In summer 2018, juniors Clara Diogo and Ocean Ronquillo-Morgan realized that the type of USC apparel they wanted could not be found anywhere.
None of the bookstore apparel combined “hypebeast” style with a personal connection to the USC spirit, and much of the game day apparel directed toward women was overtly feminine and not inclusive of diverse body shapes.
“I have a really curvy body shape,” said Diogo, who is majoring in architecture major. “I wanted to … get to a point where I could make clothes that people like me could wear to game day.”
Noticing this untapped market, Ronquillo-Morgan and Diogo entered the scene with Geistwear, which means spirit wear in German.
“We were looking at this idea of hypewear, hypebeast clothes, and we didn’t see that in game day,” Diogo said. “Sometimes you just want to wear a sweater and sweatpants, and that’s not a thing that people sell for game day that looks cool, you know?”
The design for their current line is influenced by Kanye West’s “Yeezus” album, and their overall aesthetic draws inspiration from Yeezy, West’s streetwear collaboration with Adidas.
In 2018, Cathy Ding, a junior majoring in computer science and business administration, reached out to Geistwear over Instagram and became its first brand ambassador. She represents its clothing over social media and has helped with pop-up shops on the lawn of her sorority, Alpha Chi Omega.
“Rather than other brands that do USC-based clothing, [Geistwear has] more elaborate designs, and I found that their apparel kind of spoke to my sense of fashion just as much as it did to my school spirit,” Ding said. “I feel like I could wear it around more, it’s more suitable for everyday wear and it’s more representative of my fashion style and I know a lot of others on this campus’ fashion style.”
Jenny Back, a freshman majoring in business administration, was drawn to the brand for similar reasons, which led her to work with Geistwear for a consulting class project. After providing feedback for Geistwear, she said she was invited to join the team as a brand ambassador.
“In my mind there’s only two other places where you can get game day merch: the bookstore and the Anti Bruin Trojan Club,” Back said. “Geistwear definitely is very unique in the sense that they’re super street style, definitely Yeezy inspired, and I liked the unique look to it, which is why I was drawn to it in the first place.”
Geistwear’s current line consists of a black 2020 sweatshirt emblazoned with the word “Trojan” in a spiky font and a flaming Trojan skull graphic. But equally important to the “Yeezus” inspired aesthetic is the message printed on the sweatshirt: “The future awaits” on the front and “Moving forward” on the back.
“What I really tied the story into is that the past few years, when I entered USC as a freshman in 2017, it’s always been tied to some sort of negative story by the Los Angeles Times, some sort of scandal,” said Ronquillo-Morgan, who is majoring in computer science and business administration. “I really wanted to come up with something as a testament, as a student, that was really personal to me and has helped me really propel forward.”
Ronquillo-Morgan handles the website, analytics and advertising side of Geistwear while Diogo, with her strong design and artistic background, creates most of the designs and helps with photography and filming for shoots.
Diogo said the designs for Geistwear are inspired by current trends, especially those popularized by rappers like West and Travis Scott. To avoid getting caught in a niche, they base their design aesthetic around the way Supreme streetwear comes out with a launch one week then switches its style with the next release.
Diogo’s friend Vaughn Hilsheimer, a junior majoring in architecture, designed the “Bet on USC” T-shirt from last season, which displayed a football playing card on the back. Experienced with creating graffiti art for fraternity parties, he was able to collect input on what many frat members would like to see in college apparel.
This season, they switched to made-to-order production instead of mass production, which allows them to have more control over how much clothing they order and increase the rounds of apparel releases they drop. When inspiration hits, Diogo and Ronquillo-Morgan can design and release a new line, avoiding waste and producing a quicker turnaround.
“Sometimes, ordering the clothes as early as we used to, it didn’t give us the freedom to be as creative as we possibly could be,” Diogo said. “This year it’s about pushing the envelope and trying new things for us … When we drop round one and we decide in a month that that’s it for round one, then it’s over. I can start creating a new design.”
New designs are already on their minds, Diogo said. The duo is considering a drop inspired by Coachella, taking notes from the music festival’s iconic look.
“A lot of complaints that we got was that this look was too grunge for us,” Diogo said. “I don’t ever want to get to this place where something is ‘too much’ for us to do.”
From personally reaching out to the customer base through Instagram to collaborating with brand ambassadors and other artists, working closely with students is central to Geistwear, Ronquillo-Morgan said. It’s all part of the college spirit.
“It’s really rewarding because it’s an actual human being behind the scenes that you’re working with,” Ronquillo-Morgan said. “It’s not just a customer — it’s another student who’s close to your age.”
As for the long-term goals of the brand, Ronquillo-Morgan said she and Diogo hope to scale the company so it can continue to grow through e-commerce after they both graduate and may include USC-unaffiliated fashion.
According to Diogo, the duo also hopes to expand Geistwear and bring the “L.A. vibe” to other schools where there is a strong football culture but lack of clothes that are “cool.” Diogo, who is from Wisconsin, said that her friends at the University of Wisconsin — Madison only have spirit wear at their bookstore, offering another potential market for Geistwear.