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By State, For State: ‘College Town Culture’ Clothing Brand Celebrates Penn State Community

We all know that Penn State is a special place, but at times it can be difficult to express how unique this community really is. For four Penn Staters, creating a lifestyle clothing brand was a way to celebrate the diversity of students, alumni, and townies.

College Town Culture is the brainchild of Penn State alums Mike Karns and Alex Baron, who graduated in 2011 and 2019, respectively. Penn State junior Bella Granada joined the team as a digital marketing strategist and brand manager, and senior Bryce Eberly joined as the brand and social media manager. This team of four Penn Staters worked together to build the brand from the ground up.

“We wanted to celebrate the Penn State experience and the diverse community that surrounds State College,” Eberly said, describing the name behind the brand.

There’s a form of unity within Penn State’s broad culture, but there are also subcultures that weave within this community. The people who make up these different groups support and lean on each other every day, according to Granada.

“It’s a massive community, and people here are always willing to be leaning on each other and helping each other and especially celebrating each other. I feel like that’s something we do here a lot at Penn State,” Granada said. “We really try to recognize all the different people that we have here. I think that’s what we’re trying to lean into with College Town Culture — really tapping into all the different cultures that we have here and how diverse Penn State really is.”

Given that the brand is hyperlocal to Penn State, a fundamental value of College Town Culture is to make sure it celebrates and utilizes the talents of other local entrepreneurs, businesses, and students.

Once the team brainstorms designs, it commissions students in the Penn State School of Visual Arts to bring the ideas to life. Similarly, its printing is done through a local company, and the group works with aspiring models and influencers for photoshoots.

“It’s really helpful that we have people who are local to us because it also helps us continue with the ethos of our brand, just being local and supporting local people, as well,” Granada said.

Rather than shooting in generic studios, College Town Culture chose to incorporate iconic backdrops around campus and State College. There have been shoots at the Lion Shrine, the Corner Room, the Berkey Creamery, and more.

“We wanted to make everyone aware of where we are and who this company is,” Eberly said. “A lot of the way we can do that is through showing them parts of Penn State scenery that they know of and have memories of. It initiates this moment of nostalgia in the brain so they have this urge to look into our company and see what we’re all about.”

Courtesy of Bryce Eberly

Unlike other Penn State apparel, College Town Culture clothing isn’t designed just for gameday. The goal is that people will want to wear the threads going to class, at daylongs, and outside of State College.

According to Granada, there’s a lot of thought and effort that goes into each design, which sets it apart from the simple designs that you can find downtown. For example, Granada’s favorite design is the “We ALL Are” shirt that says “We Are” in many different languages. Together, these words combine to create the outline of the Nittany Lion’s face.

College Town Culture doesn’t want to just be known for selling clothes. It created a massive online presence that keeps people up to date with what’s going on and what cool things other Penn Staters are up to.

The brand help spread the word about performers, new restaurants, athletic events, and more. You can stay up to date on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.

“We want people who are following us on socials — whether currently here as students or residents or people involved in State College culture in any regard — for them to be up to date with what’s going on in our area,” Granada said. “[This includes] alumni and people who aren’t in State College anymore, to be able to see what we have going on still at Penn State. It’s in an effort to keep everyone connected with what we have going on here because it’s always something.”

Courtesy of Bryce Eberly

College Town Culture soft launched at the end of the summer, which brought in its first pool of customers. Through this, the team received a lot of feedback and was able to perfect its launch process.

“There’s been a lot of love,” Granada said. “A lot of people really resonated with a lot of the designs that we had put out. Customers came along through an organic reach that our products brought.”

Of course, College Town Culture’s t-shirts, sweatshirts, crewnecks, and stickers feature all things Penn State. Prices are around $30 per shirt.

One of the more popular designs is the Old Coaly t-shirt, which features the original mascot, a black mule that arrived in State College in 1857. There’s a vintage design, “The Nittanymen,” which throws it back to 1904 before the Nittany Lion came about in 1921. Other designs include “It’s Always Happy in the Valley,” and “These Are the Good Old Days.”

Courtesy of Bryce Eberly

“To put it into perspective, we’ve had non-Penn Staters in our community come to our website,” Eberly said. “They’ve bought the ice cream shirt, the one that says, ‘One flavor — everybody knows the rules.’ Even though they’re not Penn Staters, they grew up in State College and went to the Creamery knowing it was the one-stop shop for ice cream in the town. Even though they weren’t Penn Staters, it brought them that moment of nostalgia that they were stoked to see.”

College Town Culture is operating online, though it does pop-ups in State College from time to time. From noon to close on Friday, October 21, the team is hosting an activation event at Doggie’s to launch its newest designs.

Here, you can buy its original threads in addition to its never-before-seen designs on-site.

Courtesy of Bryce Eberly

Granada and Eberly mentioned that the company culture within College Town Culture has been rewarding, fun, and so special, which sure is on brand. Working with Karns and Baron has allowed them opportunities that they never would’ve thought possible.

“I’m learning real logistics about how to run a company and how to start a company that I know is going to benefit me in the future,” Eberly said.

After months of hard work, Granada is finally seeing College Town Culture build a following in the Penn State community.

“At the end of the day, it is so fulfilling to see something that you have worked so hard to build come to fruition,” Granada said. “Even when we had the soft launch and the website went live, I remember freaking out because something I helped build is there online for people to see all over the world. Seeing something that I helped build and have it come to fruition has been my favorite part.”

To purchase apparel from College Town Culture, check out its website and use the code “ONWARD15” for 15% off your purchase.

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About the Author

Colleen Nersten

Colleen is a senior biology major from York, Pa, and is one of Onward State's associate editors. She overuses the ~tilde~ and aspires to be no other than the great Guy Fieri. You can find Colleen filling up her gas tank at Rutter’s, the ~superior~ Pennsylvania gas station. Please direct any questions or concerns to [email protected] For the hijinks, always.

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