Angela Jin, CSOM ’17, and Nishiki Maredia both love One Direction.
The two classmates at Westlake High School in Austin, Texas didn’t know each other well. But one thing they shared was a love of the hearthrob boy band from London. In August 2014, the summer after her freshman year at Boston College, Jin heard that One Direction had a concert at Houston’s NRG Stadium. Despite not knowing her so well in Austin, Jin invited Maredia to take the two-and-a-half-hour drive to see their idols.
But it wasn’t enough to just see One Direction in action—no, their love for the popular boy band ran too deep for that. So the two fans created an elaborate plan to meet Zayn Malik, Harry Styles, and Co. in the flesh—just to see if it would work. Their desperate attempt, which involved creating fake backstage passes, resulted in a near-arrest. Instead, they were promptly escorted from the premises after getting within 100 feet of the band, an experience from which a beautiful friendship grew.
Jin and Maredia only wished they had something else with which to remember their exciting adventure.
In the following months, the two kept in touch while Jin returned to the Northeast and Maredia stayed at home to begin attending the University of Texas at Austin. Throughout the conversations about their many passions, one thing kept bugging them: the slim pickings available in the world of One Direction merchandise.
Not only were the items expensive—the prices of some official t-shirts ran as high as $40—the more affordable options were just ugly. For older fans of the band who cared about their own presentation just as much as expressing their fandom, there weren’t any good alternatives for mature and fashionable merchandise. Most shops with One Direction clothing were either extremely low quality, both in terms of material and overall design, or even worse, scammers.
As fans of One Direction on the older side of the spectrum, Jin and Mareida realized that they had stumbled across an untapped, hungry niche market. With no alternative, they decided to seize it for themselves.
In Jan. 2015, they launched 1950 Collective, a t-shirt company focused on selling fashionable fandom merchandise. The name was inspired by the number of miles between Austin and Boston. This company would be the way they could keep in touch and channel their creative energies, especially on the days when they didn’t feel like doing anything else.
“We were both like, ‘This is a good passion project to distract us from the mental health issues we’re dealing with,” Jin said. “And that was kind of how it got started.”
Despite not expecting much beyond a sense of personal fulfillment, Jin and Madeira received a loan of $2,000 from Jin’s parents to launch their first collection of stylish One Direction merchandise. The shirts, all designed by Jin using Photoshop, were simple, but true to their fandom. In the classic nature of any popular graphic tee, the names of the band members were emblazoned across the fronts and backs of the shirts in bold fonts, and some featured fan art or clean pictures of Malik or Styles. Jin and Maredia ensured that the shirts were ethically made in the United States, choosing a New Hampshire-based manufacturer. Although that made the prices of the shirts higher than than the unofficial merchandise on the market, the quality of each piece was better, evidenced by the soft and comfortable fabric of each shirt. The items were an immediate success, and within the first seven weeks, Jin and Maredia had repaid the loan—and more.
“It wasn’t ever like, oh we’re going to start a company and make millions of dollars, we joked about it, ‘Like watch this blow up and we’re not even going to realize it,’ and that’s exactly what happened,” Jin said.
But Jin and Maredia still had a lot to learn about running a business. The two knew very little about how a fashion startup operated, and had few systems in place for the day-to-day processes. They were essentially learning how to build a company on the fly. Had they known exactly what it would entail, Jin speculates that they might have been too intimidated, and never have made the leap to start the company. Their “simple concept” and inexperienced approach left them ignorant of the business concepts, like economies of scale or vertical integration, that they had yet to learn.
But Jin believes that this “naïve” beginning worked in the brand’s favor. Instead of following a strict path outlined by past startups, Jin and Maderia formed the business in whatever fresh image they chose.
Jin and Madeira split the work evenly during those first months—neither sleeping much, but successfully building their credibility as a brand. The two relied on the big fan accounts in the One Direction fandom community in which the two were embedded, partnering to host giveaway contests that got the word out about 1950 Collective.
As the number of orders placed increased, Jin and Maredia began reaching out for advice on handling their newfound success. Instead of turning to the startup world in Boston—Jin explained that the mostly “older white men” who populate the startup community “didn’t see the value” in a fashion startup that catered to boy band fans—Jin turned to the BC community. She took counsel from any BC professor or graduate who was willing to help, seeing if their advice might apply to the 1950 Collective business model.
Jin and Maredia worked with that advice and found their way as the months passed, learning to delegate tasks and even outsource when the funds were available. Early in the business, Jin would be stuck on College Road every Friday night. Her roommate would come back to the sight of packing tape in her hair and mountains of boxes for orders to be shipped. With the advice she received, Jin instead redistributed the packing and shipping of the products to a nearby warehouse—it made all the difference in the lives of the busy college students. The duo eased their burden even more when they took on Meredith Riley, CSOM ’18, as the operations manager for 1950 Collective—she became in charge of global shipping and customer service.
