Zach Sweedler always loved art, but for a long time he wasn't sure how to apply the passion.
Then, Sweedler, a sophomore transfer student at the University of Richmond, decided to apply his passion for art to his developing skills as an entrepreneur to become a fashion designer. With time, this development culminated in the creation of his namesake clothing brand, Zach Ryan.
Sweedler recently partnered with the UR bookstore employees to sell a Henley Oxford featuring UR’s red and navy colors. The shirt can be purchased in the bookstore for $79.99.
Charnell Grace, the general merchandise buyer at the bookstore, worked directly with Sweedler and said the order of shirts had arrived two weeks ago at the start of spring semester.
“Whenever a student or alum approaches us, we do try to support,” Grace said. “We look at the product, make sure it might be a good fit for the bookstore, what students, alums and parents might want.”
Sweedler said he kicked off the partnership with an order of 40 shirts and hoped to eventually diversify the products sold in the bookstore if the initial sales went well.
“I’m excited to see how well it does, because it looks really nice, I know we’ve sold a few," Liz St. John, interim bookstore and Spidershop manager, said.
Sweedler said he first discovered his interest in founding a fashion brand at the age of 15.
“I knew I loved photography," he said. "I knew I loved to draw. I knew I loved to do all these things artistically, but I never could find a way to use them all at once, and when I found fashion, I was like, 'jackpot.'”
Sweedler describes his style as classic American with a twist. He draws inspiration for his clothing designs from his upbringing in New England.
Despite his recent success, he said his first attempt at creating a brand had failed.
“We never actually ended up making products because we had no idea how to, and I think that experience, that first experience, kind of woke me up and I sort of told myself this is way harder than I thought it was going to be,” Sweedler said.
After his first attempt, Sweedler joined an entrepreneur club at Avon Old Farms, an all-male boarding school in Connecticut. As a sophomore at Avon, Sweedler said he had founded his first successful business with two of his friends. The company, called Nantucket Buckets, sold bucket hats.
Sweedler said he sold his shares in that company for five figures as a senior in high school and applied for a variety of internships with well-known clothing brands such as Luciano Barbera and Robert Graham.
“I also worked with companies like Brooks Brothers, Vineyard Vines, Ralph Lauren and basically did social media campaigns for them to understand the marketing side of a fashion company,” Sweedler said. “That’s how I built up a social media following, and after that I decided to turn that into my own designer line because I was like, 'I have the audience, why don’t I try to turn this audience into a business?'”
Sweedler said he had a great mentor who had been the key to finding manufacturers for his clothing line.
“I went to the guy who I interned for, Robert Stock, he was the founder of Robert Graham, and I told him that I was interested in starting my own business,” Sweedler said.
Zach Ryan was launched last May and has been in business for almost a year. The company is going into its third line of clothing next season, and will expand to women’s clothing and footwear in the future.
“After being in-business for a few months I knew I wanted to expand to wholesale and really start getting out to the college market,” Sweedler said. “I sent an application to the college licensing program and I was accepted to Richmond, so I’m now licensed with them, so if they want to order again, we’ll be able to use UR marks.”
Sweedler is licensed to use the marks of four other colleges as well, including Cornell University and Rutgers University.
“Years from now I want it to be an internationally known business, I mean definitely chasing Ralph Lauren, chasing Brooks Brothers, Tommy Hilfiger, any Americana brand," he said. "I want to be up there with them.”