Back in January, UNC junior Diego Ramos was making plans to fulfill his goal of becoming his own boss.
Ramos, a business administration major, began curating and selling vintage clothes in 2019. In January, he created an Instagram page for his start-up Tar Heel Throwback, which sells vintage UNC gear.
But he was unaware of the role that COVID-19 and quarantine would play into allowing his business to succeed.
The idea for Tar Heel Throwback was partly encouraged by Ramos' older brother, who runs a similar business selling vintage Florida State University clothing, but on a larger scale. Although Ramos has turned to his brother for help and advice in managing his business, he said he has had to face unprecedented challenges with the onset of COVID-19 in the spring — including having to move back to his hometown of Miami.
Living in Florida, it was hard to find unique, vintage UNC clothing items, Ramos said.
But he said the relationships he had built in the thrifting community in Chapel Hill helped him during the spring while he was running his business from home.
“At the start, when COVID was happening and businesses were shutting down, it was difficult to get out and look for the pieces, so I really relied on the people who I had come into contact with,” Ramos said. “I really relied on those relationships to be able to supply the inventory that I was collecting.”
Madison Urban, a senior majoring in peace, war and defense and public policy, is Ramos’ friend. She said watching Ramos’ business grow from the beginning has been exciting given that vintage University clothing can add a special element to school pride.
“I think one of the great things about Carolina is that it has such an amazing history, and such an amazing sports history, in the sense of being part of Carolina is something to be proud of,” Urban said. “If you have clothing that kind of lives into that and provides a little piece of the memory, and what it feels like to be a Tar Heel, I think it’s really cool.”
Navigating shipping and selling from Florida, Ramos said he was able to keep Tar Heel Throwback afloat and now views his intermediary period in Miami as a growth experience.
“COVID, yes, slowed things down,” he said, “but maybe I needed that time to kind of restructure and reorganize to make sure I was really prepared for what was coming.”
Ramos said he initially started his business to become financially stable and self-sufficient. But as the business has grown, he said he has found a lot of personal meaning in running it as well.
“It’s a great experience into what it means to run a business,” Ramos said. “There’s a ton more that I have to learn and that I’ll continue to learn for the rest of my life, but so far the lessons I’ve learned and the experiences I’ve had, I wouldn't change it or have it be any other way.”
Ramos said he has scheduled pop-up events through Union Apartments, with the second one taking place on Nov. 13.
Alexander Tanas, a sophomore at UNC, said he is interested in checking out the pop-up.
“I’m very in favor of student-led businesses,” Tanas said.
For Ramos, one of the most meaningful parts of managing Tar Heel Throwback are the interactions he has with customers.
“Running a business and seeing your labor bear fruits is definitely exciting, but when I can put a smile on someone else’s face, just by doing something that I enjoy, it really warms the heart and makes you want to keep doing it,” Ramos said.
Urban said she was eager to see the UNC community support Ramos in his efforts to expand to more students.
“I think it would be great to see a student-run business take off, and be able to support one of our classmates who’s really trying to take something he’s passionate about and make it happen,” Urban said. “I think it would be really cool to watch the Carolina community come around and support Diego.”
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