When Brandon Alston walked through the front door of Kudu, a coffee shop just a few blocks from the College of Charleston campus, the barista behind the counter took a step back in wide-eyed recognition.
“You’re the Fresh Prince,” she exclaimed. “I love your stuff!”
In a mustard-colored sweatshirt strategically decked out with sections of a former sweater, Alston wears his upcycled clothing line with a degree of coolness that would indeed make the Fresh Prince proud. He takes beloved clothing that may have holes or stains and transforms it into something new, but also familiar.
Originally, Alston was just making clothing for himself, but he received so many compliments and requests to create something for classmates that the Honors College student, who is majoring in theatre, created Fresh Prince Fits Designs.
“I was really looking at how could I make myself and my clothing more unique and really more speak to my personality, tell my story,” he says, noting that he first started experimenting with fashion and upcycling in high school. “At the same time, I was in love with the show the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I loved how the show was able to kind of question the stereotypes and stigma around men’s fashion — and more specifically Black men’s fashion. I really wanted to bring that same individuality and expressiveness to my brand and to my clothes.”
After starting his freshman year at CofC during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alston found that sewing and making clothes for himself in the College’s costume shop helped ease his transition to college life. With the support of friends, his business began to take shape.
Now Fresh Prince Fits Designs is part of Alston’s Honors Immersed project with Janine McCabe, associate professor and chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance. Alston also joined a select group of student entrepreneurs in the Founders Club mentored by David Wyman, associate professor of management and marketing and director of the Center for Entrepreneurship. In addition, Alston participates in the Honors Entrepreneurship Living Learning Community (E-LLC) under the guidance of faculty member Lancie Affonso ’96. All of these resources are helping him learn the ins and outs of setting up a business.
“Brandon is a terrific ambassador for peer-mentoring and interdisciplinary experiential learning at the College of Charleston,” says Affonso, an Honors College faculty fellow, director of the E-LLC, and senior instructor in computer science and management and marketing. “He brought his creative talent fostered in our School of the Arts and combined it with the entrepreneurial mindset and the support of a peer mentoring network.”
And Alston’s CofC network of resources has expanded beyond the confines of campus to include Anna Todisco ’16, a like-minded mentor with an upcycling business.
“Brandon reached out to find out where I had my tags made,” says Todisco, who launched Threads Todisco, now based in Los Angeles. “When I clicked on his Instagram page, I saw that he had modeled before, so I asked him to come model for my line. He came in something he had reworked, and all the dots connected.”
Both Todisco and Alston have a passion for reworking clothes and reducing waste, and she’s happy to have someone else join her in the upcycling industry and change the minds of consumers about fashion apparel.
“While what we are doing is synonymous, the patterns we gravitate toward are different,” she says. “Really, there’s plenty of shoppers for all of us to do well.”
And Todisco, who launched her business after she graduated, sees the benefits of Alston starting his business while still at the College.
“Brandon is fully immersing himself in the costume world, and it is reflected in his work,” explains Todisco, who also majored in theatre at CofC. “The college environment is giving him more tools to grow professionally — machinery, mentors and guides. He is making the most of the access and is filling up with a wealth of knowledge.”
On his 21st birthday, Alston expanded his marketing for Fresh Prince Fits Designs from Instagram to pop-ups and held his first pop-up at a brewery.
At first, Alston was afraid no one would find the pop-ups. Now, he fears he can’t keep his racks stocked. Plus, with his reputation growing, he has people approach him with their favorite well-worn clothes to have new life injected into them.
Alston’s dream is to be an actor, but with a side gig — as Alston says, “everybody has a side gig.” At the College, his side gig has taken over, and he is concentrating on costumes. “I want to focus on learning a skill, to have a solid back up.” He is also taking as many behind-the-scenes theatre classes as he can, so that he can fully appreciate all aspects of how a show is brought together.
One thing is for certain, Alston already has a prosperous side gig, and with his talent for maximizing opportunities, he’s poised for success no matter the stage.