Everything started when Adam Serota imagined t-shirts a little different than his friends.
It was October 2016. After recently being initiated into Alpha Epsilon Pi in the prior semester, Serota was thrilled to start making a difference as a brother. He wanted to make his first impact in the t-shirt committee.
Serota came in with a lot of ideas and passion to change in the fraternity. Yet when the head t-shirt chair didn’t approve of Serota’s designs and ideas, he did not take it lightly. He voiced his strong opinion, which caused a rift within the committee.
With tensions continuing to escalate and Serota gaining a backing for his ideas, the t-shirt chair ultimately kicked Serota out of the committee. This lit a fire under him.
“When I was removed, I was embarrassed and disappointed.” Serota remarked. “I was frustrated that there was nothing more I could do.”
Like the Rolling Stones have told us time and time again, sometimes not getting what you want is exactly what you need.
A sophomore at the time, Serota crowdfunded a shirt that almost everyone in the fraternity bought and used the leftover profit to fund his newly-blossoming tee-shirt business.
Heritage Apparel was born.
“When I made my first shirt, I was not planning on starting a company,” Serota clarified. “I just made a shirt that I wanted to wear and I knew my brothers wanted.”
In the coming months, Heritage Apparel continued to expand to other organizations on campus. Then, Serota ran for vice president of Alpha Epsilon Pi and won the position. He said that the combination of running a startup company and also a fraternity of 150 personalities created his biggest challenge yet.
“I learned how to deal with people,” Serota said. “I compared it to having 150 shareholders of a company. They’re essentially all paying their dues into the organization and then I essentially call the shots. That was a difficult experience.”
Born in Plantation Florida, but raised in Greenwood Village, Colorado, Serota didn’t always think he would start his own business, especially at a young age. So what was the first thing he wanted to be when he grew up?
“I used to love drawing maps. This is so weird, but my parents told me to be a cartographer,” Serota said.
Naturally, but the cartographer phase eventually passed.
Fast forward to 2010 and Serota was in 8th grade. The mortgage crisis of 2007-2008 hit his family hard. They eventually lost their house in Colorado due to the harsh economic times and were forced to start over in Weston, Florida in 2010.
Stemming from the financial crisis, his parents divorced when Adam was in 10th grade, which also led to other ensuing personal family problems. Adam was 15, and this time had an immense impact on him.
“Seeing how much my family was affected because of money gave me the drive to go out and make so much money that I would never have to think that my family could be impacted,” Serota said.
“My family. My life. My livelihood could not be impacted based off a market situation.”
As a current junior studying commercial entrepreneurship at Florida State, Serota is constantly trying to grow his business to the next level. However, looking back, he never thought he would start a business before graduating college.
“When I first got to college, I started working for Top Tier and watched these 21 year-olds make a business out of thin air,” Serota said.
Top Tier Entertainment is an event planning company that was started by students at Florida State a few years back. Blake Carter, one of the co-founders of Top Tier Entertainment showed Serota what it means to run a business as a college student.
“What really lights the fire under my seat is when I see someone else getting after it,” Serota said, “I’m happy for them but I know that I could be doing well too. Whenever I get close to someone who’s doing really well and crushing it, that’s just motivation for me.”
That’s why after he was booted from his t-shirt committee, he knew what he had to do. It gave him the motivation he needed to jump head-first into his first business.
“So far, Heritage Apparel has taken me so much further than anything else in school.”
Since its inception just over a year ago, the company has worked with over 100 different organizations across twenty-plus cities, campuses and reached $150,000 in sales. They have partnered with high schools, companies, and other nonprofits such as Light the Night to bring their t-shirt ideas to life.
In a saturated t-shirt industry, Serota has found his niche with over 65% of his sales to the Greek market. However, a huge problem has arisen for Serota. With the recent indefinite ban of Greek Life at Florida State because of the death of a fraternity pledge, the future of Heritage Apparel is in question. Furthermore, not only is Greek life at FSU suspended but also a number of other schools have implemented suspensions including Penn State, Texas State, Indiana and Michigan.
“Greek life nation-wide is in trouble,” Serota said. “I have to pivot altogether if I want Heritage Apparel to be a thriving company in the future.”
While Serota is working to bring his business to the next level amidst a lack of Greek life, he wants to preach to other students that anyone can be successful on their own terms.
“A lot of times it looks like people know what they’re doing and they got it all figured out,” Serota said. “Perhaps people might look at me and think this kid has it going on. I promise you, no one is any different from the rest. It’s all about how hard you work. Anyone can be successful. Success is based on personal fulfillment.”
You can find Adam Serota and his business Heritage Apparel at the following social media handles:
Linked In: Adam H. Serota
Heritage Apparel social media handle: @theheritageapparel