Business is booming for two BHS students

Alexandra Davis at her sewing machine. | Photos: Barbara Ball

BLYTHEWOOD – While the Time of Corona continues to visit devastation on businesses and jobs across the country, two Blythewood High School students not only started their own small business two months into the pandemic, but it has been so successful that they’re talking expansion.

When Richland School District Two initiated school-from-home a year ago, seniors Alexandra Davis and her boyfriend Walt Simpson, both 18, launched an online sustainable clothing business that now has more than 2,000 customers across the country and last month brought in close to $2,000.

“It all started in May, 2020,” Alexandra said of the business, the.patchco.

“I was doing remote school and had a lot of extra time. I needed spending money since I lost my part time job coaching swimming at the YMCA because of COVID. So I started selling my clothes on Instagram – things that I didn’t wear anymore. That was going pretty good, so Walt and I decided to build on that. We’re both interested in the environment, sustainability and recycling, so we started going to resale stores to find clothes people ages 14 – 25 would like – tees and sweatshirts, anything trendy, sometimes customizing them. We would tie-dye or bleach stuff,” she said

“Our parents helped us out with the purchase of a Singer sewing machine so we could cut and sew. Now, we cut and sew a lot,” she said.

To keep track of their sales and projects and to promote their business on different platforms, they used Google Sheets.

“Our parents helped us learn how to create the coding for it,” she said.

A major shift in their business model came early in January of this year when a customer requested custom patchwork sweatpants. Alexandra and Walt said they were so inspired with how the pants turned out, that they made more – they’re turning out about 15 pair a month now. The custom sweatpants sell for $120 – $180 a pair, and customers can’t get enough of them.

“They’re now the main focus of our business,” Alexandra said.

“To make a pair of sweatpants, we buy four or five different pairs of resale sweatpants that have a stain or for some other reason haven’t sold, and we cut the good parts into squares and rectangles,” she explained. “We sew the fabric squares together to make one large piece of patchwork fabric and then cut the pants out of it and sew them up. We put elastic in the waist with a drawstring option. We can put elastic around the bottom of the legs or leave them straight,” she said.

“Our customers tell us their measurements and the colors they want. There’s a lot of trial and error in this,” Alexandra admitted. “We tried patterns from Walmart, but that didn’t work for us. On occasion we made things that didn’t sell. We thought they were cool, but maybe not what our audience liked. Now we know better what is and isn’t trending. We’ve worked our way through some of the problems, and the sweatpants we sew now definitely look better than the first ones,” she said with a laugh.

“I recently made a pair that I love so much I kept for myself,” she added.

Most of the sweatpants are unisex, but about 90 percent of their customers are girls.

Since no one in either of their families knew how to sew, Alexandra and Walt taught themselves with YouTube videos. And while they both sew now, Walt says it is Alexandra who spends the most time sewing the patchwork sweatpants.

“I’m more of the Goodwill hunter,” he said. “I go out and find cool, random tee-shirts and sweatpants. We have a good balance.”

They say 30-40 percent of their business is local, but they’ve had sales in almost every state.

One girl in New York ordered four pair of patchwork sweatpants.

Walt Simpson lays out squares to be sewn together for a pair of sweatpants.

“We ship free in poly bags that feature our logo. We enclose a business card and a thank-you note in the package with information about laundering. Local purchases are packed into brown shopping bags and set out on our front porches for customers to pick up,” Alexandra said. Customers pay online with Venmo or Cash App.

“We’ve had a few international orders but that’s a whole ‘nother ball game,” Alexandra said. “We’re not there yet, but it’s definitely in our future.”

The high schoolers are clearly devoted to their craft, working four to six hours a day, seven days a week in Alexandra’s brother’s bedroom which they commandeered after he left for Ohio State University last year.

Besides the long hours they spend on their business, both Alexandra and Walt are otherwise busy these days. She is back coaching at the YMCA and is on the school’s swim team. He plays on the BHS Lacrosse team, and both are active in Young Lives and in student government – he’s president of the BHS student body and she’s vice-president.

Walt grew up in Blythewood, and the two have been friends since they were in fifth grade. That’s when Alexandra’s family moved in five doors down from Walt’s family. But it wasn’t until a year ago that the two began dating. Now their lives are further entwined by their business.

While they plan to attend separate colleges next fall – she’s looking at private schools, maybe Wofford, Furman or High Point University, he’s headed to the University of South Carolina or College of Charleston – they plan to take their Singers with them and continue to build their online fashion business. They both plan to pursue degrees in business.

“Working separately will definitely be a change for us,” Walt said, “but it will also give us new and different sources of clothes and fabrics and new areas to advertise our line. Getting our brand and our sweatpants to multiple schools would be really smart,” he said.

“Our goal will continue to be to promote sustainability and recycling to help stop so much stuff from going to landfills,” he said. “We like leading the charge for sustainability, and we’ve gained a lot of followers through our business. I think it’s cool to be able to spread awareness.”

Separation aside, the two are already planning to expand their business. As their sweatpants have grown in popularity and their workload has increased, they’ve hired a cutter (a friend from school). They said they need more time to plan the release of their own clothing line later this year.

“We want to eventually open an eco-friendly store front,” Alexandra said. For now, they’re busy planning their new spring and summer sweatpants.

“As the weather gets warmer, we’re going to do a short version of our patch sweatpants,” Walt said. “We’ll still be recycling tees and sweatshirts on our Instagram site, but our focus will stay with the patchwork sweats because they bring in more money for us.”

But both say their business isn’t all about money. There’s also the pride they feel in what they’ve accomplished.

“When we see a lot of students at our school walking around wearing our clothes,” Alexandra said, “that’s like the best feeling ever. Making sustainable sweatpants that people really love is just really cool.”

To learn more about Alexandra and Walt’s custom sustainable clothing, go to the.patchco on Instagram.

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