Student Business Owners Thrive Amidst Crisis
Ocean Ronquillo-Morgan (left) and Clarence Diogo (right), founders of Geistwear. Photo courtesy of Voyage LA.
During a time when many small businesses are struggling to stay afloat, co-founders Ocean Ronquillo-Morgan and Clarence (“Clara”) Diogo of Geistwear have continued to reap the benefits of their successful ecommerce company.
Ocean and Clara, both juniors at The University of Southern California, started Geistwear during the summer of 2018 after meeting through a mutual friend.
Ocean, a computer science and business major, was a seasoned vet in online businesses by this point, having received her first laptop at age six. Growing up in Hawaii (before moving to South Carolina her junior year of high school), she learned how to create online businesses and generate revenue all on her own. Before college, she started a gaming YouTube channel, which eventually hosted over 65,000 subscribers. Her online marketing skills would be of great advantage years later, when she met Clara.
Clara, who grew up in Wisconsin, studies architecture at USC. The USC School of Architecture, ranked 7th in the nation, brought Clara to sunny Southern California to keep her busy with her strong passion for design.
During a FaceTime call in July 2018, Clara and Ocean discussed the need for a new type of game day apparel. While USC’s bookstore offered some cute outfits, Clara was dissatisfied with the manner in which the clothing fit her body. Thus, the two students created Geistwear.
Geistwear is a modern take on collegiate apparel, mixing school spirit with today’s hottest pop culture trends. ‘Geist’ means ‘spirit’ in German. ‘Zeitgeist’ means ‘spirit of the times.’ Make the connection yet?
During USC’s 2018 football season, Geistwear started off fairly well, according to Ocean.
“We weren’t known as much just because we were getting started, but we tried to organically get a bunch of followers by following a lot of people that we knew and their friends of friends. Then, over time, that builds up,” she said.
By fall of 2019, numerous students (particularly freshman and aspiring models – a normality at schools like ‘SC) had approached Ocean and Clara about becoming ambassadors for the brand.
They knew they had struck gold.
One factor that has especially set them apart from their competitors and has played a crucial role in Geistwear’s success has been a focus on diversity and comfortability.
“I do like the traditional game day clothes. A bandeau and a skirt is always cute, but I think what ended up happening for me is that the clothes in the bookstore don’t fit me, or they don’t end up looking the way I want on my body,” said Clara. She explained that Geistwear provides a solution to this issue of exclusiveness and discomfort.
“Traditionally, you think that super baggy clothes or certain designs might be more for a male community. I think we’re trying to encompass that among all types of genders and all types of backgrounds. It’s not just super, overtly feminine. It’s something that we’re all comfortable wearing,” added Ocean.
Geistwear’s current products show off pop culturally hip designs, featuring a Trojan twist on the logos of hit albums by Travis Scott (‘Astroworld’) and Kanye West/Kid Cudi (‘Kids See Ghosts’).
The past few months, Ocean and Clara have been prepping for their next launch. Sometime in May (fingers crossed), they hope to expand out of the USC bubble to bring their brand to other schools. Having connected with a digital creative agency via Twitter, Ocean explained one designer inspired them to start marketing towards University of Central Florida students, since they are big into ambassadorship.
“We don’t want to end up being generic but we do want to expand to other schools, especially because me and Ocean are from such different parts of America… We really want to activate our network to expand our business,” said Clara.
Then, the coronavirus pandemic paralyzed the globe. The number of cases has continued to rapidly increase, reaching now over one million cases globally, and over 100,000 deaths have been reported.
Students have been sent home to continue courses remotely for the rest of the semester. Social distancing has become the new way of life, and the demise of the economy indicates how unprepared businesses were regarding this unfortunate occasion.
Ocean and Clara, however, haven’t panicked. Their business, like its products, was made to last.
“Prior to COVID-19, we were actually testing out this print-on-demand model. So we have manufacturers in North Carolina, and we did have one in LA, that would – whenever we got an order – they would print it, select the best fabric for it, and then ship it out to our customer without us having to intervene. This ended up working super, super well – especially right now, when it may be super hard to ship things out or to get the material when a lot of physical storefronts are shut down,” said Ocean.
Ocean, having understood the importance of ecommerce since age six, is seeing the benefits of such practice now more than ever. High school students across the world are finding out about their acceptances to USC, but a closed down bookstore leads to alternative searches to rep school spirit. Hence Geistwear’s recent increase in sales.
As a company by students for students, Geistwear demonstrates the potential of younger generations to change the game of business and economics.
“I know we’re still pretty young, but I think the fact that we grew up on the internet really gave us a great opportunity to get through this time. This is probably the first recession we’re going to see firsthand, and super unprecedented times call for new measures, new adaptations, so don’t think down on how young we are, because we do have the power to change the world, and I think companies coming out of this are probably going to be Gen Z led,” Ocean explained.
These student business owners even have advice for other small businesses about surviving through the COVID-19 crisis.
“Figure out how to digitize your business if it’s not something that you have functioning right now for in-person situations. Because even once this virus isn’t a thing anymore, it’ll be really good for you to have an online site that can make you passive income,” recommended Clara.
Ocean (clearly avoiding laziness at all costs during this quarantine – you go, girl!) has written an entire ebook – notice the strong digital theme here – to help small business owners survive through the social distancing era. The book focuses particularly on how restaurant, gym and spa owners can start selling online digital products with minimal upfront costs.
Check out Ocean’s ebook here: Physical to Digital.
As Geistwear continues to thrive (even in the hard times), Ocean and Clara are still looking at different opportunities to grow their venture. Although Clara currently handles the designs, she would love to collaborate with other student designers to prevent their apparel from becoming stale. If you’re looking for an opportunity to pursue your creativity, this may just be the sign you need – contact Ocean and Clara here or at email@example.com.
Browse Geistwear now.