Elon University senior Matthew Mitten fell unintentionally into business when, in 2019, he ordered his first customized shirt printed with a phrase that would come to define his company: “Climate Change is Real.”
The finance and applied math double major and founder of Climate Change Apparel said he was inspired to use the phrase to promote environmentalism, and after creating his design on Adobe Illustrator in his dorm room, he placed a small collection of orders for him and friends.
Climate Change Apparel has since grown, boasting $5,000 in sales and a partnership with Marketplace Under the Oaks, Elon’s virtual network that promotes student-led businesses. While Mitten focuses on crunching numbers in the classroom during his time at Elon, he is able to use his small clothing company as a creative outlet and an opportunity to make a positive impact on social issues.
Mitten sells merchandise on his website, through Instagram and in-person on Elon’s campus.
The apparel displays environmentally-conscious phrases like “Every Day is Earth Day” and “Climate Change is Real” printed on shirts, hats, hoodies and stickers.
According to the Climate Change Apparel website, Mitten hopes to raise both money and awareness for environmental causes with every shirt. A 10% cut of each order is donated to conservation organizations, and Mitten has given over $200 to charities like the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund.
“It’s a big message of my brand that a portion of profits go to these charities, so you’re obviously raising awareness for these issues by wearing my clothes,” Mitten said. “You can feel good about it too because some of the sales go to fighting climate change.”
Senior Kevin Scott said he purchases products from Climate Change Apparel because of the company’s main focus of actively helping the environment by both creating conversations about climate change and contributing monetary donations to larger environmental activism organizations.
“The way that the images are depicted is quite dramatic. On the back [of the shirts], it often reads ‘climate change is real,’ and that’s such a strong statement in such a visible place,” Scott said.
In the early stages of his business, Mitten used a website shirt printing service to order his products to meet demand. But a commitment to sustainability motivated him to search for a local supplier, and he eventually found Atlantic Coast Screen Printing Company.
“It was really important for me to use a small business in the community to print my shirts to cut down on shipping emissions and shipping costs,” Mitten said. “I try to be conscious of the environment when I can.”
Now that he is partnered with Marketplace Under the Oaks, he has begun to pre-order merchandise that he is confident will sell at the pop-up events hosted outside of Clohan Dining Hall. Mitten said participating in these events has already boosted his sales.
“I think this new initiative is amazing because it provides crucial support to Elon student small businesses,” Mitten said. “The Doherty Center and Elon Dining are going above and beyond to support our businesses.”
According to Alyssa Martina, director of the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Marketplace Under the Oaks is driven by a desire to recognize and promote student entrepreneurs. Any Elon student, regardless of major or business idea, is welcome to pitch their product or service to Marketplace Under the Oaks.
“We’re not the judge or the jury,” Martina said. “We’re just here to help you explore your creative side, your innovative side, your entrepreneurial side.”
Martina said this partnership provides guidance and support as well as exposure of their business to the greater campus community.
“This is exactly what I was looking for when I started my business and couldn’t find it,” Mitten said, “The fact that we have it now is amazing.”
During his past two years of business, Mitten has personally funded Climate Change Apparel, but he is now exploring applying for the “Elon Acorn Fund,” an SGA initiative to financially support Elon’s student entrepreneurs. The fund is awarded to two students per year, each of whom receiving $4,500 to use for their business or service.
If Mitten succeeds in securing these funds, he intends to expand his business’ online and in-person presence, explore retail capabilities and take steps to make the company more sustainable. Post-graduation, Mitten hopes to carry on with Climate Change Apparel, though he said he is unsure what that will look like.
“I will likely continue running the company and maybe bring on some Elon students to keep things running here,” Mitten said. “The possibilities are endless and exciting.”