Richmond-based clothing company Alma Mater reflects on recent growth

The founders of Alma Mater, a Richmond-based clothing brand. From left: VCU seniors Alex Moss, Tristan Zambrano and alumnus Malcolm Rose. Photo courtesy of Tyler Chong

Sahara Sriraman, Spectrum Editor

VCU senior Alex Moss said he never expected to see fellow students and Richmond residents wear the clothing he designed. 

“It’s been really crazy, that’s one thing I did not expect for sure. People really show up, not only in Richmond but at VCU,” Moss said.

Alma Mater, founded by Moss, senior Tristan Zambrano and alumnus Malcolm Rose, is a Richmond-based clothing company inspired by the city’s street culture. The goal of the company is to design products that highlight the experiences people take away from their environment, according to the company’s website.

Moss, the head of creative direction and design at the company, said the three of them met when a VCU professor introduced them to each other in class. At the time, they were all in the fashion design and merchandising program but didn’t know each other. 

“We clicked instantly, we had similar interests. That’s kind of how it all came together,” Moss said.

The founders created the name for the brand to represent their relationship to Richmond and to show their appreciation for significant aspects of the city’s culture. The goal is to generate relationships between customers as well to continue a sense of community through the brand, according to Moss.

“We wanted to create a connection, not only emotionally, but a great connection with our customers and just the people in the city, and maybe outside Virginia if that’s how it goes,” Moss said.

He said the support from both the Richmond and VCU communities has been “amazing.” The encouragement has motivated them to continue growing the brand and shown them that their hard work is paying off.   

Rose, who focuses on Alma Mater’s social media research, said the company wants to focus on the idea that although people are unique, there are aspects of their environment that are similar and can connect them.

Rose said when they released their first product, an arc logo T-shirt, in March, the support from the community was immense and unexpected. The products were purchased in all colors, which he said meant a lot to them to see.

“It truly felt like it was a piece of the community, which making these things in Richmond really is, I feel like because it’s such a creative space,” Rose said.

The founders draw from their own experiences and interests when creating products. Cycling is featured on their new product design — a nod to the prominence of biking in Richmond culture, an activity they enjoy as well.

Rose said Richmond has always inspired them when creating products because it’s an organic space where different types of art can thrive.

He said he has seen VCU students and faculty often wearing the company’s clothing and sharing their posts online.

“We definitely have had a lot of impact from VCU just because we’re constantly influenced by the new people we see, the new ideas that are brought forward,” Rose said.

He said the founders felt as though Richmond is the perfect space to start and build a new company, due to the location and the artistic people the city is filled with. They hope to grow the company to expand outside of the city as well.

“We all believe in this idea enough that it could become something,” Rose said.

Eli Bell, a VCU alumnus and model for the company, said he wants to continue to be a part of Alma Mater in the future, whatever that might look like, whether he’s modeling clothes or just providing advice. 

He said that Zambrano, Moss and Rose all bring different skills to the company that highlight their strengths while simultaneously growing the brand.

Bell said he expected to be a part of the company’s behind-the-scenes efforts, but said Rose encouraged him to model for the latest product releases and to get involved with some of the designing. 

“Honestly, I just want them to succeed because I think they’ve got something really special,” Bell said. “And they capture something about this moment, right now, that I think is really important.”

Bell said he feels very close to the company, which made seeing the support from the community after their last couple drops that much more meaningful.

“It’s creating a kind of a niche subculture that’s based on so many other subcultures that just makes it unique in that way, and just a really cool movement,” Bell said.

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