When you work at a newspaper, you get all manner of hanger-on soliciting articles about their organizations. Many of them have little, if anything, to do with Santa Barbara, and most of them likely couldn’t even find our sun-soaked hamlet on a map. When I heard from Connor Davidge, however, I couldn’t say no. Davidge was my student when I taught at UCSB, so I figured, at the very least, I could take some vicarious credit for his success.
Turns out that Davidge wanted to promote his budding clothing company, Savidge Apparel, an entrepreneurial endeavor that, as a writing instructor who can barely sell items on Craigslist, I could take no credit for. Davidge, however, started walking into stores cold and convincing owners to ply his wares a year before he graduated this past June. By the time he earned his bachelor’s degree in global studies, Davidge had placed his T-shirts and tank tops in 15 stores.
In Santa Barbara, you can find Savidge shirts at Beach House, Savvy on State, and Plum Goods as well as Rincon Designs in Carpinteria and Movement Boardshop in Isla Vista. Davidge is also in 15 L.A.-area shops, including a cluster near his native Manhattan Beach, five in San Diego, and five in Colorado, where Davidge’s business partner and cousin, Jake Savage, lives. The original line of Savidge Apparel, a mash-up of the cousins’ last names, featured classic California surfscapes paired with classic rock lyrics.
While he started out focusing on the surfer/skater demographic, Davidge would like the clothes to represent an “old-school California” lifestyle, referring to two shirt designs that feature VW buses. “I’d like to consider our brand a reinvention of OP [Ocean Pacific],” Davidge told me, conjuring in my memory those beachy T-shirts of my childhood, ubiquitous even in suburban Baltimore. Answering a follow-up question, Davidge said he has no immediate plans to sell ball-hugging corduroy shorts.
Along with ambitious plans for his brand, Davidge is also building into his business a philanthropic sensibility. Between his global studies major, his year abroad, and his surf travels, Davidge decided early on that he wanted to create a company that gives back. He remembers vividly stepping off the airplane in Peru during his year abroad and being immediately accosted by begging orphans. He would one day like to create work opportunities for young people in developing countries. For now, he is donating $3 from each of his online sales (from savidgeapparel.com) to nonprofits like Santa Barbara–based Hands 4 Others, which distributes water-filtration systems in Latin America.
Davidge, who got his start by selling T-shirts to his neighbors in the Santa Cruz dorm freshman year, has so far bootstrapped Savidge Apparel from an initial investment of $500. Although UCSB has no business program, he credits a sales course he took as part of the university’s entrepreneurship program, and of course the perspective he gained as a global studies major. If his business goes gangbusters following this article’s publication, maybe he can also give some props to his freshman composition instructor.