“If you look around downtown, you can see Apple and lululemon. They’re both big and successful companies, so there’s something there with fruit names,” joked Athena Wang, a UCSB student and the founder/designer of Watermelon Apparel, when I asked how she came up with the name for her brand. “Watermelons are also a fruit, and I’m very superstitious, so I hope there’s some truth there.”
Watermelon Apparel is Wang’s clothing brand, which features cute and comfortable clothes like oversized T-shirts and crewneck sweatshirts. Last spring, Wang was managing her own online shop when inspiration struck as her mind wandered during an accounting class. “We were talking about business,” she said, “and I just thought, ‘Well I have a business. It would be cool if I could do it in person.’”
Wang has a strong entrepreneurial spirit which she attributes to her father, who is the inspiration behind the name of the brand. Her father, who now runs his own technology incubator, grew up in rural China and worked as a watermelon salesman. His family was very poor and often had trouble finding enough food to eat. He would rise before the sun every day for years to sell watermelons at the market.
“I named it Watermelon Apparel to be a constant reminder of the work it took for my family to move from the rural side of China to the capital city of China, and then from China to America and California, which is amazing,” Wang told me. She looks up to her father and admires his success and dedication and tries to emulate that for herself and her community.
Right after that accounting class, Wang began looking into temporary leases for commercial spaces. She contacted a few real estate agents, selected locations to visit, and then set out to find the perfect pop-up spot.
After touring her selections and signing a contract at the end of June, her next task was preparing the store for its July 17 opening. Wang hired a small group of women to help her, one of whom convinced her to start posting TikToks as a form of marketing for her brand.
The idea worked. I actually discovered Watermelon Apparel on TikTok when a post that has since amassed 1.6 million views with almost 200k likes showed up on my “For You” page. The description in the video says, “when 5 college students are allowed to open and run an entire clothing store,” and shows Wang and crew painting the walls, assembling mannequins, and preparing the 3,000-square-foot location for its first customers.
Intended to be size and body inclusive, Watermelon Apparel has taken to posting videos of how their clothing fits on models of different heights and body shapes. Wang also has plans to expand the types of clothing they offer with their next drop.
Watermelon Apparel is only open until September 17, so make sure to stop by and check it out at Paseo Nuevo before it’s gone.