Passion to Profit, UMD Grad Turns Schoolwork Into Career

Posted at: 11/08/2013 3:16 PM
Updated at: 11/08/2013 10:41 PM
By: Brittany Falkers

For about two years Spencer Johnson has been busy with his new business Sota Clothing.  It's a unique clothing line with a real Minnesota flare, but it wasn't always a hip clothing company.  It actually started as a school assignment.

"it's offering a little more of a unique design," Johnson said. "Like Minnesota, Sota...  You kind of have to look at it, some people don't get it right away."

That second take, think twice aspect of the branding is the exact feel Johnson says he was going for. Cool, comfortable clothes that show state pride without being too obvious is Johnson's goal. But before he was selling the line, Sota Clothing was just a school project.

While finishing up his degree in graphic design at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Johnson was tasked with creating a fictional company  for his final project.  That's when Sota Clothing was born, but it was still just schoolwork back then.

"When I presented it to the class, I had to show it everyone, all of my classmates were asking if I was actually making the shirts," Johnson said. "Then it slowly started to evolve from there.

He started screen printing shirts in a basement here and Duluth until it blossomed into a real profit producing endeavor.  He took the shirts on tour, even traveling to Europe to spread his vision.  At this past summer's Minnesota State Fair, Johnson sold the clothes outside the fair grounds and was thrilled with the response.

"The fact that people actually stopped and bought stuff because they liked what I was doing was a lot of fun to see," he said.  "I'd like them to have the sense that they're wearing this [Sota Clothes] because they really like it versus alright, this is a shirt that's clean."

Mary Olson-Reed is the coordinator at UMD's Multimedia Hub on campus.  It's where Johnson worked at the time and where Sota Clothing got its start.

"He never gave up," Olson-Reed said.  "It was quite exciting to see how these T-shirts, Sota, started and then how it's grown since that time."

Johnson has some advice for others hoping to turn their ideas into a career - be bold and be persistent.  "Just keep going, keep trying. Keep trying the most random stuff you can possible think of, so far out of the box. You never know what won't work."

Sota Clothing provides Minnesota-themed tank tops and T-shirts for men and women. You can learn more at www.sotaclothing.com.