By Connor Buestad | email@example.com
A group of five 15 year olds isn’t supposed to be able to captivate a room like this.
Tears of joy and pride, prolonged moments of intense contemplation, and rousing standing ovations were supposed to be reserved for “Graduation Saturday” at UC Berkeley. And although more than a few remnants from the Cal graduation yet remained, it was Sunday now. By this time, the diplomas had all been given out, the pictures had all been snapped, the celebratory bottles of wine had been emptied, and the grandparents were well on their way back to Florida.
A newer, younger generation of students now had the stage in the Haas School of Business main auditorium all to themselves. An impressive collection of East Bay ninth graders had descended upon the Berkeley campus to compete in a business competition and pitch their start-up ideas to a group of distinguished panelists. The event, put on by BUILD.org, promised the winner a thousand dollars of seed funding.
In front of a standing room only crowd, it was a clothing company called “Stoaked” that stole the show.
Ryan Frigo, Jovon Jenkins Jr., Desmond Cliett Jr., Christian Johnson, and Kai Crosby, all Oakland Tech Freshman, took the stage near the end of the competition and left no doubt who was the most deserving winner. In a compelling presentation, the five-man team went far beyond simply explaining their brand, but instead dove headlong into social issues plaguing the city of Oakland. A city that the team is currently growing up (and taking pride) in.
The Stoaked contingent used a microphone instead of a bullhorn in order to be heard on this day. And their focus was on their hoodies rather than the 1%. But their speech held undertones of the since past Occupy Oakland movement, and the crowd surely was struck by the gravity of the moment.
“Stoaked is an apparel company that represents Oakland’s life, beauty, and soul,” explained company leader Kai Crosby. “The brand represents a lifestyle and a vision that Oakland’s potential will continue to be brought out, and will bring positive outside perceptions to Oakland. We are trying to slowly change the image of the city we grew up in by selling clothes.”
Ryan Frigo continued to captivate the audience with more background on how Stoaked came to be, and where he plans to take it in the future. It is a company that sells a fashionable, well designed, original product, but the founders make sure their goods also come with a positive and meaningful message.
Frigo, who appears to be the brains behind the technical side of the product, has chosen a logo for Stoaked that epitomizes the change in Oakland that he is after. The spreading roots of the “City of Oakland Tree”, centered inside a triangle is the logo representing this up-and-coming brand. And if even incidental, consumers can’t help but see the triangle as representing a delta sign, as in change.
“We looked into the Oaklandish logo (also depicting the ‘City of Oakland Tree’) and we realized they don’t have any special rights to the city tree, so we went ahead and made our own design out of Oakland’s city logo.”
The company Frigo makes reference to here, Oaklandish, is an established clothing brand who is dedicated to supporting and representing the city of Oakland in the most positive light possible. With shirts including the one depicting the word “stAy” in support of the one-foot-out-the-door Oakland Athletics, Oaklandish has made every attempt to support the city through a local, artistically driven clothing store.
And as much as stores like Oaklandish have done to change and improve the perception of the city of Oakland, there is no substitute for the perspective that the members of Stoaked posses. Even despite close ties with Oakland and her sociology degree from the University of Chicago, Oaklandish’s CEO Anglea Tsay can’t quite compete with how local Stoaked really is. In the case of Ryan, Kai and the rest of the Stoaked staff, they embody the image and purpose of the clothes themselves. Their models are their classmates, their design consultants are their buddies who skate the rails behind Oakland Tech.
It wasn’t until Frigo finally laid his paws on a heat press that Stoaked went from just a lofty idea to something of substance. Now that same heat press is working overtime in his family’s basement, churning out shirts, tanks and hoodies for customers all over the Bay Area.
“Me and my friends take pictures all throughout the city of Oakland,” explains Frigo. “Sometimes it’s in an urban setting, other times it’s up in a secret spot in the hills. Using photoshop and different design programs, we create what the images will look like, then we use transfers and a heat press to get them on our clothes.”
It is a process that can be time consuming and labor intensive, especially for a 15 year old. But as Frigo explains, “It doesn’t really feel like work, we enjoy doing it. We love making these clothes.”
As Spring gives way to Summer, the young men of Stoaked have graciously moved on from their business comp triumph. The seed money has already been re-invested, the Summer Line has been released and the all important Fall roll-out of apparel is in the pipeline. But as anyone already knows from hearing this group of entrepreneurs speak about their city and their mission, their goals go far beyond just the next quarter of sales.
Stoaked has decided to not just agree to change or sign up for a movement, but they decided to start one themselves. With each picture taken, each shirt pressed, and each item sold, they plan to come closer to changing the perception of the city they are growing up in.
If they aren’t careful, they just might do it.