticity, and overall premium nature of the product that I think that customer would expect — there’s nothing like that in the sports merchandise market.”
Hines described their consumer base as “the diehard [college sports] fans” and “the more sophisticated consumer.”
Hines and Shi would know — they both agreed that flip flops do not belong paired with nice outfits (although they admitted they have committed the fashion crime before).
But what makes it so elevated?
The sweaters are made of merino well and however between $US75-150. Shi has a connection to someone in the textile industry in China, so he and Hines scouted out a factory with ethical conditions to produce the sweaters.
The sweaters, Shi and Hines explained, are designed to be worn at times when you can’t wear a sweatshirt, but you don’t want to wear something too formal. (Think: casual Friday, out at the bar.)
And like Lululemon helped define the athleisure sector, these two are helping to establish what they’re calling “elevated sports merchandise.”
After a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2014, the brand is now taking off. Hillflint has partnered with 85 universities so far and is sold in a variety of campus bookstores, as well as online.
“The more we learn about this market, the more we realise that there is a lot of opportunity here and we’re just starting to scratch the surface of [a] massive market in college apparel,” Shi said.
Hillflint already sells its niche sweaters, scarves, and socks.
Shi and Hines are looking to expand to sell more sports merchandise beyond college apparel, but right now, they’re focused on the college-age consumer.
“We’ve really narrowed in on what the brand vision is and from a a sales, et cetera, standpoint, things … are totally up and to the right,” Hines said. ” That being said, it’s still day one for us.”
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