Starting a fashion company can be daunting to any aspiring fashion designer, especially when you have a full class schedule and pressure to pass all your classes. Even though Blacksburg is not the ideal fashion startup location, two entrepreneurs spotted an opportunity, and made a name for themselves in the budding world of Blacksburg fashion. Senior finance and management major Eric Mbualungu and junior BIT major Bryan Kamenga wanted to create something that thought about the world and the people buying their product. With this, the two cousins birthed the fashion company, Zappy, in 2018.
The idea of Zappy started as a childhood dream for Mbualungu, an idea that a company should represent more than profit, but a vision that one could take pride in. During our half-hour-turned-two-hour interview, they told the story of how two best friends made a fashion company and how college students should be the change they want to see in the fashion world.
Though Blacksburg is not necessarily a town known for its fashionability, Kamenga and Mbualungu figured that there was no better time than the present to create a brand and develop something greater than themselves. Zappy’s wide range of edgy and street-style-inspired t-shirts, sweaters and hoodies reflects the founders’ personal style that they want to spread throughout Blacksburg.
“Clothing will be around forever, but certain clothing brands can make an impact forever,” Mbualungu said, reinforcing that Zappy fosters the customer’s self esteem through refreshing apparel for all genders and sizes while contributing to a charitable goal.
Despite a lack of retail experience, they decided that the Zappy name and ideal should be a fashion company that would act as a “window of opportunity to express yourself,” Kamenga said. In the design process, they craft their custom prints, such as red velvet, classic camo and their blue splatter, to fill the Zappy logo on every shirt. Currently, all of their products are sold on the third-party website Teespring, but Mbualungu and Kamenga teased that a new website was launching in the next few months on which they will sell both old and new, currently top-secret, merchandise.
What drew Kamenga and Mbualungu to start Zappy in college was the plethora of creative students — photographers, videographers and models — to collaborate with.
“It’s drive to not only bring yourself (up) as a brand, but bring up another peer and their brand,” Mbualungu explained. However, they breathe Zappy’s mission of philanthropy and fundraising through percentage nights at stores such as Sweet Frog and in products such as the Zappy Autism Awareness Tee, which give a percent of the proceeds to a non-profit or charity.
Zappy isn’t a college pastime for these entrepreneurs; their goal is to make the brand as large as Nike, while keeping it private so that they can continue being “the creator(s) and controller(s),” Mbualungu said. One day, Kamenga hopes to open a Zappy scholarship and foundation to “help out somebody first, even when we don’t have ourselves completely covered.” Even though a collaboration with Nike or Chance the Rapper continues to be a goal, according to Kamenga and Mbualungu, to wake up every morning doing something they love with their best friend is the ultimate dream.
When starting a company, especially in the early stages, the risks involved can cloud one’s mind on the worth of the end goal. In college, it means sacrificing nights out for late nights crafting mission plans, models, designs, fundraisers and every bullet point and meeting in between. However, Kamenga concluded that “when you have passion for what you are doing, it is really hard to quit when things get hard.”