Business ownership fits GCU students to a ‘T’
By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
He wore an antique bolo string tie with a vintage green wool sport coat, the rugged milieu of a Western businessman.
“You caught me on a good day,” said Gavin Thompson, a senior business major at Grand Canyon University, one of many students who are starting businesses while still in college.
Earlier, he had given a presentation in speech class, dressed for the subject.
“Everything I’m wearing is secondhand, except my shoes,” said Thompson, co-owner of Wear Old, a secondhand clothing reseller.
Wearing thrift-shop clothes is popular today not only as trendy fashion but to combat waste in the clothing industry, in which mass-produced, inexpensive goods contribute to environmental issues, Thompson said.
Nearly three-fifths of all clothing ends up in incinerators or landfills within a year of being produced, according to the New York Times, and their production utilizes nearly a quarter of the globe’s chemical compounds.
“Wearing reused clothing is our way of combating this,” said Thompson, who specializes in vintage secondhand clothes more than 20 years old. “It’s overshadowed by all the pressure on plastic in the U.S. This (clothing) has an attainable solution. With numbers, we can have an effect on this earth, and that’s a big part of our mission.”
He joined 50 vendors at Canyon Activity Board’s Student Market on Monday, which grew from last year’s 40 vendors and fills the Promenade with students eager for art and products made by students but also from the half dozen selling secondhand clothing.
More than two years ago, Thompson and three other students had an idea while on winter break.
“A lot of people love thrift shopping, but they don’t want to invest the time or have the patience to thrift,” he said. “We have the time and love doing this.”
The group began scouring mainly Goodwill stores, with an expert eye born of a lot of research into what makes items fashionable and valuable for a market of mostly college students.
For example, the Champion brand of “athleisure wear” that propelled the hooded sweatshirt to everyday status had longer sleeve cuffs from the 1950s to the 1970s, so he looks for those in his thrift-shop rummaging.
Another way is to look at the stitching. A single stitch means it’s older, just like the T-shirt he pulled out of his backpack.
“I love the original band Ts,” Thompson said. “This one is a 1995 Grateful Dead T. My dad went to that concert and handed it down to me. Someone just offered me $250 for it.”
Vintage clothes are helped with a story – underarm stains and all – and this had a heart-warming familial one. Thompson thanks his family for nudging him from his born-and-raised home in Las Vegas to GCU. His older sister attended here, and when she brought her friends home on a break, he was impressed.
“I came to the realization that I wanted to be surrounded by people that supported me and built me up and pushed me toward my faith and not away from it,” he said. “At most schools, I wouldn’t have had the community I have at GCU. It’s been the biggest blessing of my life.”
One of those blessings is a vibrant entrepreneurial spirit among the student population. Tim Kelley, the business faculty advisor to the IDEA (Innovation, Development and Entrepreneurship Association) Club, said dozens of students own businesses.
The nonprofit IDEA Club helps educate and motivate students on entrepreneurship that has an impact on the world.
“We are the bridge to help them solve the problem they want to fix and what it takes to set up that business,” said Andrew Flowers, IDEA Club President. “My goodness, the people who signed up for the club in terms of actual businesses launched, I would say there is close to 200.”
Some he terms a “side hustle,” selling goods between classes and other wage jobs, but “there also are students trying to build a company, not just to support them in college, but full time afterward.”
He cited several tech-related businesses under development by students that might fit the latter. He said those students have learned to overcome the main obstacles – fear of failure and reluctance to make connections – “because it’s all about who you know in business.”
The club helps with connections, and he said Thompson found them while developing Wear Old.
“He found a need, that’s for sure,” he said. “He’s been pretty successful at it, so I think there’s a long-term play there.”
Thompson said he is looking to keep Wear Out going after he graduates in May. Three original owners cycled out after graduating; he and Zach Sheldon are now co-owners. They hired a photographer and hope to launch a website soon, after mostly selling on Instagram (@Wear_Old) and at markets. The future may include an app-based business helping others sell their vintage clothing.
“I have bought half of my wardrobe from him,” said junior Brooke McNamara. “I have several crew necks and group Ts and all my favorite denim pants, my favorite mom jeans.”
So-called “mom jeans” – the kind you might see high on the hips of a mother behind a stroller in the mall in the 1980s – are one of Thompson’s big sellers, in addition to the concert band T-shirts and “outdoorsy” vintage, such as corduroy shirts.
“We also geek out over the art on T-shirts,” he said. “It brings a personality to a shirt or crew neck, especially when you take the time to find out who did (the art).”
He said he learned to research his market, how to finance it and what investors are looking for in GCU business courses, such as New Venture Financing. But the community of like-minded entrepreneurs helped even more.
“The biggest reason you learn in college is you put yourself out there. You can learn sitting in a classroom, but the practical element is so big, especially in business. You gotta learn by doing it.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.GCU