Clothing for a cause
2016 grad's Chesapeake-inspired apparel company partners to protect the Bay
When Matthew Wilmer was a sophomore at Loyola University Maryland, he enrolled in Professor Hope Corrigan’s marketing course. Little did he know the class would inspire a series of events that would fundamentally change his career path and his life.
Inspired by the course, the 2016 graduate went on to launch the high-end clothing line Chesapeake Collection his junior year at Loyola alongside his friend and high school classmate, 2016 Towson University graduate Kevin Ames.
Chesapeake Collection sells shirts for men, women, and children, as well as ties, hats, and belts in colorful prints that feature their signature blue crab design.
The company has a relationship with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Chesapeake Collection donates $1 from every item sold to the effort to clean up the Bay. Last year, Chesapeake Collection raised $2,500 for the Foundation’s conversation efforts.
“Since we portray aspects of the Bay on our apparel, it became evident that we should do more to support its overall health and environment,” says Wilmer, who came to understand and appreciate the body of water in a science course at Loyola called The Chesapeake Bay Environment.
“So we began to research organizations that take care of the Bay. I was inspired by Patagonia and their efforts to steward the environment, and Kevin and I agreed that even though we were just starting out, it was the best time to incorporate that into our brand and startup.”
Born and raised in Baltimore, Wilmer’s affection for the Maryland area and its wildlife and natural resources has long been part of his life. He attended Calvert Hall College High School in Towson, where he met his future business partner, Kevin Ames, son of Kenny Ames, Loyola Class of 1983.
When it came time to apply for college, Wilmer sought the tight-knit environment and Catholic values he’d enjoyed at Calvert Hall. He knew he wanted to attend Loyola by the time he was a junior in high school. As an undergraduate student, he made the most of his experience outside the classroom by joining the Entrepreneurship Club and the men’s club rugby team. He was involved with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Campus Ministry, and he volunteered with Young Life, a Christian organization in Baltimore, throughout his college career.
“Loyola’s values of building a better community, of service, and of leadership are things I strive for,” Wilmer says. “I credit Loyola with shaping how I think, and for teaching me the value of understanding the diversity and needs of the surrounding community.”
Wilmer’s marketing major also paved the way for the launch of Chesapeake Collection. After taking two electives with Professor Corrigan—one on branding and packaging and another on retail environments—the wheels started turning for a Maryland-themed clothing company.
“I am someone who is a self-starter—and competitive,” Wilmer explains, noting that he and Ames also launched a landscaping company in high school. “Loyola’s curriculum gave me the framework to think about complex issues in the marketplace and the economy. Having to take finance, accounting, and management classes in the Sellinger School of Business challenged me to become more analytical, a better public speaker, and someone who cares about every aspect of business. It prepared me, because now I have to utilize all of those skills [at my own company].”
Wilmer and Ames spent the next year researching the retail and clothing industries, and used $10,000 they’d saved from their summer landscaping jobs to officially launch Chesapeake Collection in May 2015. Wilmer ultimately decided to leave the club rugby team in order to balance his schoolwork, extra-curricular involvement, and the company, and he credits the support of faculty such as Dean Kathleen Getz (of the Sellinger School), Professor Corrigan, and guidance counselor Marcia Wiedefeld for helping him strike a balance.
“Marcia and Dean Getz were both extremely supportive of me. They always took the time to offer encouragement and words of guidance,” he says, noting that before graduation he was invited to share his business model for Chesapeake Collection to Loyola faculty during the first Business Honors Convocation Weekend.
“Dean Getz invited me to speak, and that skill of presenting my business—and of that style in which I presented—has turned into a model I regularly refer to. Kevin and I have had a platform to speak to middle and high school students, to Loyola and Towson student clubs, and to other businesses on many occasions since.”
Wilmer, who now works full-time for Chesapeake Collection, has plans to make it the biggest preppy apparel company in the Mid-Atlantic. He and Ames also hope to partner with companies such as Baltimore-based Under Amour to galvanize the region’s clothing market and give back even more to the local community.
“Baltimore and the Chesapeake region is a special place,” says Wilmer. “As a business, we want to continue to be a positive force in the community—and inspire others to pursue their passions.”