Owning it: WCSU inspires entrepreneurs
DANBURY, CONN. — As students at Western Connecticut State University, Nygel White and Bernard Benjamin learned about business and communications through their major coursework. But what they learned most was that with a little planning and a lot of hard work, they could achieve their dreams.
White, a senior studying relational communications, and Benjamin, a 2015 business administration graduate, launched a clothing line — Years of Progress, or YOP, in August after three years of planning.
YOP is an all online-sales urban clothing brand that sells T-shirts, outerwear and other clothing. White said the line is geared toward young adults but is designed for all creeds, colors and walks of life.
“We founded the company to use the knowledge we gained here at WCSU to create opportunities for entrepreneurship via the promotion of peace, positivity, perseverance and progress in the urban communities at the heart of our business model,” White said.
“Every year has to be better than the past,” said Benjamin. “Besides working for a corporation, why not do more? Progression’s a lesson; let your essence be your reference.”
White said another principle they adhere to is that it is necessary to know where you come from to know where you’re going.
“How do you know how to prepare for obstacles later down the road? For us, the idea of progress can relate to everybody.”
Some of the inspiration came from English professor Dr. Don Gagnon, who, through an interdisciplinary approach to academia, encouraged the two students to respond intellectually and personally to the challenges posed in his ‘Performing Blackness’ course several years ago.
“WCSU provided both the business skills and the sociocultural awareness, through such classes offered in English, history and communication, which are necessary in order to conceive of the type of business model that they have created so successfully,” Gagnon said. “The continuing benefit of immersion in the humanities as part of a liberal arts education is key to their empathy and focus on success in terms other than super profits. It is clear that their studies at WCSU have made them not only better professionals but also more successful contributors to the social good.”
Established in 2012 and released in August 2015, the Hartford-based clothing line was featured in Hartford Fashion Week’s Oct. 4 edition. YOP sold 60 percent of its inventory in its first month of the first season.
Long-time friends who grew up together on the same street, the two men shared a love a fashion and started designing clothes while freshmen in high school. They tried to find a way to incorporate their passion into a business. White said the purpose of the organization was to give back to communities while reaching the interests of youth and young adults. Five percent of the proceeds go to orphanages and group homes in Hartford, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Jamaica and Guyana.
“We weren’t fond of the idea of making it and leaving others behind,” White said, of giving back to the community. He hopes that his philosophy is motivating to those who wear his clothing.
“We see a lot of youth fixated on the idea of looking cool. We are looking for a way to tap into that in a positive way,” White said. “Through the sale of our YOP label garments and our company’s visible social responsibility, we are organizing to provide opportunities for urban youth and simultaneously donate part of our proceeds and significant personal time to youth-service organizations in neighborhoods around Hartford,” White said. “We believe this is the type of entrepreneurial endeavor that clearly shows the ideals and philosophy of WCSU and serves our community.”
White and Benjamin are both natives of Hartford; White is the oldest of six siblings and Benjamin is the second oldest of five. In addition to running the business, White is a director of a before-and-after program at a YMCA; he will graduate in May 2016. Benjamin works at Cartus in Danbury.
Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.