Students launch apparel company to support charitable causes
Three years ago, two Virginia Tech students decided to turn a passion for clothing and creativity into an enterprise that could help the community. Their idea became Zappy, a company selling T-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, and more for men and women.
Friends and cousins, Eric Mbualungu, a junior finance and management major, and Bryan Kamenga, a junior business in technology major, create and design all of the clothing for Zappy. Initially, they sold the clothing via Teespring, an online platform for custom merchandise.
In March, they launched Zappy’s own website, showcasing a variety of vibrant apparel ranging in price from $12.99 to $37.99. All of the items bear the Zappy logo, which is a lightning bolt.
Both students are co-CEOs of Zappy, while Kamenga is the chief marketing officer and head of design, and Mbualungu is chief legal officer and head of philanthropy.
Between 15 and 50 percent of sales of all Zappy apparel supports different charitable organizations. They include St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Make-A-Wish America, the Alzheimer's Association, National Blood Donor Month, and National Breast Cancer Foundation.
Sales of shirts to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association in particular helped raise more than $1,200 from June to September. Zappy’s best-selling item is the Zappy velvet blue T-shirt sold to support the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
“A big thing for us is to be the example among our peers,” said Mbualungu. “It’s not very common that people will genuinely want to go out of their way to do philanthropy. People may think ‘Oh, we’re broke college students,’ but we are too. We’re still broke, but you can use your skills and talents to be able to create something to have an impact on people’s lives.”
Zappy hosted its first fashion show on April 17 at Squires Student Center. The event showcased Zappy and five other local brands while promoting Active Minds, a student-led mental health organization at Virginia Tech.
Zappy means lively and energetic. Mbualungu said he thought of the name when he was creating a username for an online video game. A website generated the username “e25zappy,” and since then, Mbualungu has used Zappy for various social media platforms.
The Zappy team recruits Virginia Tech students as models and content creators for the clothing line through networking on campus and social media. Zappy’s Instagram account has more than 3,000 followers.
Arize Supply Co., a manufacturing firm, prints and stitches Zappy’s clothing. Aside from their own clothing designs, Mbualungu and Kamenga reach out to other designers for ideas.
“It’s great to work with someone you love and you’re close with because we have a lot of the same opinions, we agree a lot, and we don’t argue very often, which makes it easier to make decisions,” said Mbualungu. “We grow by making each other better and by bonding and enjoying what we do.”
Mbualungu and Kamenga have had to manage their time wisely while taking classes, working other jobs, and running Zappy. However, they said the business experience has helped them grow inside and outside of the classroom.
“It allows us to apply everything we learn from our classes in the real world, which is really awesome, and it also takes real-world examples into our classes,” said Mbualungu. “That is one aspect that I really like about building a company while in college. Also, being in college gives us so many opportunities to work with other young entrepreneurs and creatives that are trying to do the same thing or similar things.”
Mbualungu and Kamenga have larger goals for Zappy, which now is a limited liability company. They hope one day to create a Zappy Foundation to raise money for certain organizations and to provide missionary work. They also hope to offer a college scholarship to a young entrepreneur.
“Ultimately, we want to build a culture where other young people can think the way we do in terms of being open-hearted, open-minded, and put others first in certain cases,” said Kamenga. “We want to impact and influence people and really just inspire.”
Written by Haley Cummings