Teen entrepreneur turns passion for clothes into cash for college

College student starts clothing lineJoe Pielago is a 19-year-old University of San Francisco student with enough drive to begin his own Southern California-inspired streetwear company. Now he has enough money to finish school and make a name for himself, too.

Instead of crushing beer cans on his head or playing endless video games in his dorm room, the college freshman is busy designing streetwear clothes for his venture, VOILA.

Pielago, a business student at USF (and a 2009 graduate of Palos Verdes High School in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.) received the National Student Future Entrepreneurship Award. The honor came from the National Association for the Self-Employed, recognizing Pielago's work in developing his Los Angeles streetwear fashion company.

"Me and my good friend DJ [Vilicich] we were all really eccentric kids," Pielago said in a telephone interview with Money College. "We tried to start a band and we didn't know how to play instruments. One day we were chitchatting and we said, 'Let's start a clothing company,' kind of as a joke." Even though the line began as a joke, this scholarship is nothing to balk at.

The award Pielago won represents the largest scholarship in the U.S. that promotes entrepreneurship and it is the only one of its kind. He will receive up to $24,000 toward his education. In the first year, he will receive $12,000 and $4,000 for each of the next three years. Pielago plans on graduating in 2013 with a business ready to go.

The idea of creating street wear clothes came from Pielago's obsession with The Hundreds, a Los Angeles lifestyle and California culture streetwear clothing line and magazine. The inspiration behind The Hundreds' clothes are skateboarding, surf, punk and hip-hop cultures. Pielago grew up in Los Angeles and wanted to create his own clothes that reflected his hometown, lifestyle and interests.

The company, VOILA, spawned from there and Pielago named the company after a local street tagger in Rancho Palos Verdes. He began small, by printing shirts without telling his parents, said his mother Kris Pielago in a telephone interview with Money College.

By the end of 2006, Pielago and his friends created a business plan with the help of his father, an accountant who specializes in helping people begin corporations. They were incorporated by 2007.

Now, his collection has seven T-shirts, a hat, stickers and an upcoming summer line which will include tank tops, more hats and maybe a pair of board shorts, he said. Pielago has four employees -- including Jeff, his brother, whom he proudly ranks as the company's best salesman. Pielago is also proud of his work and hopes people feel good when they wear what he makes.

"People should be happy to put on what I create," he said. "It should make a personal statement that's cool, a 'Check me out' [style]."

By the end of college, Pielago plans on diving into work right away with his expanding company. He hopes to find his designs in stores three or four years from now.

"I'm pretty unique," he said. "A lot of my friends here are switching their majors. I don't really know many people that have a set career path, aside from people who want to be a doctor. I recently found out that USF uses my name a lot. [The university] tells people on tours that the future entrepreneur of the year goes here. I feel a little exploited, but it's kind of cool to hear that. It helps the school, but honestly I don't really view it as any different. It didn't change me at all. A lot of people see it as a really big deal. The school goes nuts over it, but for me, it's part of my work."

Pielago's immense work ethic keeps him going.

"What drives VOILA is an extreme amount of cockiness," he said in an e-mail. "I'm going to succeed because i can't let myself fail. For my whole life I have always figured out how to do and get things that I want and I want this too bad to not let it happen."

That attitude is normal for Pielago, his mother explained.

"Just growing up, he was just so head strong," she said. "We always knew that he would be in control of his own destiny, but it was just pushing him down the right road instead of having him go crazy. Guidance was the thing. We never wanted to squash the ambition in him. We told him college is an absolute must. He cannot continue the business until he finishes college."

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