For many young creatives, custom Greek apparel is a gateway to the world of design. As an apparel chair, you must tap into the zeitgeist of your organization and create artwork that reflects its collective personality. I discovered this truth while serving as my fraternity’s apparel chair during my sophomore year of college. Before assuming the role, I knew I would have to design custom clothing 5-6x/year. What I didn’t realize is how difficult and time-consuming it would be to collect orders, payment, and distribute clothing.
Executing orders was not my only frustration. Almost weekly, a brother would knock on my cubby’s tattered green door and say something along the lines of “ Dude, I lost my favorite hoodie, could you order me another one?” Sadly, my answer was always no. The setup fees were too expensive to order a single piece of clothing.
My dissatisfaction with the custom printing process and desire to empower young designers is what inspired me to start Wayback Apparel--the first ever Greek printing platform built for apparel chairs by apparel chairs.
Develop a custom-printing platform that automates the design, order-collection, and payment process.
During my sophomore year internship at Life in Color, I became close with the founder of Kottonzoo, Petar Dimitrov. Kottonzoo, a print-on-demand service for electronic DJs and social media influencers, had already developed an automated inventory management platform and online marketplace.
I saw an opportunity and I seized it. I pitched him on the idea of entering the custom Greek apparel market. Using Kottonzoo’s tech stack, we could design a new dashboard and online storefront to solve all of the issues I experienced as my chapter’s apparel chair. I don’t know what he saw in me, but he agreed! At the end of the summer, my college roommate Brandon and I started Wayback Apparel and received a $50,000 investment to build our new product.
As a 20-year-old, I had no idea how to manage a design project properly, but I did have an unhealthy obsession with Walt Disney history and Imagineering. From my years of reading and listening to podcasts, I was familiar with the concept of “walking in the guest’s shoes” and storyboarding. I used these creative tools to outline the ordering process and identify potential opportunities for automation.
Communicating with printers via email was horrible. Sometimes, I didn’t hear back from them for weeks at a time. For Wayback, I wanted to get rid of emails and create a series of notifications that informed the apparel chair what was currently happening and when an action needed to take place.
In the pre-Venmo era, collecting orders and payment had to be done manually. I would send out a google doc to the chapter, wait two weeks, and then hound brothers for payment. Using Kottonzoo's platform, we could automate the order collection and payment process using a chapter-specific online store.
For large group orders, printers would charge additional setup fees to print the same design on different clothing styles. Or, they would only allow you to select one garment. This caused a lot of issues during chapter meetings. Some brothers wanted tanks, others pocket tees, and a few real boys wanted v-necks (lol). In the end, someone was always disappointed. With Kottozoo’s automated supply chain, we could print the same design on any style or color garment for no cost.
You would think that an apparel chair would be stoked when a clothing order arrived…Think again — a massive box of unorganized apparel lands on your doorstep. First, you have to sort the clothing by size, then sort it by individual order, THEN sit around for a week at lunch to hand it out! To make matters worse, most brothers don’t live in the Fraternity house, so you have to make arrangements to deliver it to their off-campus housing. Using Kottonzoo’s shipping facilities, we were able to individually package each order and provide the option to ship your clothing separate from the group to any location for an added fee.
Wayback’s true differentiator was the chapter-specific online store. We were the first printing company to make custom designs available for individual purchase. This was possible due to Kottonzoo’s just-in-time, direct-to-garment printing process.
Besides helping "dudes purchase another hoodie," this feature truly united chapters around the country through design. As the platform grew, chapter stores turned into design yearbooks (hence the term “Wayback”) and users started purchasing designs from other schools!
I did not personally design the Wayback interface, Brandon and I managed a team of designers and engineers to execute our vision for the product. I was in charge of building out the wireframes and managing revisions throughout the development process.
The video below is a product teaser Brandon and I produced during our second summer in Miami.
Wayback is the reason I am a designer today, and it even led me to change my major! The night we started the company was the first time I used Photoshop. It took a while, but after countless hours of failing and watching tutorials, I finally designed a few pieces of clothing I am proud of.
Brandon and I weren’t typical students at Indiana during our junior and senior year; we attended start-up university, and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. We pitched, turned our apartment into one big whiteboard, and sorted through SO many boxes of clothing. Our grades might have suffered, but the real-world experience we obtained running a company at 20-years-old was invaluable. I can honestly say I wouldn’t be who I am today without Brandon, Wayback and the guys at Kottonzoo.