When Ocean Ronquillo-Morgan and Clara Diogo arrived on the campus of the University of Southern California, they quickly saw an issue. School-spirit apparel for women was overly feminine and not inclusive of different body types or skin tones.
There were a few student brands, Ronquillo-Morgan recalls, “but they were so feminine. I think one of them had a shirt that said ‘SoCal Babe.’ It wasn’t my personal choice. But it’s the only things they had available.”
There was also the campus bookstore. But those styles were “cookie-cutter” and basically all red-and-gold apparel — USC’s school colors — which doesn’t look good on all skin tones, Ronquillo-Morgan explains. So she and Diogo, who met through a mutual friend, decided to do something about it.
“We thought we could create a more exclusive design for all body types, all skin types,” Ronquillo-Morgan says, “so we thought, ‘Why don’t we go ahead and just do this?'”
‘IN THE ONLINE BUSINESS GAME AS YOUNG AS SIX-YEARS-OLD’
They did just that in 2018, launching Geistwear, which means “spirit wear” in German. Inspired by the streetwear movement and artists like Kanye West and Drake, Diogo and Ronquillo-Morgan call their style of fashion “hypewear” or “hypebeast.” The movement has grown in popularity: Ronquillo-Morgan says they generated $1,000 in revenue in March even with USC students sheltering in place on campus or at home. They will also be expanding products to the University of Central Florida later this summer.
Ronquillo-Morgan began developing her entrepreneurial chops at a young age. “I’ve been in the online business game as young as six-years-old,” she says. Ronquillo-Morgan got her first laptop when she was six and went on a “Google-spree” researching how to make money online. She was already also a deft gamer. So Ronquillo-Morgan says created her own Paypal account, pointing out “you were supposed to be 18-years-old to do that,” to collect money from articles she wrote about how to beat online games. She harnessed the power of Search Engine Optimization to grow traffic and clicks to her articles. And about every-other-week, Ronquillo-Morgan says she’d get about $20 deposited into her Paypal account.
“I guess that’s what happens when you’re a broke six-year-old person and you’re too ashamed to ask your parents for money for gaming memberships,” she laughs.
By age 14, Ronquillo-Morgan launched her first official business, signing the LLC under her father’s name because, again, you have to be older than 18 to sign an LLC. A computer science and business administration major in the Marshall School of Business, Ronquillo-Morgan also runs her own online consulting business she founded last December called Ocean Maria. Because apparently being a double-major and running an apparel company wasn’t keeping her busy enough.
FILLING A GAP IN INCLUSIVE GAME-DAY CLOTHING
Originally from Hawaii and then South Carolina, Ronquillo-Morgan says she grew up watching USC football with her father who got a Ph.D. and education from the university. “I was a huge fan,” she says of the USC Trojans football team. When she got to campus as a freshman, she quickly embraced the football tradition of the university. “Gameday is a huge thing there,” she says.
That’s when she noticed the dearth of inclusive gameday clothing and met Diogo, whose family immigrated from Africa to Wisconsin. Diogo, an architecture major, quickly identified with the enthusiasm for school spirit and desire to create an inclusive clothing line.
“My goal is to create a new environment around school spirit,” Diogo, who designs the clothes, says. “I want to create clothes that are made to represent all sizes, cultures, and marginalized groups. I constantly am looking to work with designers from our school to give people a chance to create something. Geistwear made me believe I can create a company from myself. I know we aren’t reinventing the wheel but hopefully, we are creating something that others can believe in.”
INSPIRED BY MUSIC FESTIVALS LIKE SPRINGFEST & COACHELLA
Geistwear’s first designs included pocket t-shirts and distressed t-shirts, which Ronquillo-Morgan says is still a top-seller. They created a Trojanworld line and a Trojans See Ghosts line that have been inspired by Springfest, which is USC’s spring concert and Coachella.
Neither Diogo or Ronquillo-Morgan had experience launching a consumer goods brand when they first created Geistwear. They funded the startup with $8,000 they had made from previous internships. Ronquillo-Morgan says they first built a Squarespace site but then quickly converted to a Shopify-backed site, which catered more to their strategy of an on-demand method. Instead of spending thousands of dollars upfront on products that might not sell, they only create the products when an order is placed.
“We only have to pay for the cost of production when someone places an order,” Ronquillo-Morgan points out. “It allows us to test designs before putting them out to the mass market.”
‘WE WANT TO MAKE A VOICE’
They also tapped into the Greek life on campus and actual gamedays at USC. At a game against Stanford, Ronquillo-Morgan says a few hours of a pop-up shop brought in nearly $1,000 in revenue. Then Ronquillo-Morgan and Diogo began following USC students on Instagram and getting some on-campus brand ambassadors from the social media presence.
It’s clear the apparel venture is more than just a business for Diogo and Ronquillo-Morgan.
“We want to make a voice. We don’t want to just sell a commoditized product,” Ronquillo-Morgan says. “We want to have every single thing that we release resonate with the student community — whether it’s the entrepreneurial community or the community of people of color — we want to give them a voice.”