LSU students Natalie John and Mason Dupré had a unique concept: combine fashion and comfort with Greek and collegiate apparel. The pair spent months sourcing a rare, soft fabric John had first seen in a thrift store in Nantucket, then started Woolly Threads with a little bit of savings and a credit card in a Brightside Drive apartment in 2014.
They began selling one thing—“The Woolly,” an 80% cotton/20% polyester blend sweater made in America, with the first sales being to Greek organizations on campus. This year, the newly minted LSU alumni are projected to reach $6 to 8 million in revenue, having secured marketing licenses all over the country with major colleges and universities by doing things the old-fashioned way: knocking on doors.
It turns out the Collegiate Licensing Company does not look favorably on a couple of college students with no sales, credit or distribution history—at least at first. After an initial denial from the CLC, essentially shutting the company out from manufacturing officially licensed merchandise, Dupré hit the road. “We wouldn’t even have meetings set,” Dupré says. “The only shot we had was for them to see and feel the product. We were giving it out.” And the plan worked: if they got face time with a licensing director, they got the license for that campus.
There’s a high barrier to entry in the world of officially licensed apparel, and those allowed the licenses “don’t have to bend and flow to the whims and trends,” Dupré says. “We were fortunate to have a unique product and style, and the marriage of the two is a big part to how we have had so much traction in the market. We stand out.”
That youthful chutzpah demonstrated in the early days has not gone away—it’s only grown stronger. Fearlessness, adventure, spontaneity, wanderlust and fun are what they’re about, John says. During the summer of 2016, they came up with a way to bring others into the fold. The company’s “Roam Free” summer campaign encouraged entrants to submit an adventurous photo on Instagram with the tag #YIROAM, and two winners were awarded a trip of a lifetime, all expenses paid, with about 48 hours’ notice. Trip 1 brought two friends on a trip through California, from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Once in the hotel, they received their itinerary, finding that every detail had been covered for the next five days, including skydiving, dinner reservations and a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway. Trip 2 brought two friends on an equally adventurous road trip through the Pacific Northwest, from Seattle to Portland, documenting it all along the way to Woolly followers on social media. “It was essentially a big ol’ campaign to evoke the importance of living in the moment,” Dupré says.
Dupré says their company is changing the vernacular. “Nobody is saying, ‘I’m going to buy a Gilden T-shirt,’” John says, “But now on gameday, they say they have to get their LSU Woolly. They’re buying for two name brands—the school as well as the product’s namesake.”
John’s fashion-forward sense keeps the brand and its apparel evolving, having now added roll-up tees for sale on the site, with more products in development. Their staff of 35—with the average age being 21—handles online fulfillment from their Baton Rouge headquarters, with Greek and collegiate products produced in their manufacturing facility in South Carolina.
Woolly Threads is going places. And they want more and more wearers along for the ride.