When Brandon Alston walked in the front door of Kudu, a coffee shop just off 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!”
Dressed in a mustard sweatshirt strategically decked out with sections of a former sweater, Alston wears his upcycled clothing line with a degree of coolness that would make Will Smith proud. He takes beloved clothing that may have holes or stains and transforms it into something new but also familiar.
Originally Alston just made clothing for himself, but he received so many compliments and requests to create something for classmates that the theatre major created Fresh Prince Fits Designs.
Now Alston’s company is part of his Honors Immersed project with Janine McCabe, associate professor and chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance. Alston also joined the Founders Club, a select group of student entrepreneurs in the Center for Entrepreneurship that is mentored by David Wyman, associate professor of management and marketing. In addition, Alston participates in the Honors Entrepreneurship Living Learning Community (E-LLC) under the guidance of Lancie Affonso ’96, Honors College faculty fellow, director of the E-LLC and senior instructor in computer science, management and marketing.
RELATED: Listen to Alston discuss his inspiration for upcycled fashion on an episode of CofC’s podcast Speaking of … College of Charleston.
(Photos by Heather Moran)
All these resources are helping Alston learn the ins and outs of setting up a business, and Anna Todisco ’16 is mentoring him about the upcycling business.
“Brandon reached out to find out where I had my tags made,” says the theatre major, whose Threads Todisco is 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 for reducing waste. While at the College, they have also developed the ability to see two sides of theater — acting and costume design.
Although they are in the same industry, Todisco is happy to have someone else join her in changing the mind of the consumer. “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.”
On his 21st birthday, Alston expanded his marketing from Instagram to retail pop-ups. He held his first pop-up at a brewery in September 2021 and learned a valuable lesson: Always bring a chair.
At first Alston was afraid no one would find the pop-ups. Now he fears keeping up with demand. Plus, with his reputation growing, he has people approach him with their favorite well-worn clothes to have new life injected into them.
Of course, he’s also studying costume design, along with all the other behind-the-scenes classes, so he can fully appreciate all aspects of how a show comes together. Although his dream is to be in front of the camera, or at least on stage in front of an audience, he has no plans to give up on his clothing line any time soon.
“I want to focus on learning a skill, to have a solid backup,” he says. “Everybody has to have a side gig.”
With Alston’s talent for maximizing opportunities, that might just get upcycled, too.