Allen Cao, a senior business administration student at University Park, knows what the people want: swag. Four months ago he masterminded Vint Condition, an apparel company that supplies retro Penn State tees, sweatshirts, hats, and more. How Allen tells it, his startup is shaking up the way we represent our school.
“When you buy typical Penn State gear, the designs are very generic,” Cao. “You’re going to look like every other kid on campus.”
Even though you support the university with threads from the lion store, they don’t exactly offer that Coco Chanel couture. Cao realized that official Penn State apparel lacks appeal as a fashion statement. That’s where Vint Condition comes in.
Cao scoured local thrift shops for older, choice goods like Nittany Lion bowl game sweatshirts, and soon after started advertising his wares on Facebook and Instagram under the handle @vintconditionco. Things didn’t exactly take off at first though, and Cao described the response as “crickets” after posting the first five items. Not one to give up, Coa followed Airbnb founder Brian Chesky’s advice, and after a faulty launch decided to go at it again until he found traction.
While getting his first customers proved to be a waiting game, the value of one-of-a-kind apparel and a fraternity-oriented marketing strategy brought him eager customers; soon enough he was sitting on $1,500 in revenue.
“When I pitched Vint Condition to my management class, the judges were impressed,” Cao said. “One guy [Eric Franchi, a Penn State alum and venture capitalist who recently closed a $180m million sale to software company Perion] told me, ‘this is a real business. The market is there and there’s a real opportunity for growth.”
Allen, confidence bolstered, decided to go harder in the paint and expand his business.
Now with his base market under control, Cao knows he has to “build a bigger platform.” Cao is ready to apply for a Penn State license — one that will let him sell officially branded apparel — and bring it to the university and beyond. He hired his friend, a Penn University design student, to make a logo for Vint Condition. He’s building a website, too, and diversifying his marketing strategy with giveaways on Facebook.
“Now we’re in the fashion game. We’re going to incorporate…what’s trending in street wear, putting our branding on scarves and more timeless jerseys.” Needless to say, Cao is feeling optimistic about Vint Condition’s outlook.
All of the success he’s seen this season has affirmed the bounty of opportunities that are afforded to Penn State students with enterprising aspirations.
“My college experience has introduced me to many enthusiastic students, and… two years of learning from other entrepreneurs has shown me all the resources available to me as a student.”
It hasn’t been a straightforward journey. Allen Cao has learned over the last four years what it takes to craft the kind of gear he wants to wear to represent Penn State. Check out his Instagram and Facebook feeds for the next giveaways of Vint Condition swag and see what he’s been up to.