Young adults these days get a bad rap, especially when they head off to college.
So it’s heartening to know that Adam LaVitola of Lake Bluff, and Sean McCauley of Lake Forest, both 19 years old, run a successful business venture even when they are both a state away—at college. They are the co-founders of an online clothing company called Seam Street, and boy, do they mean business. The business of being preppy, that is.
“Preppy”—which is nowadays both an adjective and noun—stems from the dress code traditionally found at upper-class and upper-middle-class private universities or preparatory schools of the Midwest and Northeast. In the mid-twentieth century, with the help of Brooks Brothers, Perry Ellis, and later Ralph Lauren, the prep school look associated with Ivy Leagues and leisure sports became a fashion statement. Preppy was solidified, galloping off the polo field or sailing off the harbor and into the wardrobes of young men and women.
Adam and Sean are both well-versed in preppy. But their business took root in a different subculture: the sports enthusiast’s fascination with vintage jerseys.
Growing up, Adam, currently a sophomore at Illinois Wesleyan, and Sean, a sophomore at Indiana University, owned jerseys from their favorite sports teams and players. But the lion’s share of their collections happened concurrently. Though they had been friends since their days on the youth soccer field, it wasn’t until freshman year at Lake Forest High School that they became good friends, and then, in senior year, business partners.
They had their epiphany in June of 2013 after making “a small Facebook page” to market their throwback jerseys. When one of their friends, (the majority of their earliest consumers) asked them about expanding their fledgling business from an athletic collection to include a preppy collection as well, they jumped at the idea. But instead of going back to bulk resale from websites like eBay, “we were like, why should we resell other company’s clothing when we can just make our own brand?” McCauley says.
They called it Seam Street, (“the first two letters of Sean’s first name and the last two letters of my name,” Adam explains)—and teased some of their first product last summer. They added “street” because they thought it sounded catchy. But why the turtle?
Much like the fable of the tortoise and the hare, turtles, Adam says, “signify a slow, easy lifestyle. We had about five different things in mind but we stuck with that because we realized it had good branding potential.” They took it a step further, partnering with the National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation and donating 10 percent of all their profits to help save the endangered species that adorns their polos, hats, t-shirts, beer koozies, stickers, and ever-growing catalog of accessories.
With a 2014 Fall collection on its way and next summer already looming on the horizon, the company has grown in leaps and bounds. Adam attributes their meteoric success to social media and the Internet, and why not? Their demographic of young male high schoolers and college students religiously check Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram: utilizing all three of those mediums is the most streamlined way to communicate with their customers and to attract potential buyers. Last check on their Twitter handle (@SeamStreetPrep) had over 1,900 followers; their Instagram page of the same name had 6,202; and Facebook had more than 350 “Likes.”
It makes perfect sense that 19-year-olds would be able to engage other social media savvy peers, and that branding would be in their DNA—and in their company’s best interest. But it’s just the beginning for the co-founders, who are keeping business a part of their college curriculum: Adam is studying business and computer science, and Sean is majoring in sports marketing management and minoring in business.
“We’ve really noticed in the past year that’s its really grown into something bigger than we ever thought, since originally when we started to sell jerseys,” Adam says. “Right now, we’re trying to keep up with the growth and keep it going and see where it takes us. We’re just taking it step by step.”
Slow and steady, just like a turtle.
– Simon Murray // Photography by Jim Prisching