Bright, funky, sleek: Element Threads, a new suit company started by senior Zach Giberson, is bringing a fun new twist to men’s fashion.
Element Threads, a company Giberson started when interning in Shanghai, China, last summer, creates brightly-patterned suits that are sold online. The idea for the company stemmed from a realization that no suit company produces uniquely-patterned suits, he said.
“If you go to Armani or Brooks Brothers, most of the jackets and suits are blue, black and gray, and some with calm, basic designs,” Giberson said. “But no one is dedicating their company to uniquely-pattered clothing.”
The atypical patterns and designs caught University of Richmond President Ronald Crutcher’s attention and prompted him to place an order with Element Threads.
“I decided to order one of Zach’s suits because I happened to like the pattern and design of one suit in particular,” Crutcher wrote in an email.
Giberson's fabrics, which he found in factories and warehouses while traveling to Shanghai, set Element Threads apart from other companies.
“I knew immediately when I saw all these fabrics, that’s what I wanted to do," Giberson said. "After that, I would wake up in the morning and that was the only thing on my mind. How could I give up an opportunity like this? I have all the skill set for this and I have a huge network at Richmond that is going to get behind me on this.”
Giberson’s network at Richmond has allowed him to find success early on. He has used his peers as resources to better understand different aspects of the business world such as website design, social media and marketing.
“I know to get Element Threads off the ground there needs to be an investment in advertisement, but before I do that, I need to make sure my website and themes are organized,” Giberson said. “My website is good, but it’s not as good as Urban Outfitters or blogger websites.”
In order to enhance his website, Giberson turned to "marketing geniuses" — fellow students Amy Littleson and Dalila Softic. Softic, who has worked for two advertising agencies in the past, offered Giberson a lesson in marketing.
“Zach has his manufacturing and product end very secure and thought-out," Softic said. "However, his branding is a weakness. I taught him some basic branding exercises that I went through as an intern and continue to use today with clients.”
Littleson runs a blog called, “Amy Believes in Pink,” and has nearly 25,000 followers on Instagram. She advised Giberson about increasing his brand's social media presence. The two have also discussed collaborating on products for the future.
“I’ve been helping consult Zach on expanding Element Threads’ social media presence, SEO and online advertising,” Littleson said.
Since these meetings, Giberson has created an Instagram for Element Threads and has redesigned his website. And while Giberson does not have a full background in business, his Chinese major at Richmond has set him up to start the brand. With two semesters of Mandarin classes at Richmond along with two semesters of studying abroad in Beijing, Giberson was able to communicate with vendors in Shanghai.
“I really started with Mandarin from scratch sophomore year in college," Giberson said as he reflected on the ease with which he picked up the language. "I took two semesters and I just didn’t need to put in as much effort as the rest of my class to do well. I just got lucky with learning Mandarin.”
His comfort with Mandarin interested him in applying to study abroad in Beijing his junior year.
“When I got to China, I decided to do immersion, which meant I basically had to speak Mandarin for the whole year," he said. "First semester, I lived in a dorm with a Chinese kid and his girlfriend, which was interesting. Second semester, I did a homestay.”
After becoming increasingly fluent in Mandarin from his time in Beijing, Giberson applied for a summer internship in Shanghai. It was there that he toured fabric factories to learn international standards and find marketplaces that inspired him to start his own company. According to Giberson, the marketplaces were huge structures in the middle of the city, with multiple floors and hundreds of vendors who make a variety of different products.
“I would go from vendor to vendor to vendor, just talking to them and asking them about their supply chain, how they operated and how they got their supplies — things I had learned at this project-management internship,” Giberson said. “I really got a knack for how these vendors operated and where they got all their supplies from.”
He also used his connections with the factories through his internship to build relationships with the managers, who now serve as a strong network for him.
Although Giberson used his Mandarin skills to build the connections he made, he credits the resources of his peers to the success he has had since being back on campus.
“The University of Richmond is one big consulting firm. It’s so easy to find your 'expert,' and people are so willing to help," he said. "I love bringing people together so that they can use their skill set for a common goal.”
Giberson said he especially enjoyed running a business on campus because so many people specialize themselves in a certain way, and he has been able to use them to help him with Element Threads. So far, Giberson has invested only around $500 in the company and attributes most of his early success to getting free advice and consulting that otherwise would have been costly.
Giberson welcomes all suggestions and collaboration from fellow students. “The University of Richmond is so small and everyone knows each other," he said. "There is this atmosphere of kindness and openness, which allows you to shoot someone a text and ask to grab a cup of coffee and talk for 30 minutes. This environment is rare and it’s very conducive to entrepreneurship.”
Crutcher was moved by Giberson’s entrepreneurship skills, which was another reason he decided to purchase an Element Threads suit.
“As the father of an entrepreneur, I always try to support young entrepreneurs, especially if I like their product,” Crutcher wrote in an email.
Giberson has also used his relationships on campus to launch an ambassador program in which ambassadors get a $30 to $50 commission per sale. He has Richmond students on campus who promote Element Threads’ products as well having ambassadors at the University of Texas, Bentley, University of Denver and Virginia Tech.
Mitchell Johnson, who recently became a brand ambassador for Element Threads at the University of Texas at Austin, has promoted the brand on his own campus.
“So far, I’ve reached out to a couple fraternities around campus, promoting a new style for formal parties that help couples, or single young men, stand out from the boring and usual khaki pants and navy blazer that everyone always wears,” Johnson said.
Johnson also plans to reach people outside of the Greek life community at UT Austin.
Though Giberson is a senior and is enrolled in classes such as Physics and Chinese Pop Culture, Element Threads has required him to make decisions when it comes to working on schoolwork and growing his business.
“I wouldn’t say I’m balancing, I’d say I’m prioritizing," Giberson said. "The way I describe it to people that I’ve talked to about this is you’re constantly preparing yourself to get to the next step in your life. When you graduate college, you’re just thrown into an abyss after being in a uniformed process for so long.”
Because Giberson believes school is no longer what is preparing him for the outside world, he cannot prioritize it, he said.
“I’m a very serious student inside the classroom, but when I’m outside of the classroom, I am working to build this company,” Giberson said.
His experiences thus far as an entrepreneur, including his time in China, have worked to change his view of what he wants his future to look like.
“When I went to China, I abandoned all the cultural norms and pressures of status," he said. "No one is born and raised to be a perfect fit for any single job. I’ve had such a wonderful experience of doing my own thing, and having this flexibility is so necessary for my happiness that I can’t see myself working at an office doing a nine to five."
Each jacket is sold on ElementThreads.com for $250. Student discounts through his ambassador program offers suits for $150.
Contact reporter Devon Flinn at firstname.lastname@example.org