Jin and Maredia also expanded their collection, tapping into the vibrant social interest in the One Direction community. Jin explained that One Direction was extremely “charity-centric,” and created a fan base where interests overlapped beyond the band to issues of social justice. As a group of mainly adolescent and young adult females, the two said, One Direction fans were “coming to an age of understanding” and expressing interest in “causative issues” like feminism and Black Lives Matter.
“[Maredia and I] were like ‘oh okay, everybody pretty much thinks that if you like One Direction, there is no way that you care about Black Lives Matter or that you are interested in delving into intersectionality,’ but there’s a huge overlap,” Jin said. “Not only can we attest to that personally, but we can see that in just what people are tweeting and interested in and creating accounts for.”
The pair released a small feminist-inspired collection, just to test the waters, which sold out immediately. From there, they continued unveiling items connected to charity and activism, eventually launching an eight-piece social justice collection. The simple yet trendy designs bear politically relevant statements like “No ban no wall,” and “My body my choice,” and 100 percent of the profits from each shirt go to the charity that inspired the shirt, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Border Angels.
Giving back is not unusual for 1950 Collective. Since the brand’s launch, Jin and Maredia have donated 10 percent of their profits to carefully selected organizations and causes—most recently Polaris Project, the Flint water crisis, and Syrian refugees. They held a brief campaign in which they donated a plain, white t-shirt to Austin’s homeless community for every shirt sold. Jin noted that this charitable focus not only stems from the Jesuit ideal of giving back, but more strongly from both the founders’ personal backgrounds.
“Growing up, our parents [were] immigrants, they didn’t grow up with a lot, and when they came to America both of our families really struggled financially, but my parents and Nishiki’s never failed to give back with even what little they had then,” Jin said. “And that was just something that was always ingrained in us growing up.”
But Jin and Maredia are not only concerned with using 1950 Collective to make a more global impact through the funds they donate to charities, but also on the intimate interactions and conversations that they have with their customers. Each customer who places an order or signs up for 1950 Collective’s mailing list gets a personal email which invites them to reach out to Jin and Maredia with any questions that they might have—be it about the business, or just life. When they first included the message, the pair was unsure if anyone would read it—let alone respond—and were delighted when their customers began reaching out to them, asking about everything from how to deal with a fight with their best friend, to how to approach someone that they have a crush on. Currently, the account receives at least one message a week from a customer looking to connect with the welcoming entrepreneurs.
“The platform centers around so many women of different backgrounds,” Maredia said. “So when they reach out to us … that is what I think is the best part of 1950, because a lot of them view Angela and I as like a big-sister-type brand because we definitely don’t have a commercial or cooperate type view with 1950.”
Jin and Maredia even guided a customer who reached out for advice on mental health issues, something that both founders were willing to discuss with the girl. Although careful to explain that they were not licensed medical professionals, they passed along the tips that they had learned, and gave “safe advice without overstepping.” A month later, the girl reached out to Jin and Maredia again, explaining that she had taken their advice, and was on the path to recovery.
“That was such a satisfying thing to know that because we shared our story … it helped someone,” Jin said. “And that’s something that I would never expect to do from a One Direction t-shirt company [that started] as a joke. Having a real impact.”
Jin and Maredia’s impact has been noted nationally, too—on April 5, they were awarded the Glamour 2017 College Women of the Year Award. But even with the clear success of 1950 Collective, Jin and Maredia are unsure of the company’s future as Jin looks toward graduation and Maredia looks toward spending time abroad during her junior year. Maredia explained that they never looked at the company as “an end goal.” Although they both love their fashion startup, it is just as much of a stepping stone and learning experience as it is a successful business.
Over the past two and a half years, Jin and Maredia have learned more than they can tell, perhaps most importantly the confidence to understand that they can learn to do anything that they put their minds to.
“No one, even in the corporate world, knows 100 percent of what they’re doing,” Maredia said. “We’re all learning as we go.”
Regardless of 1950 Collective’s future, Jin and Maredia’s eagerness to learn has primed the duo to tackle whatever project next grabs them. The two are thinking about starting an Asian-American PR agency, aiming to bring the community into an entertainment industry where they are severely underrepresented. But they aren’t closing the door on expanding this business or jumping at whatever niche market falls into their lap again.
One thing is for sure: Jin and Maredia will not measure their success based upon numbers and profit. That’ll come from seeing a video of a customer in Holland dancing around in one of their “Hoetic Justice” shirts, or knowing their donations helped someone in need. Either way, Jin and Maredia will search for that sense of personal fulfillment wherever they land.
Even if that’s on the wrong side of the fence at a One Direction concert.
Featured Image Courtesy of 1950 Collective