Alumni Owned Business Profile: Shirtquarters
Drew Powers (B.S.’06) began his college experience at Reynolds Community College in 2000 before transferring to VCU in 2002. He had always worked full time and continued while he was in school, taking night classes for his marketing degree.
Plus, he had a side hustle. Starting with a heat press, then eventually teaching himself screen printing, Powers, who had always loved unique and unusual T-shirts, founded Shirtquarters in 2000, selling T-shirts to clubs in Richmond.
Immersed in the diverse, creative VCU community, Powers found a group of peers, non-traditional students like himself, at VCU. “I was older when I started at VCU. My classmates were professionals and business owners. They were serious and had wisdom to share. It felt real-world,” he says. And it was a source of invaluable knowledge about entrepreneurship.
“I’ve never wanted to be a manager or the boss of people,” Powers says. “I’m creative and I like finding ways to monetize that creativity.”
In 2013, he doubled down on the Shirtquarters brand, offering T-shirt printing online and from a storefront in Virginia Beach, where he was living. This past year, he sold the business to Angie Llatas-Campos (B.S.’18), a VCU graduate in interdisciplinary science and another business-minded professional looking to do something she loved.
Llatas-Campos came to the United States from Peru when she was seven. As the only immigrant family in a small West Virginia town, she learned to be resilient.
“I had to adapt. I learned English in six months. I didn’t think about it, I just embraced it,” she says.
She landed a job at a lab after she graduated in 2018, but after five years, she grew tired of the Monday-through-Friday workweek and began thinking about entrepreneurship — a seed that was planted at VCU, where she was exposed to the different perspectives that come with a diverse student population.
“I went in with one mentality – that I would get my degree and get a typical 9-5 salaried job. But I met classmates, from science to arts to marketing, and got a new mindset for what the next step could look like,” she says. “The environment shaped me.”
For a year she explored various opportunities. When she came across Shirtquarters and watched a video about Powers’ business model, she was intrigued and reached out to him. They immediately bonded over their VCU experience and passion for entrepreneurship. “There was a sense of relief to work with a VCU alum. It was exciting!” she says.
She is now training with Powers to bring the business to Richmond.
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Shirtquarters’ branding model helps clients appeal to the distinct interests of their customer base. From old-school hip-hop and country western lyrics to pop culture references, Shirtquarters’ designs are funny, quirky and sometimes for mature audiences. They’re more than just a logo on a shirt.
Take, for example, a local bagel shop. On weekend mornings, groups of students with messy hair and sweatpants wait in line for a warm bagel after a night out. Referencing the “walk of shame,” the shop’s new collection of tees says “The walk of schmear.” (A “schmear” is the traditional dollop of cream cheese on a bagel.) The Shirtquarters team also consulted on the merchandise display, moving the shirts from behind the counter to where customers line up.
“Most screen printers don’t care what’s printed, but we create collections based on the customer experience of the business. We want people to wear the T-shirt because they love it,” Powers says.
Llatas-Campos will bring Shirtquarters to the Richmond market in January 2024, helping businesses create merchandise that is as unique as their clientele.
“My brother is in his first year at VCU, and I still frequent my favorite food places in the area. I’ve seen the VCU alumni-owned business stickers, and it’s an instant click that this is our community. It’s a win-win helping each other out,” she says.