How two LSU alums turned a piece of fabric into a million-dollar clothing company

Two hundred thirty.

Mason Dupré kept repeating that number to himself. Over and over again he’d go through his day saying it under his breath.

Two hundred thirty was the number of sweatshirts he’d have to sell at a certain price point to make back the money it cost to create them.

For him, though, they weren’t just any old sweatshirts. They were his babies—his Woollies. These were the sweatshirts that would eventually go on to become the foundation of his hot-selling local clothing brand, Woolly Threads.

The idea to make Woollies came to Dupré on a whim.

In 2014, the 25-year-old and his partner Natalie John, 24, took a trip to Nantucket. There, John spotted a sweatshirt while browsing in a thrift store and knew it had to be hers. It was made of terrycloth-style fabric and was as fluffy and light as she could want.

“I really loved how it looked like a vintage sweatshirt you’ve had for 10 years, that you’ve washed and worn and had your best experiences in,” John says today with a smile. “You just want to touch it when you see it.”

That’s the kind of positive emotional response clothing can elicit, Dupré says. It was the way he wanted to make people feel about his and John’s own clothing brand.

“She was really moved by this fabric,” Dupré says. “It stuck with her. We went to lunch after shopping that day, and she kept talking about it.”

After buying the item, John told Dupré that sorority women would love a sweatshirt like it. The pair had both attended LSU, where John was a member of Kappa Delta. Dupré quickly came to a conclusion.

“I said, ‘Well, why don’t we do it?’” he says.

When the pair returned home from Nantucket, John continued studying for her master’s degree at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond. But Dupré couldn’t get the new business idea out of his head, so he threw himself into it, emailing 158 manufacturers.

For weeks he got no response. Finally, a South Carolina manufacturer emailed him back, saying they were willing to work with him and deliver the terrycloth-style fabric to produce the Woollies.

He spent $5,000 on the fabric, found a North Carolina producer to cut and sew it, maxed out a Discover card on screen-printing equipment and taught himself how to use it.

Dupré had never made anything or sold anything before. He was working out of his tiny Brightside Drive apartment. He had emptied out his entire savings and had no other funds. But he believed in his vision, the one that John had sparked in Nantucket.

Mason Dupré and Natalie John are the Baton Rougeans behind Woolly Threads. Photo by Collin Richie.
Mason Dupré and Natalie John are the Baton Rougeans behind Woolly Threads. Photo by Collin Richie.

He pushed on and made hundreds of sweatshirts. John was responsible for crafting the initial designs and perfecting the simple-but-effective aesthetic Woollies now have.

And just as John had suggested back in Nantucket, in the fall of 2014 the first Woolly Threads orders came from a sorority house. Dupré showed the women a few samples with sorority and university names printed on them, and they immediately fell in love with the incredibly soft fabric.

Two weeks later, Dupré got to his 230 sales.

The following spring, Woolly Threads had taken off, with Dupré and John fielding requests from The University of Alabama, Auburn University, Texas Christian University, Southern Methodist University and many other universities in neighboring states to have Woollies made with their logos emblazoned across the front. The pair also partnered with a distributor to print sorority chapter Woollies nationwide.

Woolly Threads now holds more than 140 collegiate licenses to make clothing, with logos from LSU to Harvard University. The company also sells plain Woollies in navy, garnet, purple and white.

“We went from selling to a couple sororities directly to now selling 12,000 to 15,000 units a month all across the country,” Dupré says. “Literally as far west as Oregon, as far east as the upper New England area.”

By 2015—the same year Woolly Threads sales surpassed $1 million in revenue—the company had long outgrown Dupré’s apartment. So in September of that year, the business finally opened a proper, 4,200-square-foot warehouse in Baton Rouge.

Today, as the partners sit together basking in the sun of Magpie Cafe’s patio, Dupré is co-founder and CEO, John is co-founder and vice president of design and product development, and Woolly Threads is a million-dollar, made-in-America clothing company.

“I feel like I knew that we had kind of made it when people were applying for jobs at Woolly Threads, and they thought our headquarters were in L.A., as in Los Angeles,” John says with a chuckle. She eats a spoonful of her chunky Magpie soup then adds, “We were like, ‘Nope, it’s LA as in Louisiana.’”

In the eyes of the two co-founders, the Woolly is a special garment that is uniquely theirs—down to the name, Dupré says.

When trying to figure out what to call the garment, he knew he wanted it to stir emotion. He looked at the fabric and thought about what words naturally came to mind. “Woolly” was his favorite, and he and John added “Threads” for what he likes to call some “additional flavor.”

Woollies typically range from $60 to $65. Find more info on Woolly Threads at woollythreads.com.