Julian Gunder (@J_Gunda), a longtime youth mentor, understood first-hand how education could change the entire course of a child’s life. Outside of mentoring programs, he noticed that many of the kids he worked with, particularly those from low income communities, weren’t receiving encouragement or seeing role models who talked about the positive benefits of attending and graduating from college. He wanted to spread the message that ‘school is cool,’ and change the negative perception many kids had about education; but he knew he’d have to come up with something that would resonate with them.
Knowing how significant a role fashion and music play in the lives of today’s young adults, he launched ILoveCollege Clothing (@ILC_Clothing); a socially conscious apparel and accessory line designed to get students interested in and excited about higher education. The line features t-shirts, hats and backpacks emblazoned with slogans like ‘I Love College,’ ‘Future Billionaire,’ ‘Rocket Scientist’ and the brand tagline: ‘Get Smarter.’
Julian says that he believes that “education gives you a passport to a better life. Here he talks about how he launched ILoveCollege Clothing and his dream of teens and college students wearing items from the line to inspire and influence their peers in a more positive way.
H+S: What inspired you to create this company?
Gunder: I’ve been a mentor in low income communities for several years and I noticed that a lot of the students do not think highly of or truly aspire to go to college. Too many of the students saw college as a place where nerds and unpopular people go. My desire to change their negative perception about education drove me to launch the business. I want these students to become nerds. I want them to realize that [higher education] is necessary, but it can also fun and exciting.
H+S: You left your job as an advertising executive last year to focus on this full time. What made you finally take the leap?
Gunder: My passion for the business grew to the point that not pursuing it full time began to bother me emotionally and spiritually. I really feel like it’s my life’s mission to change the mentality that many kids have about education in order for more of them to graduate from college and reach their full potential. I think everyone should give back to society in some way, and this is my way of doing it.
H+S: Why did you decide to use clothes and accessories to spread the word about education?
Gunder: As a result of being a longtime youth mentor, I noticed several trends among the youth. They love clothing and are constantly obsessing about new fashion trends. So I figured that the best way to inspire them to go to college is to do it through what they’re most interested in: clothes and fashion. Nowadays, people take what they wear very seriously because your clothes say something about the kind of person you are. I believe that the clothes and accessories from the ILoveCollege Clothing line can consciously and subconsciously influence students to want to learn more about and try to get into college.
H+S: What has been the response to ILoveCollege Clothing been so far?
Gunder: The response has been astounding. People are in love with the concept of the brand and the items we have for sale. Students and parents alike want the products and have a real desire to purchase them. In fact, the response the brand has received contributed to my decision to leave corporate America.
H+S: What obstacles or challenges did you have to overcome to get this company up and running?Gunder: Money, money, money. My family doesn’t have a lot of money and launching and growing a business until it turns a profit is extremely expensive. A lack of funds has always been a challenge and it continues to be. Another major challenge was the job I had. Unlike most people, I actually really liked my job as an advertising executive so leaving that world behind was a tough decision to make.
H+S: How do you come up with the slogans and designs for your products?
Gunder: There is no formula to it, the slogan ideas just come to me. I never ever try to come up with an idea for a slogan because when I try to force myself to think of a good slogan, the designs aren’t as good. So I let the ideas come to me, and when they do, I instantly jot them down in my OneNote app or text the idea to myself.
H+S: What is your ultimate goal for the ILoveCollege Clothing Company?
Gunder: I want ILCC to become an internationally known clothing brand. I want it to become known as the coolest and most meaningful clothing brand ever created. In addition, I eventually want part of the proceeds from sales to go to scholarship funds that assist students with college tuition and I want those funds to be plentiful enough to pay for a 4 year college education.
H+S: What inspires you and how do you stay motivated?
Gunder: My passion to see students from low income neighborhoods reach their full potential is what inspires me.
H+S: You talked about how your role as a youth mentor inspired you to launch this company. Did you have a mentor or someone in your life who encouraged you to go and stay in school?
Gunder: Not really. My parents expected me to go to college and I knew they would be very disappointed if I didn’t. In high school, when I got a “B” on a test or in a class, my Dad would get annoyed and say “You know you can get straight A’s with just a bit more effort, why are you okay with getting a B?”
Gunder: Succeeding Against the Odds, the autobiography of John Johnson, who launched Ebony and Jet magazines, is my favorite book. I am forever inspired by the story of all the racial, economic and cultural obstacles he had to face in order to launch magazines back in the 1940’s, that are still important today.
H+S: What advice would you give to someone who is looking to leave the corporate world to pursue their passion?
Gunder: Do not leave your job unless you have already started your business and there are real signs that it could be successful.
H+S: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?
Gunder: Do not take money from investors who have no real connection in your industry.
H+S: What do you think is the most overrated piece of advice that is given to most people?
Gunder: The most overrated advice is “It’s best to start a business with a partner”. I think that starting a business on your own forces one to become self-reliant and makes it easier for your vision to become realized the exact way you want it to be. I don’t think a partner should be included in the mix unless the person has tried it on their own first and reaches a point where a partner is needed to grow the business.
H+S: Where do you hope to see ILCC in a year? 3 years?
Gunder: In a year, I want to see the clothing in stores nationwide. In 3 years, I want to see my “Get Smarter” Movement in full swing and get kids to start spreading the word that school is cool.
To learn more about the ILoveCollege Clothing line visit www.ilovecollege.org.
Photo Credit (1-3): Nicky Famous
*ILoveCollege Clothing is currently a client of House of Success.