Elon Innovators: Matthew Mitten ’21 works to raise awareness for climate change one shirt at a time

The Honors Fellow designs and sells apparel to bring attention to climate change, an issue he is passionate about.

In early 2019 Matthew Mitten ’21 turned his passion for environmental issues into Climate Change Apparel, a business venture focused on affordable apparel with simple, eye catching designs that seek to bring awareness to climate change. A portion of the profits support environmental charitable programs like Sierra Club Foundation and Environmental Defense Fund.

A man looking at fountain with back of his sweatshirt reading "CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL."

Mitten, a finance and applied mathematics double major from Cary, North Carolina, is the first person to be featured in a series of Today at Elon profiles highlighting student innovation and entrepreneurship.

He recently answered questions from the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business about his venture.

When did your interest in entrepreneurship begin?

I have been interested in entrepreneurship ever since I was a kid. Creative ways to make money and inspire others have always been intriguing to me.

What inspired you to found Climate Change Apparel?

Photo of a blue tshirt with globe on it.

Climate Change Apparel was an idea I had for many months. I created some designs during the summer of 2018 and then turned them into T-shirt prototypes in February 2019. Since then, I’ve made different designs, styles and colors. The idea behind the brand is to raise awareness for a social issue I’m passionate about – climate change. I wanted to make sure the brand had a purpose behind it, so a portion of profits are donated to charities.

How did you go about creating your project and launching your brand?

I got my friends on board first, gained traction through social media and word of mouth, and eventually spread the clothes to people all across Elon’s campus and beyond! Elon is a great place to try out a proof-of-concept for a brand, and the whole Elon community has been extremely supportive of my efforts.

What has been the greatest challenge you’ve encountered as an entrepreneur?

Close up photo of sweatshirts that read "CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL."

My greatest challenge has been figuring out distribution of the apparel. For now, I use a local screen-printer to create the apparel, pick it up myself, and hand-deliver or drop off the items. In the future, it would be nice to have an automatic distribution system with shipping included, but it’s been a challenge to do everything on my own. Luckily, I enjoy the work, and find it super rewarding to see my apparel worn across campus.

What has been a key factor in Climate Change Apparel’s success so far?

Elon students are awesome. They are very aware of social issues like climate change, and many of them have been willing to support my brand.

How have your experiences at Elon helped prepare you to run Climate Change Apparel?

I’ve gained expertise in all of my business classes, helping me to become a more well-rounded entrepreneur. My experience in the Management Information System course (in which I got Microsoft Excel certified) has been helpful for keeping track of the whole company, and my experience in competitions like the Elon Innovation Challenge and Amica Elon Sales Challenge have helped me in terms of my professional selling skills.

What is next for you and your company?

I spent J-Term in New Zealand learning about sustainability and conservation efforts there, and this spring I’d love to sell new designs and apparel, as well as advertise the brand more. I’d also love to use sustainably-sourced fabrics. The current problem with that is the minimum order/price is too high for these fabrics, but I’m working on addressing this. Other than that, I’d love to continue to build the brand and gain support, while donating some of the profits to charities that fight climate change along the way.

What is your advice for your peers who are interested in starting a business?

Start small, get friends and family on board, and then expand from there!