If you walk around campus, you are sure to come across someone proudly wearing a UWC ISAK Japan hoodie. These hoodies were designed and sold by our very own Merch Club, which was just started this year by some very enterprising students! We check in with Denzel (Class of 2019, Zimbabwe), to find out more about the club, its progress and its successes thus far!
Can you tell us more about how the Merch Club got started?
Ben (Class of 2019, USA): The whole idea behind Merch Club was mainly to do with trying to showcase our pride in representing UWC ISAK. As a new UWC, we noticed that there was not much merchandise that could help us in representing our community values tangibly and therefore we thought it would be a good idea to not only provide merchandise to the community but to also genuinely make a change that we are proud of and kickstart an entrepreneurial venture that would hopefully continue even after our time here..
How do you choose what sort of merchandise to produce?
Denzel: As a club which is based around the community’s needs, we are constantly working with the community to put out products. We have a platform through which any member of the community can reach out to us and make any requests on merchandise that they would like us to consider providing. For example, we have sent out multiple surveys asking what kind of merchandise everyone would want to get their hands on. This was why we were majorly successful with our first product, the UWC ISAK-themed hoodies! We had over 120 students, staff and faculty pre-order hoodies in our first run!
What have you learnt from being in the Merch Club?
Denzel: When involving yourself in any business, it is important to always think about the demand and supply mechanism at play. There are several factors that play into these decisions, such as the weather, how frequently the goods will be used, and whether it is fashionable. Weighing these factors is a skill that I have developed greatly while being in the Merch Club. It has also improved my decision-making abilities and allowed me to be more empathetic as our final decisions have to be based around how the community will react to the action rather than only a small minority.
Another helpful skill I have learnt is how vital it is to establish relationships with business partners, or suppliers in our case, as this will make the business more sustainable. Creating healthy relationships with partners legitimises the business which makes it easier to expand. These relationships can be formed through simple moral values such as being polite when interacting — this becomes even more vital because we are high school students! It also helps to communicate regularly with business partners as this makes us seem more serious about what we want to achieve. Although I was not directly communicating with suppliers, I communicated regularly with the UWC ISAK community, and it was refreshing to do it frequently and collect their feedback.
What about the Merch Club are you most proud of thus far?
Denzel: The pre-order and distribution of the hoodies, because we were just starting out then and had so many orders coming in! We also held a Christmas sale just before the December break where we sold UWC ISAK-themed pens, folders, t-shirts and luggage tags. There were some challenges here and there, such as poor communication with manufacturers, but I think we managed to achieve all the major goals that we had set out at the beginning of this process, including making a profit, which we never thought we would get to! We also get to see the fruits of our labour worn everyday on campus!
We have successfully showcased our products to members of the external community, and they have been very impressed by our ambition. We have received positive feedback as well as very useful advice from them!
What has been the biggest challenge of this whole process?
Denzel: As I mentioned earlier, finding merchandise that would be beneficial for the whole community requires a lot of data collection. As we are a community diverse not only in our nationalities and cultures, but also in our economic and monetary backgrounds, adjusting pricing to cater for everyone’s situations while trying to ensure the high quality of goods took a lot of research, planning and communication to do. I’m glad that I had a great team to work with and we managed to be successful together!
What is in the future for the Merch Club?
Denzel: Graduation is fast approaching, which means we will have an influx of students’ parents and relatives on campus, as well as other external guests. This would be a great chance to provide them with UWC ISAK-themed souvenirs and as such, we have altered our products slightly to cater to a more outward-facing community. For example, our latest product is canvas tote bags, which we find to be versatile. We hope to have our final sale on graduation day this year, and look forward to more innovative thinking next year!