Originally published in The Gonzaga Bulletin
About 5,388 miles away from Spokane is the flourishing city of Florence, Italy. All year round, students from myriad majors take a flight to the boot-shaped peninsula to immerse themselves in European culture as part of the Gonzaga-in-Florence (GiF) program.
Not surprisingly, each student takes a piece of Florence back home with them. Kyle McAllister has crafted a business on that idea.
A senior majoring in business administration, McAllister designs and sells T-shirts, tanks and long-sleeve garments for GiF students. McAllister created the clothing before and after his fall 2013 semester in Florence, which impacted his education and his social life.
“You get there and you’re a little nervous but you’re surrounded by GiF people and get to know them really well through traveling experiences,” said McAllister. “You just become so tight-knit. All those relationships you get there are taken back to Spokane.”
“I felt so enriched by being able to see countries I never thought I would go to like England, France and Ireland,” said McAllister. “But I really bonded with Florence.”
Like most students who study abroad, McAllister was immersed in many cultures.
“You go over there and you easily see the different values that they have,” said McAllister. “In Germany, drinking beer at 9 in the morning is normal, while in America people might think you’re an alcoholic. In America we’re always on the go and eating quickly, but in Italy they take hours eating their five-course meals.”
But the one cultural caveat that McAllister noticed the most was the style.
“People in Florence always dressed nicely, you just won’t see yoga pants,” said McAllister. “A lot of my friends took their fashion to the next level to fit in with the culture. The fashion in Europe is so inspiring. I’m not a huge fashion guy, but I’m inspired by great design. I love their suit combinations and scarves.”
“The problem when we come back here is that we go back to our comfortable sweats and sweatshirts,” admitted McAllister. But not all of his fellow classmates ditched their European style for the unofficial “GU uniform” upon landing in Washington.
“Ashley Graham really took in the fashion culture though,” said McAllister of his GiF classmate.
“Italian fashion is so different from anything I have seen before,” said Graham, a junior public relations major. “Italian fashion is edgy, daring and chic. Whether they are going to the grocery store or spending a night out on the town they’re always styled and dressed their best. I was inspired to be more edgy to resemble their fashion by buying black pieces, leather boots, bold jewelry and long, thick scarves.”
“One thing that separates fashion in Florence versus fashion here at GU is the ability to be bold, unique and to dress your best,” added Graham. “Not once did I see an Italian wear leggings, a North Face [jacket] and UGG boots. If you wore that everyone knew you were an American. Therefore, a lot of students embraced the Italian culture and bought clothing that resembled what we saw the Italians wear. Students started dressing up for class and ditched the leggings for a black chic dress.”
Bringing back some Italian flair to style-sapped Spokane was just one of the reasons McAllister created the GiF shirts.
“I saw all this physical representation of GU clubs and organizations and didn’t see any for GiF,” said McAllister. “People love this program and I was wondering why aren’t there any products.”
Transforming a thought to a tangible product was hard at first for McAllister.
“The design process was difficult because I didn’t want to infringe any copyrights,” said McAllister. “I got inspiration from my own wardrobe to put the Duomo on the GiF shirt. I drew up a design – and I’m a crappy artist – and went back and forth between the designer at Wild Rose before settling on the final one.”
Like a true entrepreneur, McAllister started the business all on his own, with no funding or higher-ups to answer to.
“I took a little risk and printed my first 80 shirts on my own dime,” said McAllister. “Once people noticed it, I sold them all in nine months. The blue long-sleeve shirts have sold ‘like that.’ What’s made it easy is that I know a lot of people in the GiF program. Word-of-mouth and personal selling have been my methods.”
For McAllister, a lot of his business practices came from outside of class.
“What’s really helped me business wise is picking the heads of my professors,” said McAllister. “It’s been so valuable in helping me with this experience.”
GiF is just the beginning for McAllister. He plans to launch a website and expand with other clubs. For now, students are just appreciating their little piece of Florence fashion.
“I have greatly enjoyed my GiF shirt that Kyle has designed,” said Graham. “The design is creative and it’s fun to wear because it brings back so many wonderful memories.”
“We’re passionate students and buying a shirt says that ‘I went to Florence and had an amazing experience’ and that’s exactly what I’m trying to sell,” said McAllister.