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Alumnus Turns Passion Into Sota Clothing

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Alumnus Turns Passion Into Sota Clothing

It started as a school assignment to create a fake company. Alumnus Spencer Johnson (‘11, Graphic Design) came up with the branding behind the company, a logo, and a target market. The first design was a logo in a circle pattern containing a shortened version of the word ‘Minnesota’. Sota Clothing, an “authentic wearable representation of Minnesota Lifestyle” was born, and it’s a brand people are excited about.

“It started out with me just kind of selling to my friends,” Johnson said.

For about two years, Spencer Johnson has been busy with his new business, Sota Clothing. It’s a clothing line with a real Minnesota flare, but it wasn’t always a hip clothing company.

While finishing up his degree in graphic design at UMD, Johnson was tasked with creating a fictional company for his final project. He started by trying to fit “10,000” into a design. Instead, it morphed into something “Sota” cool.

“Like Minnesota, Sota… You kind of have to look at it, some people don’t get it right away,” Johnson explained.

That second take, think twice aspect of the branding is the exact feel Johnson says he was going for. Johnson’s goal? Cool, comfortable clothes that show state pride and heritage without being too obvious. “When I presented it to the class, I had to show it to everyone, all of my classmates were asking if I was actually making the shirts,” Johnson said. “Then it slowly started to evolve from there.” (He did get an ‘A’ on the project.)

hanging out to dry
Hanging out with Sota Clothing

He began screen printing shirts in a basement in Duluth until it blossomed into a real profit producing endeavor. He took the shirts on tour, even traveling to Europe to spread his vision. At this past summer’s Minnesota State Fair, Johnson sold the clothes outside the fairgrounds and was thrilled with the response.

“The fact that people actually stopped and bought stuff because they liked what I was doing was a lot of fun to see,” he said. “I’d like them to have the sense that they’re wearing this [Sota Clothes] because they really like it versus alright, this is a shirt that’s clean.”

According to the Sota Clothing’s website, Johnson draws inspiration for the designs “from people he grew up with and others he has met traveling who are pursuing their dreams.” Check out Sota Clothing’s Tumblr to see Johnson’s inspirations come together. He recently took a trip to Switzerland and made his way to Italy from there. He brought along shirts to hand out to other backpackers he met along the way. He told the travelers from Australia, Sweden, and the United States, to share photos of themselves traveling in their newly acquired shirts.

It might be a “Minnesota brand”, but people have bought the shirts purely because they like the design aesthetic.

Many of the designs are originals done by Johnson, but other designs by Minnesota artists are planned to be added.

His website has been online for a few years and offers clothing items like Minnesota-themed T-shirts and tank tops for men and women. He’s even got a few in tried-and-true UMD Bulldog maroon and gold. Glasses and possibly baby onesies might be added later on.

friends showing off their new shirts
Friends and fans of Sota Clothing show off their T-shirts.

Mary Olson-Reed, the coordinator at UMD’s Multimedia Hub on campus, saw the company grow from it’s beginning stages. Johnson worked in the Hub at the time and worked on his designs from time to time while he was there.

“He never gave up,” Olson-Reed said. “It was quite exciting to see how these T-shirts, Sota, started and then how it’s grown since that time.”

Johnson has some advice for others hoping to turn their ideas into a career – be bold and be persistent. “Just keep going, keep trying. Keep trying the most random stuff you can possibly think of, so far out of the box. You never know what won’t work.”

Learn more about Johnson and Sota Clothing by visiting