An Ohio State alumna wants to make sure Buckeye fans can still look cool while wearing spirit gear in the cold weather.

Amanda Sima, a 2005 alumna in history, started Alma Mater clothing company in 2008. The company now has licenses for over 100 colleges and sells spirit apparel, namely sweaters, online and at various retailers. Sima was inspired to start the company by a vintage OSU sweater that she borrowed from her grandmother to wear to a tailgate.

“I just noticed that sweaters were sort of an antiquated category,” she said. “No one was really selling anything cool that was for cold weather.”

OSU is a difficult apparel license to get, Sima said, due to the size of the school, demand for product and value of the brand. Because of this, she went after the licenses of smaller schools such as the University of Iowa and Michigan State University first to build up her company’s reputation. Sima said once Alma Mater obtained the OSU license, it changed the business, giving them leverage to get the licenses of other big schools.

Sima, 34, said the fact that she’s close in age to many of her customers gives her an advantage on marketing to millennials in an industry made up of companies that have been around for decades.

“(Millennial’s) shopping habits are very different from the baby boomers who are dying off,” Sima said. “We try to be really reactive to that. I think being a millennial and a female … I’m like, literally the only one in the industry.”

Sima’s office is located in Los Angeles, which she said enables the brand to keep up on fashion trends and gives access to a larger textile industry. Working from Columbus, she coordinates remotely with her design team there — the majority of whom are women.

“We know year after year it’s discussed by the NCAA institutions, the professional leagues, ‘How do we draw in more female fans? How do we draw in more female consumers?’ But none of the companies selling apparel are female-owned, not even close,” Sima said.

Items from the Alma Mater line are available at five locations in Columbus, including the Ohio State Barnes & Noble, the Wexner Medical Center and The Blackwell Inn, according to the company’s website. Sima said the company hopes to expand into the NFL and NHL.

But before Sima became an entrepreneur, she worked on political campaigns. Even before that, she was a student in history professor Paula Baker’s class. Sima said Baker helped her connect with a campaign, and encouraged her to make a call that landed her a job right out of college.

“I remember her as someone who had a great personality, outgoing … I remember talking about what she’s thinking about down the line and, like many history majors, she wasn’t sure,” Baker said.

Baker said the fact that Sima has been able to take her idea for collegiate sweaters and run with it shows her determination and imagination.

“History degrees — like lots of liberal arts degrees — are flexible. You don’t come out knowing what you’ll do necessarily,” Baker said. “These sorts of degrees provide a set of skills that you can take in a multitude of directions. She illustrates that.”

Sima and her husband grew up in the Columbus area. She said that, at times, they have been tempted to move west to be closer to the business office, but find reason to stay in the capital city.

“I will say just the sense of community with Ohio State has encouraged me,” Sima said. “There’s a lot of really talented people here who are really invested in their community and a lot of that is led by (OSU). I will say now as a business leader wanting to delve into philanthropy, it does inspire me to stay and continue to invest in this city.”

Sima, who has a younger sister nearing graduation at OSU, said her advice to her and other college students would be to trust their gut and not be too fixated on any one career goal.

“You’re not going to get anything you want right away,” Sima said. “As long as you can accept that and narrow in and just take what you can get and grow from each experience, then you’ll land where you’re supposed to land.”

Correction: This article was changed to clarify the number of apparel licenses owned by Alma Mater. 

Alma Mater offers collegiate fashions for 11 different colleges. Credit: Courtesy of Amanda Sima