U grad fashions Minnesota attire

A graphic design course class project inspired an alumnus to create a clothing company geared towards Minnesotans.

Lauren Johnson, Director of Merchandising and Wholesale at Sota Clothing, stands for a portrait inside the Minneapolis office on Friday.

Niti Gupta

Lauren Johnson, Director of Merchandising and Wholesale at Sota Clothing, stands for a portrait inside the Minneapolis office on Friday.

Olivia Johnson

Typical Minnesotan-geared clothing usually involves flannel, layering, loon insignias or cold weather protection. But a local family business hopes to bring the state to mind through simpler designs.
Spencer Johnson, a 2011 UMD graphic design graduate, started Sota Clothing five years ago after he impressed classmates with a brand he made for a graphic design class project. Now, a Kickstarter campaign will let the business expand with a new line of products.
The company — operated by Johnson and his two sisters — is geared toward people who like being active, he said. Its website sells hats, mugs and T-shirts with graphics Johnson screen prints onto them. 
The company’s newest project is called the North Star Hoodie, Johnson said. Since last summer, he worked on the sweatshirt’s design and started a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the new line. 
What makes the clothing item unique is its large hood and neck, with thumbholes for warmth, Johnson said.
“It’s exactly what someone in Minnesota would need,” he said. 
The Kickstarter effort started Jan. 10 with a goal of raising $30,000. With discounts and special offers for donors, the Sota team reached its goal in just 14 days, Johnson said.
“I think we’ve done a really good job of building up a community around the brand,” he said. “They like what we’re putting out and what we stand for.”
The founder’s sister, Lauren Johnson, joined the company as the director of merchandising and wholesale last September.
Lauren Johnson said she has previous experience working for clothing companies like Gander Mountain and JC Penney.
“It was just a natural fit when I finally moved to help Spencer with his growing business,” she said.
The company owes its traction with the 18- to 25-year-old demographic to the minimalistic graphics her brother creates, Lauren Johnson said.
Part of the company’s strategy to reach its demographic is through social media outreach, especially through Instagram, she said.
“I think, through Instagram, it really created a wider audience than just the people that know us,” Lauren Johnson said.
The North Star Hoodies are manufactured by MINNCOR Industries, a division of the Minnesota Department of Corrections, Lauren Johnson said. 
Sarah Latuseck, a spokeswoman for MINNCOR, said Sota Clothing started working with the department in 2015. Inmates at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee, Minn., which houses only female offenders, will make all of the company’s North Star clothing.
“It receives no state subsidies, taxpayer dollars or grants and employs offenders who are paid for their labor,” Latuseck said.
Spencer Johnson said he and others from Sota decided working with MINNCOR added to the line’s Minnesota connection. “We also like having stories behind what we are doing,” he said. “We like people to be able to talk about what they’re wearing.”