Winter Valent wears almost exclusively black, with the exception of an occasional camouflage military jacket. He’s tall and skinny, with icy white hair that offsets his greyish-blue eyes. His given name matches his appearance.
Valent, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering, founded Spoiled Threads — a clothing brand that offers grunge-style, USC-themed clothing — during his first year at USC. The company was born out of Valent’s own struggles.
“I’ve really been an outcast all of my life,” Valent said. “When I transferred to USC, I really didn’t fit that carbon-copy style of the University bookstore. It’s blocky letters, it’s gold and cardinal and I’ve never been a fan of that stuff.”
Valent was taking a course called “The Management of New Enterprises” taught by professor Patrick Henry when he decided to do something about what he saw as a lack of diversity in USC apparel.
“I really feel like that culmination of being socially isolated and not fitting in was the thing that really clicked in my head and said, ‘Hey, let’s change this,’” Valent said. “Let’s create a fashion line for students that really don’t feel comfortable, for the misfits, the outcasts, and that can … say, ‘Hey, we’re at this university as well. We can give as much pride as you can, we just do it in a different way.’”
Valent initially intended to start the company as a luxury hoodie brand. However, he soon realized the impact an alternative option to bookstore clothing would have on campus.
After conducting hundreds of customer discovery interviews, Valent’s hypothesis proved true. He wasn’t alone in his desire to wear USC-branded clothing, and he certainly wasn’t the only one with a distaste for the bookstore’s merchandise offerings.
“We figured out that this is super viable,” Valent said. “This is something that’s needed, and it’s more than just me. It’s the whole community that’s not being seen here.”
Valent’s project was also validated in class. Spoiled Threads was crowned the winner of the course’s best new venture competition.
The company currently sells sweatshirts and hoodies on its ecommerce site. Past offerings have also included camouflage and black denim jackets.
All of Spoiled Threads’ products prominently display cheeky USC sayings. Namesake apparel features the phrase “University of Spoiled Children.” Spoiled Threads’ most recent line, inspired by the recent college admissions scandal, reads “University of Scandals and Corruption” and “SCANDAL.”
From the start, Valent has financed Spoiled Threads himself without having to take in any outside investments. The summer after taking Henry’s class, Valent worked at a fast food restaurant to save up cash for his business.
The bootstrapped company is already profitable, having brought in over $1,000 in revenue in 2019.
Valent is also using Spoiled Threads for a semester-long project in his capstone entrepreneurship course taught by professor Albert Napoli. Napoli, who has been Valent’s mentor and adviser to Spoiled Threads this semester, commended his work ethic.
“Winter is the type of founder that a mentor wants,” Napoli said. “He’s smart, he’s coachable, he’s not afraid to do the hard work.”
Napoli’s course emphasizes the critical need for a company to have a unique competitive advantage. He said that Spoiled Threads’ advantage is that it doesn’t try to be like any other University merchandise brand.
“They have found a niche, and that niche is basically embodied in Winter,” Napoli said. “It’s someone who’s not your typical USC student, but someone who is alternative in their look, in their style and wants to be supportive of their University.”
Valent has received help from his friend and former roommate Bryce Covelli, a sophomore majoring in computer science and business administration. Covelli has been involved with the project since its early days, working behind the scenes on strategy and marketing initiatives. He also helps Valent with designs and customer discovery.
Covelli said he’s noticed immense growth in Valent’s leadership skills.
“He’ll tell you and admit that he’s usually not the best at talking to people and interacting with people and giving presentations,” Covelli said. “Over time, the biggest improvement I’ve seen, at least, is probably just interacting with people on a day-to-day basis regarding the brand.”
Valent is aware of his personal growth.
“Day one, I was literally shaking like I was in an earthquake because I really wasn’t ready for this position,” Valent said. “Over the semester, I’ve really harnessed these reigns and figured out how to be a leader in this company, how to build myself up, how to be a team player and actually just make sure that the product I deliver is high quality and it delivers a story.”
Spoiled Threads made it to the top 16 in the USC Marshall New Venture Seed Competition in which hundreds of start-ups founded by either USC students or alumni vie for $85,000 in funding.
Valent has spent the past six Saturday mornings in customer discovery sessions taught by the Greif Center. Spoiled Threads placed seventh at the end of the six weeks, one spot away from earning a slot in the final round.
Valent aspires to continue pursuing Spoiled Threads for the foreseeable future. After a grueling fall semester of exclusively engineering courses, he is relieved to find himself back in a business class.
“Last semester, it got to a point where I was sleeping maybe three days a week and just pulling all-nighters consistently,” Valent said. “It just got to a point on both my physical and mental health where I realized I was giving it my all, and I was fully capable of doing it, it just wasn’t for me.”
He hopes to transfer from Viterbi to Marshall to pursue his true passion — entrepreneurship.
While biomedical engineering is no longer in the cards for Valent here at USC, he is by no means giving up on the health care industry.
“An end goal for me is to have a firm that creates prosthetic arms and prosthetic limbs and hearts for people, because a lot of times they never have the chance to have an arm or a limb,” Valent said.
Valent said he strives to provide people with the tools they need but we're not necessarily born with.
“My core is giving people a chance that they were never given,” Valent said. “That’s always driven me, whether it’s been in medical devices [or fashion]."