Junior Ben Birns is responsible for the crop of colorful rimmed hats from Peru that have been sprouting up around campus. This summer he partnered with longtime friends and Penn State students Andrew and David Grossman to launch their own apparel company, Tribal Threadz. Their online shop connects people to unique designs from remote areas around the world without the expensive airfare.
“A year and a half ago, Andrew and David [Grossman] traveled with their family to Peru and were hiking Huayna Pichu,” Birns said. “They saw Australian tourists wearing the hats, and it intrigued them so they went to a flea market and came across the hats and brought them back home.”
According to Birns, everyone who saw the Grossman brothers wearing the hats back in the states asked about them. After hearing the tale, most wanted a cap for themselves. The Grossman brothers then arranged for an order of the exotic accessories to be shipped to them.
And the more people saw the hats, the more people wanted them, and the demand for the hats grew exponentially. The Grossman brothers and Birns then decided to turn their shipping arrangement to a more entrepreneurial endeavor.
“They asked me if I wanted to invest in it,” Birns said. “And I did. Now I do a lot of the marketing. I run the website, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. We don’t really have titles, but I guess you could say David is CEO and founder, Andrew is head of sales, and I’m director of marketing.”
The trio purchase the fabric wholesale from Lima, Peru. While they choose the fabric, they don’t alter the design to ensure that each hat maintains its authenticity. They have a contact in Lima who produces the hats with a small staff, and then ships the finished product to the young men in America.
“We sold about 50 to 70 hats, and more are coming in,” Birns said. “We’re currently looking to get our name out there.”
The hats currently come in three colors: Bamba Red, Bamba Blue and Bamba Tan. Bamba is short for the Urubamba River in the Sacred Valley of the Incas near where the hats are manufactured. They have two more color variations coming in soon – a green print and an off-white one. The hats are all one-size fits all and cost $22.
Birns and his partners are dedicated to giving back to the community they buy from and currently donate a portion of all sales to Survivor International and Children of Peru, two local Peruvian charities.
They are in the process of expanding and have been in contact with a person in Ghana. They are looking to add thin and airy female beach pants in a signature African print to their collection. And once an arrangement has been made, they will find a charity they believe will help that specific area of Ghana best to continue donating their proceeds.
“I’m not looking at this as a full-time job yet,” Birns said. “But I want to do something in the marketing field and this is a nice way to get experience and give back to charity.”