Bored of your wardrobe? Jonathan Starzyk ’14 might be able to help. For the past year, he’s been busy filling a gap in the world of men’s wear with his own online store that sells unique vintage clothes. First created while he was a student at Pomona, Jonathan’s brand, STARZYK, is now based out of his hometown of Chicago. There, he’s working to make the business take root in the city and continue its growth, using creative efforts to connect with local buyers while still reaching style-minded guys across the country.
A CHANCE WORTH TAKING
Jonathan got his first exposure to the fashion world through summer internships with retailers and brands in Chicago, including a stint at international label French Connection. He loved the field’s link between artistic projects and business know-how, but sought more independence than he saw in some of the positions in the industry.
“I wanted to do something that I knew I’d be really invested in,” he says. “I felt like I understood what worked for a lot of these brands and what didn’t, and I wanted my voice to be heard.”
Interestingly, he was also realizing how difficult it was to find cool, distinctive outfits on his own. Thrift store shopping often meant hunting through racks of cluttered items for hours on end, only to go home empty-handed. Meanwhile, looks from better-known shops were quickly snatched up by others with similar tastes, making it hard to stand out from the crowd.
It wasn’t long before Jonathan sensed a way to tap an unmet need while having free rein to pursue his passion. Why not “gamble on myself,” he thought, and start his own venture?
FROM INCONVENIENCE TO OPPORTUNITY
With the help of a fellowship from student entrepreneurship group Pomona Ventures, Jonathan launched his website ShopStarzyk.com in the fall of his senior year. Selling everything from retro jackets and polos to swim shorts and tees, the site simplifies the tedious task of ‘thrifting’ by collecting quality apparel in one convenient source.
Jonathan finds his inventory by carefully combing through estate sales, thrift stores and other vintage hotspots in search of standout items. The selection process is based on a simple but effective rule: only offer clothes that Jonathan and his colleagues would seek out for themselves.
“We take the time to find pieces that we know we’d enjoy, and we think our customer would enjoy,” he says. “The brand is very much an extension of me and the things I like.”
Knowing he someday wanted to run a startup, Jonathan used the flexibility of his media studies major to pick up valuable skills for the fashion field. At Pomona he took courses in digital photography and graphic design, supplemented by a semester in Australia where he studied marketing. The preparation has paid off, allowing him to handle projects like shooting photos for lookbooks and designing his own logo.
“It’s nice to see how much I’ve grown from my learning experiences and how I’ve been able to apply them to a legitimate business,” he reflects.
LET THE CLOTHES DO THE TALKING
Since relocating to Chicago after graduation, Jonathan has been figuring out new ways to meet the challenges of running an online shop, the biggest of which is getting people to check out the product. The company lends itself well to social media platforms like Tumblr and Instagram, which Jonathan uses to target likely shoppers and define the brand’s look. Still, he says these tactics are just one piece of the puzzle.
“I’ve learned that people want to be able to interact with businesses in any way they can, and that’s hard to do with our online and social presence alone.”
One way to reach out to buyers is through pop-up shops, temporary stands where Jonathan sells his wares in strategic locations like fashion festivals and street fairs. “The idea is to be present, allow for interaction, and let the clothes do the talking,” he explains.
Wherever Jonathan’s current project leads him, friends and collaborators say they’ve come to expect his unique, self-confident style of career building. “Jonathan always has a vision of what he wants, and will go through a very interesting path to get there,” says Hannah Doruelo ’16, a friend from Chicago who interned at STARZYK for a semester to help get the company off the ground. “I really see him as a trailblazer.”