When the COVID-19 pandemic struck and Centre County natives Travis Witmer and Collin Smith found themselves living amidst New York City’s desolate new normal, they made tracks for Happy Valley. While Witmer continued his job in graphic design for Coach, Inc. from his parents’ home, he and Smith teamed up with childhood friend Ryan Patten to pursue an idea that first came about when the long-time trio of friends was attending college.
“That’s where the idea for the brand came together,” Smith explains of the newly-founded fashion brand HighTop, noting that he and Witmer were college roommates at Penn State. “It started out as some ideas for some animal cartoons that we thought were fun and it spiraled into putting a brand together.”
Combining Witmer’s graphic design and fashion background, and Smith’s retail fashion background, HighTop also blends the trio’s experiences living both in rural Pennsylvania and New York City. As such, browsing the HighTop website will reveal a mixture of urban streetwear, but also an inventive take on hunting apparel with the brand’s Whitetail tee.
“We have that aesthetic of being the kids from the country, but we also have the style and aesthetic of the city. We’ve lived in both places and have a nice mix of both of those vibes. That’s what our brand is trying to encompass — we’re more complex than just country boys or city slickers,” Smith laughs. “We love the streetwear, but we also are showing love to the hometown, too.”
Witmer adds, “Back home in Centre County, Pennsylvania, specifically Penns Valley, it’s very blue collar, working class, agricultural-based, but there are also the young kids who buy the streetwear and they support these skater-surf-sports brands, so it was bringing that into our clothing, in addition to the outdoor and hunting apparel.”
“It’s funny how those things mesh, too,” Smith says. “We grew up here where people wore Carhartt because they worked on farms, and now in Brooklyn, Carhartt is fashion. Things are more complex and merge a little bit.”
Now, Smith is still living in Centre County (“It’s Happy Valley for a reason,” he says. “When you grow up here, you have a bit of an anxious feeling to get out of here as soon as you can, but then you realize, when you get out in the world a bit, how nice this place is.”), but Witmer has returned to Manhattan to resume in-office work with Coach. The change has required the team to collaborate remotely, while also managing the creative process in differing spaces. Witmer points out that part of the reason the brand was able to come together during the pandemic as it did was simply having more space to create in his parents’ home.
“I had the flexibility of being able to do my job from my house and, being back at my parents’ place, I had more room to create,” he says. “I was doing tie dye and screen printing. We… had more time to sit together and brainstorm.”
HighTop’s current line is available at www.hightopshop.com/shop, and the team is looking into the possibility of selling the clothing in retail locations in the future. They’re also focusing on creating brand-related online content, including a series of interviews called “HighTop Talks.”
Smith explains, “HighTop Talks features other artists and creatives and shows love to the community and puts other people’s arts and crafts out there. The first person we featured was Ben, who designed the giraffe on our first shirt.”
For more information and updates, follow the HighTop brand on Instagram, at www.instagram.com/hightop814/.