• Sun. May 19th, 2024

UMD student’s business aims to redefine custom college apparel

When University of Maryland student Annika Elander founded her custom college apparel business three years ago, she never expected it to take off like it did.

Annika’s Customs began as an idea to help high school seniors represent their college. It’s since turned into a money-making machine. The company specializes in affordable custom college women’s apparel and has developed prints for almost 300 different colleges, according to Elander.

“It’s for college students by a college student,” Elander said.

The company’s apparel features trendy college prints on T-shirts, tank tops, sweatshirts, sweatpants and other clothing items. Its website provides another level of customization through a notes section for customers to indicate specific preferences — and Elander makes sure to comply with each request, she said.

Elander, a junior marketing and supply chain management major, founded the company in April 2021 when she was a senior in high school. She recalled having a difficult time finding college clothing that matched popular trends.

Elander’s original goal was to help friends out by making clothes for their colleges, but never foresaw a future for herself as a small business owner, she said.

“When I started, it was never supposed to be anything,” Elander said. “I was using a little handheld iron to put everything [on]. It was so time-consuming.”

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Elander’s mom, a small business owner herself, noticed the hard work going into the brand and surprised Elander with an industrial heat press. Annika’s Customs was subsequently born at their home in Lexington, Massachusetts.

The operation followed Elander to College Park, where she runs the business out of her off-campus house. The company often makes around $500 in sales a day in the spring season, Elander said, and has more than 5,800 followers on Instagram.

Each of the company’s clothing items is named after an impactful person in Elander’s life. The Zoe Tank — the first item Elander released in fall 2021 —was named after the founder’s friend, Zoe Cross.

Cross, a junior criminology and criminal justice and psychology major at this university, has seen Annika’s Customs grow since befriending Elander during her freshman year.

“She provided a cheap alternative to stuff that you’d see at the bookstore in a more modern way,” Cross said. “Her whole idea behind it was great.”

Elander hopes to work with the campus bookstore in the future to expose her brand to a new audience.

Emily Logan, a junior marketing and supply chain management major, has been an Annika’s Customs customer since her freshman year. She keeps buying more items because Elander continues to expand her custom creations.

“It’s constantly growing,” Logan said. “As the years go on, she keeps finding things to make the market wider.”

The company has designed clothing for College Park apartment buildings, the Panhellenic Association and countless students and parents looking for college attire. In fall 2022, Annika’s Customs partnered with the sorority Alpha Omicron Pi for its AOPalooza philanthropy event.

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Annika’s Customs made a significant amount of money during the event and strengthened the company’s community outreach, Elander said.

The event opened “so many doors” for Annika’s Customs and quickly became one of Elander’s favorite collaborations. She came back last year and again worked as an AOPalooza vendor.

“I went home and I cried. I was so happy,” Elander said.

It was a time in which Elander felt like her business was an established brand, she said.

The company uses an ambassador program to boost sales in different parts of the country and targets high school seniors who are choosing a college.

Elander said the program has brought close friends into her life and helped enhance Annika’s Customs’ social media engagement.

Elander includes a handwritten note with every order. Because her name is attached to the brand, she said, it is essential to be aware of her presentation.

As Elander wraps up her junior year, she admits she doesn’t know what the future holds for Annika’s Customs. But her involvement in the company has changed her life, she said.

“My whole college experience has been what it has been because of this,” Elander said.


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