Alumnus Victor Xie’s clothing line is rooted in stories, community
For most new businesses, choosing a name is a high-stakes game. But for founder of Green Acre clothing, Cal State East Bay alumnus Victor Xie (the TV show was well before his time) it was more a question of storyline. One that includes passion-driven millennials trotting from jungles to cityscapes to beaches while talking about blogging, gaming, posting, filmmaking and producing their own music.
The thing they have in common? They’re all wearing hats, tees and hoodies printed with two delicate leaves crossed at the stems and the words “Green Acre” arching across the front.
And while Xie (B.S. ’14, Business Administration), like many sharp content marketers, is making Green Acre synonymous with a lifestyle (in this case chasing after self-invention with little more than a T-shirt on your back and camera slung around your neck) the clothing line is underpinned by a much humbler mission: To support and inspire the creativity and untapped potential of underserved youth — especially in Oakland.
“Green Acre Road in Oakland was where I grew up,” Xie says. “It was a place that shaped me and that means something to me, and [where] I have so many memories of firsts in my life. But, you know, it’s Oakland — you see stuff growing up. And when you think about a green acre, it symbolizes an open space for life and growth, and I thought it seemed like a reflection of what [Oakland] could be. It’s the perfect name to embody the line.”
Realizing the Dream
The idea of designing his own clothing reaches back to adolescence for Xie, when he developed a love of streetwear brands such as The Hundreds, Stussy and Benny Gold. But, by the time he entered college, he had already decided to give up on it.
“When I got to East Bay, I was planning on quitting design,” he says. “I didn’t really know there could be a career in it. But I needed a job and I saw a bulletin for work with Associated Students Inc., and the only thing I knew how to do at that time was use Photoshop, so I applied and got the job.”
Though Xie did graduate with a degree in business administration and focused his coursework on accounting and marketing — good skills to have in pocket when running your own apparel business — he worked for ASI for three years at Cal State East Bay, sharpening his design skills on posters, print collateral and merchandise for university events and concerts. And after graduation, he and a friend immediately started consulting in graphic design.
“We had just taken a meeting with a T-shirt company, and I asked them what does your brand name mean?” Xie recalls. “And the guy was like ‘It doesn’t really mean anything, it just sounds cool.’ And I have a problem with that — with brands not meaning anything and just slapping words and a logo on a T-shirt. I just don’t understand it. On the way home, I looked at my friend and said, ‘We can do this and have it actually mean something.’”
That was in late 2014.
A Different Model
Just a year later, Xie’s vision for Green Acre had evolved from an idea into a launch-ready, holistic brand concept that is rooted in the stories of its desired customers — photographers, filmmakers, travelers and more — and those who admire them. Xie uses those stories to drive the product design itself. Strategically, he’s leveraged friendships with social media influencers, including well-followed Cal State East Bay alumnus Andy To, to target would-be storytellers who help Green Acre gain coverage through platforms like Instagram.
“You can’t just release a T-shirt line out into the wild,” Xie says. “No one’s going to know about it.”
For example, dancer Can Nguyen is one of the featured stories on the Green Acre website. In a short video, Nguyen talks about going from winning MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew” and being booked solid for music videos and live gigs, to experiencing waning interest in his talent and realizing he needed to reinvent himself. Today, he’s producing music for and building his own video games, and recently provided the soundtrack for SXSW’s gaming conference. His message? “Always grow,” Nguyen says.
Which Xie, in turn, used as the basis for a best-selling T-shirt — worn by Nguyen and then shared with thousands on social media.
It’s a business model that Cal State East Bay Assistant Professor of Marketing and Entrepreneurship Judy Ma says resonates in today’s consumer environment.
“Green Acre’s business model embodies the modern marketing concept: Businesses achieve sustained success by creating value for their customers, which is done by fully understanding and serving the customers’ needs and wants,” Ma says. “By putting the ‘storytellers’ at the forefront of their business process, Green Acre is fostering a relationship with their customers that is a two-way street. This two-way street is valuable not only for their customers, who want to be heard, but also for Green Acre because the stories and feedback are what facilitate their product innovations.”
Currently in its third season online, Xie (who for now also works in product design at an app company called StudyBlue), says Green Acre has a global audience and is profitable, but more importantly, enables him to achieve the company’s true purpose: to give back.
“We like to work with nonprofits who support underserved youth, who might not be getting the opportunities in their childhoods to have experiences and grow their own stories,” Xie says. “Growing up in Oakland — I know a lot of these stories of [success] start with struggle and with not having much, but supporting these nonprofits would help these kids get out of it. I was a part of a lot of day camps when I was younger, and those are the experiences that helped me grow. I really want to give these kids a way to create their own stories to share.”