Five students launch handmade clothing brand

“Fabricating irony one font at a time” their Instagram bio reads honestly. As a band of five high school kids with an aptitude for art and design, a clothing brand titled “Oldpeople” does not portray the typical image of people who are, well, old. One shirt design portrays an old man with with brand’s logo scrawled within the confines of his face while his face appears floating in a speech bubble. The face in the design may be old, the name might literally be old, but the faces donning the apparel are not.

As Joey Dunning put it simply, “We’re not old.”

Formed in late 2017, the brand is comprised of five students: juniors Lars Christiason, Joey Dunning and Camden Dusenbery, and sophomores Mack Eastman and Hollis Wilson. The brand began crafting this ironic sense of youth through original designs and a line of hand printed t-shirts. “It’s a group of creative thinkers that just want to collaborate and make something unique that fits our personalities,” Christiason said.

The unique brand name was originally a joke sprouted from Christiasons’s experience as a former employee at a local nursing home. “In the beginning of the summer, we all met on different circumstances, and we were talking about old people one day,” Dusenbery said.

After bonding through a group chat of the same name and fashion influences including Off-White, Holiday, Golfwang and Illegal Civilization, and receiving instruction and materials from Wilson’s father, a printmaker, the Oldpeople operation took flight.

“We all have wanted to create something and use our different skills,” Dusenbery said. “The art comes from [Wilson, Christiason, Dunning and Eastman], and I’m more of the business side.”

However, Oldpeople began as a way for the five to make clothes that they liked; not to profit. “I don’t think we really cared about selling shirts. We just wanted to wear our own,” Christiason said.

Originally, Wilson was planning to take on a similar project on his own, but after strengthening a friendship as a group over the course of the summer and fall of 2017, it became clear that the old saying rang true: the more the merrier.

With more people comes more opportunities for chaos, however. “Sometimes having five people means there’s more room for error. Naturally, we want to have fun,” Wilson said.

“If one person is not doing anything, they could talk and distract. Sometimes you rub ink on a sleeve and the shirt is just ruined. This all happens,” Dusenbery said.

But the group is quick to disregard the rare follies and find strength in its numbers. “Obviously everyone is going to disagree on something at some point, but I feel like if we disagree on something, it shows us what is going to work best,” Dunning said. “If our group was only one, two or three people, they could all agree on something, but maybe the fifth person says an idea that no one would have thought of.”

“We influence each other,” Eastman said. “There’s a lot of holes in Oldpeople that we fill.”

The group soon began posting pictures of their designs and shirts on Instagram. Interest was sparked. “Once we made the Instagram, people started talking to us, and we kind of realized that we should make shirts for more people,” Eastman said.

Fabricating this irony is no small feat. While many clothing brands rely on printing companies to produce their work from start to finish, Oldpeople’s process is entirely captained by the members of the group—from design to making screens, printing the shirts to promotion and Wilson’s website design. Wilson’s house has morphed into the brand’s makeshift factory, where the group spends hours on weekends to create their pieces. “As of now, Oldpeople has taken over my life,” Wilson said.

Balancing responsibilities with the effort it requires to get Oldpeople off the ground is a difficult task in itself; all five of the members are full-time high school students, most of which are involved in other activities like sports and working jobs. “I have a job and I work a lot. They’ll be together while I’m at work, and I’ll have to run over there right when I get off work, so it’s hard to balance work and Oldpeople,” Eastman said.

To explain in layman’s terms, the complicated process begins with a black and white design that is dark enough to expose a screen. Once the screen has been prepared with the design on its surface, it is laid on top of the shirt. The ink is placed on top of the screen and a tool called a squeegee drags the ink across the design, printing onto the shirt through the black part of the original design.

Because the shirts are completely handmade, it can take hours to produce only a small number of product. One weekend, the group notes, it took five hours to make 12 shirts. As a company formed of students with no professional experience, the brand has been learning the best way to perfect their process on the fly. Wilson is confident that they can “definitely print good shirts,” but nods when Dusenbery adds, “The hardest part is that sometimes we make stupid mistakes, but we will get better.”

In the clothing business, many would see hailing from a small, midwestern college town like Cedar Falls as a disadvantage, but the boys of Oldpeople express that the town has been a prime node to foster their development as a brand. “It helps us be ourselves more. If you lived in Chicago or LA or New York, everyone’s doing the same thing,” Dunning said. “It’s a lot easier to access stuff in bigger cities, but when you’re in a small town, you can stand out and be yourself.”

“We’re actually really lucky,” Eastman added. “Cedar Falls is the perfect place.”

With the influence of social media in contemporary society, it is no longer necessary for up-and-coming brands like Oldpeople to be based in a big city. Oldpeople’s influences of designers like Virgil Abloh, artists like hip-hop collective Brockhampton and potential customers are just a click away. “The media makes the small town seem big in a way. You can get inspiration from big artists, and we don’t have to be right there to see what they’re doing,” Christiason said. “Media for us is a big outlet.”

For their biggest influences outside of the musicians, artists and designers that dominate avante-garde culture, the group cites where and how they were raised for their creativeness. “We have parents who foster creativity, and being surrounded by that helps,” Christiason said. “I always grew up around music, so I’ve always been influenced by that, and then fashion kind of came naturally from music.”

Oldpeople has emerged as an avenue of expression for the group, allowing them to develop skills for their future early in a way different than many of their peers seem to be doing. “If you have an idea in your mind, you might as well start as early as you can. We are lucky enough to have supplies to do it,” Eastman said.

While Oldpeople is an obvious stepping block for Wilson and Dunning, who plan to attend art school in the future, the brand has also allowed its other members to explore outlets of innovation at a young age and develop other skills. Dusenbery, who refers to his skills on more of the “business side” is positive that the things he has learned while developing Oldpeople will help him too, even if he does not plan on attending art school like his friends. “Even as a business major, if I put down ‘I started a business,’ It’s very rare,” Dusenbery said. “Tell me how many people put that down?”

It’s uniquely refreshing for a group of Iowa high school kids to develop a clothing brand from scratch and seize an opportunity to do something many twice their age would not be able to do. “This school is cool, but no one is really doing anything out of their way. I just feel like it’s a new creative outlet in the school that no one’s really done,” Dunning said.

The group accepts that wherever a new idea commences, especially one that ventures into unclaimed areas of a booming small-town culture, there will be critics. “[Peers] look down on new ideas, but then again we have a big group of people who think it’s awesome what we’re doing,” Dusenbery said. “There are always going to be people who think it’s weird.”

The group is prepared to face critics if they arise, but the most important thing for the brand, especially one that started out with the sole purpose to create an innovative outlet to satisfy no one but each other, is to stay authentic to their style and aspirations. “I just think it’s important that we do what we want to do,” Wilson said. “We’re just doing what we want to do, and that’s what matters.”

The brand’s first drop is on Saturday, Feb 3. “I just want everyone to know that it’s Feb. 3, and Oldpeople is releasing that day, whether or not they like it,” Wilson said.

While the future of Oldpeople still remains to be written, the group is optimistic for what will result from their first release. “I think it would be cool to see people walking around with Oldpeople shirts on,” Eastman said. The first collection of handmade Oldpeople clothing will be available from Feb. 3 at 12 a.m. and can be found for a limited time at oldpeoplebrand.com.

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