Jonathan Benjamin, a junior point guard for the Spider basketball team, has spent his fall semester balancing schoolwork, a varsity sport and Official Visit ActiveWear, the clothing line he started during the summer of 2011.
Benjamin said he had always wanted to start a creative clothing line for athletes since “generic gray sweatpants” usually characterized their wardrobes.
“A lot of us like to get dressed up,” he said. “When we go to class we look tired in our sweats, and I want to help athletes across the country with our day-to-day wear.”
Benjamin said his intro to marketing class with professor Adam Marquardt had been the spark he had needed to start work on the line. Marquardt showed several videos to the class about young entrepreneurs who started successful companies during college, which Benjamin said had helped him put his ideas together and make OVAW seem possible.
The “Official Visit” in the brand name, Benjamin said, was inspired by a desire for his buyers to feel as though they are being heavily recruited. Whether that recruitment is by a university, a sports team or an organization, Benjamin wants people to feel comfortable and confident in his clothes — the same feeling he hopes people will have after they make a successful recruitment decision, he said.
“My whole catchphrase is ‘The Best Fit,’” Benjamin said. “Even if you’re not a student athlete, but just someone trying to make sure the next situation is the best fit for them. …I want my clothes to be for anyone that has goals they are trying to reach.”
The biggest concern that people have had about Benjamin is how he will manage to add creating a new business to his already heavy schedule of activities and responsibilities, he said.
Senior teammate Zak Estes said: “He has been very dedicated to OVAW since the start of the company. He has been able to maintain his focus on Richmond basketball while also devoting a lot of his time to his company, which has been very impressive.”
Chris Mooney, the men’s basketball coach, said that if anyone could handle such a busy schedule it would be Benjamin because of the great energy he possesses.
“I was extremely impressed upon hearing he had his own clothing line,” Mooney said. “I think it’s great and clearly he’s going to be very successful.”
Mooney also said it had been exciting to see the men on the team supporting Benjamin by wearing his shirts and bracelets, and that he was waiting for the next shipment of shirts in his size to come in.
Senior Conor Smith, Benjamin’s teammate and roommate, said: “His clothing line has made him a lot busier, but I think he enjoys it. He likes what he is doing and spends countless time designing his new clothes, promoting his brand on social networks, changing his website, etc.”
Smith said he wasn’t sure how popular the brand would become, and that it had not been until the first shipment that he had realized how serious Benjamin had been about the endeavor.
“Jon B. is one of my best friends and is a great businessman,” Smith said. “He is friendly and popular and works really hard on his brand.”
Benjamin said he was thankful for the support he had received from his teammates and coach during the beginning stages of the line.
“I thought Mooney would think it was a distraction from basketball,” Benjamin said, “But he was excited about it, and I was glad he thought it was a good idea.”
Beyond the personal success he has had with the line, Benjamin said one of the most important aspects of the brand was that 20 percent of each sale was donated to St. Joseph’s Villa — a shelter for children with learning disabilities and troubled backgrounds. Since the start of the 2011-2012 school year, Benjamin has given $500 to the children’s home.
The current line consists of t-shirts, tank tops, promotional bracelets and hats. Benjamin said he had future plans for hooded sweatshirts and nicer polo shirts, but that he wanted to keep the line comfortable for now.
The influence of personal experience and past teammates can even be seen in some of his designs. The tank tops that feature “OVAW” in blue and white stripes were inspired by the colors of the Orlando Magic, the professional team that recruited Justin Harper, a former Richmond player. Each “OVAW” logo also contains 20 stripes, symbolic of the Benjamin’s age during the company’s founding.
“I think the world of him,” Mooney said. “He’s really bright and this is a bit of a risk, but it’s different and unique. He’ll be extremely successful.”
Benjamin said he has had such a positive reaction to his clothing line from Richmond students that he began sales at schools such as the University of Florida, Santa Clara, Bentley, UCLA and Rutgers. Official Visit ActiveWear is based out of DePaul’s T-Shirt Factory in Benjamin’s hometown of Rochester, New York.
Contact staff writer Markie Martin at email@example.com