Sep. 29—PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. — Connor Fata was more productive than most when COVID-19 arrived in March 2020 and he and the rest of his classmates were sent home from Clemson University.
Stuck at home, the college sophomore wanted something to do with his time, and his dad reminded him of his love for making people laugh. So he decided to launch his clothing line, XL-Ant Life. The “feel good” clothing and accessory line incorporates slogans such as “Make the World Smile” and “Surf XL-Ant” and features giant ants (get it — extra-large ant) on its shirts, hats and beer koozies.
The name is a play on words because it sounds similar to “excellent life.”
“It’s supposed to represent excellent life, kind of like ‘life is good’ vibes, but it’s an extra-large ant doing people activities,” said Fata, now a 21-year-old senior at Clemson.
When he started the clothing line, Fata figured the worst that could happen is he would make a few funny shirts and be done with it. He didn’t expect to sell more than 400 shirts in his first year in business and end up receiving a trademark for his brand earlier this summer. (He got denied the first two times he submitted his trademark application.)
“It’s my way of just realizing that people might be in a crappy situation right now with COVID. But there’s still a lot of things in life to just be happy about and celebrate and share joy,” said Fata, who is studying accounting at Clemson.
Connor Fata’s sister, Ella Fata, designs the brand’s clothing and accessories, while he handles the website, money and shipping, which he packages and mails himself.
Fata said he is still trying to expand his customer base, though it has grown faster than he expected. A lot of his buyers are repeat customers, so he feels good that people like the shirts and their quality. Most of his advertising right now is through Instagram. His next step is to look into paid ads on the app. He also has an email list that he uses to send brand reminders to customers with funny jokes.
“People that buy the shirts are very supportive and continue to support it because they know the material is really good and the shirt designs are really good,” Fata said. “So that’s a positive that keeps me motivated.”
Managing the brand while finishing his last two years of college hasn’t been easy.
“If I would have known how much work it would have been, how much I would have had to learn, I would have paused for a second,” he said. “But I do think it was kind of a blessing just putting my head down and just saying I’m going to figure it out.”
What’s next for Fata? He isn’t sure just yet. First, he’ll finish his degree at Clemson, and he’s considering getting his master’s in accounting, as well. But he doesn’t plan to leave the XL-Ant Life brand behind.
“I want to try and build brand recognition but also continue to provide value to people … and carry on my mission of making people laugh and making people smile,” he said.