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How A Richmond Sophomore Turned Passion For Painting Into Market Venture

By: Louise Howorth, Contributor


Noticing a splash of orange paint on her Richmond sweatshirt during a printmaking class, Erin Watton was frustrated. With no luck using stain remover, she decided to try something else: “I went home for Thanksgiving break, and I decided to paint over it. I designed navy stars to cover the stain. I sent pictures to friends, and they asked me to paint their sweatshirts the same way. That was when I realized this could be something.” Most would see an ink stain on the sleeve of a sweatshirt as an inconvenience and consider the sweatshirt ruined. Watton, a sophomore at the University of Richmond, saw it as an opportunity. Now running a custom apparel business on campus called E.xclusively, Watton is personalizing clothing by hand with paints, patches and stitches.

The inspiration for the company name originated from Watton’s childhood. Watton’s mother owned a medical scrubs retailer and named a selection of clothing ‘E.libby’ after her daughter’s first initial and middle name. After playing around with various ideas, Watton settled on E.xclusively. “The name ‘E.xclusively’ reflects how personalized the items are, they are individualized to each customer but the ‘E.’ at the beginning has an aspect of my name in it, which I love,” she said. “It’s a combination of me, the designer of the clothes, but also the customer.”

As E.xclusively began to grow, she started collecting materials she could transform. “I started out buying cheap jeans from Goodwill in different sizes and at other stores in the sale section,” Watton said. “I painted different designs and posted them on Instagram with a size and price listed. I posted all over my Instagram to get people to follow.”

The production process is fairly straightforward. Watton sources fabrics or clients provide her with previously bought items to be turned into sketches before beginning the artistic design, using acrylic and fabric paints, on the material. Avi Altman, a customer of Watton’s, said she had sent Watton images she had seen on Tumblr and Pinterest that she had liked. Watton drew up a few designs and offered them to Altman for her to choose. “She created a really unique design for my jeans that I definitely could not have found or envisioned on my own. They were finished in a few days and the quality and precision exceeded all my expectations,” Altman said.

Missy Carlson, a sophomore who has bought from E.xclusively, spoke positively about the item she received as well as the level of customer service Watton provided. “Erin mailed me some jeans over the summer, they weren’t quite right in size so she offered for me to send her jeans I already owned so she could repaint them.” Carlson said Watton had been very flexible and agreeable during the process.

Watton sells most of her products to students or friends of students. Being involved in SpiderBoard, Greek Life, Hillel and working at the Sexual Misconduct Education and Prevention Office has given her the opportunity to market to her audience and spread the word about her venture.

Lauren Hansen, a customer of E.xclusively, said Watton was very cooperative and checked back with Hansen frequently during the designing process. “She took my half-formed ideas and made them into sketches,” Hansen said. “I love the beautiful designs I now have on my clothes.” Not all customers are on campus though, occasionally customers will be located in other parts of the country. “I have sent things everywhere, coast to coast,” Watton said.

As well as learning about design while progressing the business, Watton said she has enjoyed the management side. “E.xclusively has shown me that I actually want to be involved in management instead of marketing, specifically brand management,” she said. Studying both business administration and visual media arts practice, she will be able to learn more about her business and fashion management through her classes. Watton would like to maintain her current following while she continues at the University of Richmond but has big ideas for future expansion. “The big dream is a very upscale brand where I have a selection of clothing for anyone to buy,” Watton said. I’d also like a very high-end collection where I work with a client to come up with a personal design made entirely for them.” Watton plans on designing ten articles of clothing a semester. Customers may contact her through her Instagram, e.xclusively, to request an order.