Alec Paxton was 20 years old, in the midst of another year of college. For Paxton, waking up, going to class, then spending hours in the library didn’t seem to be what he was searching for. There was something bigger. So, he quit.
Coming from Stevens Point, in central Wisconsin, and now living in Madison, Paxton decided to chase his dream and dedicate his time to his passion: clothing. Paxton left school his junior year to pursue “iame,” an apparel company he created. Not worrying about what others thought, being concerned where it may take him or letting any fears hinder the quest toward his dream, Paxton took the leap, hoping he could change people’s lives through his brand’s message.
Centered around self-love and self-confidence, iame stands for “I am me” and is meant to give the wearer a feeling of confidence and positivity.
“Who you are is enough. Plain and simple. You are who you are, you’re an amazing human,” says Paxton, now 21.
Paxton didn’t have any entrepreneurial ambitions growing up. He wasn’t the kid who would set up a lemonade stand to make money, although he wishes he was.
“The earlier you start the more you learn,” Paxton says. In fact, Paxton didn’t decide to do anything business related until he entered college.
The path Paxton took to arrive at where he is today, out of college with no degree, owner of his own company, is different. It’s a path most people would be scared to navigate, including Paxton, if not for one life-altering experience.
At age 15, Paxton began modeling. A friend’s mom convinced him to send photos into an agency, so he did. Next thing Paxton knew, he was in Chicago meeting with a modeling agency.
That first meeting led to Paxton driving back and forth from Chicago much more than he liked. He decided to put that career on pause and focus on high school football, hoping he would play college football somewhere, all the while knowing deep down he would return to modeling someday.
That day came after Paxton enrolled at UW-La Crosse following high school, and Paxton started modeling again, this time in Minneapolis. Paxton did well there — well enough to get flown to Los Angeles to model. He did well there, too, ending up in New York City to model full-time.
Paxton went out to New York City during his freshman year of college, at 18 years old, putting his education on hold to live and work on his own. He spent time catering events as a side job and filled up the rest of his days with modeling. New York was a different beast than Chicago and Minneapolis, though.
“I felt like I shouldn’t be there, for some reason,” Paxton says. “I felt like I wasn’t good enough, or I wasn’t going to make it … I thought it was just going to happen right away, and that’s not the case; that’s not how the real world works.”
Paxton turned 19 while in New York and decided it was time to return to Wisconsin. A combination of missing his family, impatience and insecurity brought Paxton back home.
“I was kind of handed everything growing up,” Paxton says. “I expected that when I got there … I would say the biggest thing that brought me back was my lack of confidence and understanding how things worked.”
Back in Wisconsin, Paxton returned to school at UW-La Crosse, which meant returning to the typical grind college students go through, full of classes, homework, studying and repetition.
Then one night in 2017 an idea came to Paxton, and iame was on its way to fruition at around 2 a.m. on Paxton’s couch.
“I knew I was going to start a business, and that’s when I thought of the idea … I was like, ‘Who am I? I am me.’”
Without even knowing it, Paxton would be out of college within the year and moving to Madison to build iame.
“I just felt like I didn’t have to be in school to succeed in life and spread my message … I kind of like the chip on my shoulder, too, that I’m not in school, because people look down at that in a certain way.”
Colin Jamison, Paxton’s longtime friend from Stevens Point, has been with Paxton throughout his entire journey, from when Paxton struggled with confidence in New York to when he was preparing his move to Madison. Jamison currently attends UW-Madison.
“It didn’t surprise me because he told me right from the start that he was going to [drop out],” Jamison says. “It was something we talked about quite a bit because he wasn’t happy in school, and [iame] was something he was so passionate about.”
Being so close to Paxton, Jamison is a firm believer in iame. In fact, Jamison says he puts the messages of self-love and positivity to use in his own life.
“I’m trying to start my own business myself as soon as I get out of college,” Jamison says. “Basically go solo and just try to create something so [the message] means a lot to me.”
As mentioned, Paxton doesn’t mind the chip-on-my-shoulder image — doing what he wants and not caring what others have to say. Both men have a take on that.
“It just speaks to who he is,” Jamison says. “If you knew him growing up and the reputation that he had, I think everybody knew that Alec didn’t give a f**k about anything.”
“You just have to get over the hump of judgment from other people because once you get over the hump of judgment, then it’s only upside,” Paxton says. “If you fail, who cares?”
iame sells mostly clothing, such as hoodies, T-shirts, joggers and tank tops that come in all sizes and various colors, and are all branded with some sort of iame logo, but also has accessories like bracelets, PopSockets and hats. According to Paxton, the sweatshirt is the most popular item.
“When the sweatshirt came out, that was when I first got the feeling like, ‘Holy, this is crazy.’ People were actually buying it … I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is actually working.’”
Paxton designs, holds all the inventory and ships all the products himself in an effort to save money and not have to take on investors. Paxton’s target audience is high school and college students because he’s that age himself. He knows the struggles kids face and can relate to them.
“This isn’t about me, it’s about you, in first person,” Paxton says. “It’s about you, who you are, what you stand for, how amazing you are.”
Inventory is one of Paxton’s most difficult struggles. As a young company with not a lot of money it can be difficult to manage how much product he needs. Explaining that he never knows how much he’s going to need or how fast something can sell, it can be detrimental to have thousands of dollars worth of product sitting in his apartment not going anywhere.
Paxton has spoken at a handful of schools in the Madison area in an effort to sell his clothing while also spreading a positive message to a group that needs it most. Most of Paxton’s sales come from his website, but iame is also in a store, Bria Bella & Co., in Stevens Point.
It has been nearly six months since Paxton dropped out of UW-La Crosse. The iame brand is more than a year old, and Paxton is still working on it. He goes door to door to sell, speaks at schools and posts messages of self-love on his various social media accounts for iame.
Paxton is constantly thinking about how iame can improve and what can be done to spread his brand and message even further. Just because things are moving along and people are aware of the brand doesn’t mean there aren’t still worries that creep into Paxton’s mind.
Paxton’s grandmother, Dolly Mancheski, has been with him forever. Paxton was born in her home, and at one point during his childhood even lived with her. As an adult figure in Paxton’s life, Mancheski has seen his transition from high school to college to New York back to college to Madison.
“I don’t think I was ever insecure about it,” Mancheski says. “He was so enthused, and he was bound to make it work so I was going along with him … I think it’s good. If he keeps pushing it he’ll have a good thing going.”
No matter the scale of a brand, it’s important to stick by the product and believe in what is being done.
“I believe in everything I’m doing,” Paxton says.
There is something to be said about believing in your own product. McDonalds and Starbucks would not be the giants they are today had their creators not believed in what they were making. Even though iame is on a smaller scale, the same goes for Paxton.
“Absolutely. Without a doubt,” Paxton says when asked if iame has national potential. “It takes one person … if you get the right guy, it’s over. Not even a question.”
Jamison backs up that claim.
“People can get behind something that’s such an empowering, self-confident message,” he says.
“I have a fear of not being successful when I’m older. That’s a huge fear I have … I’ll be up at 5 a.m. thinking about how I can progress iame further the next day. I want to be successful, and I’m going to be.”
When asked if Paxton has ever considered giving up, a no-hesitation “No” comes out of his mouth.
“It’s not even a question,” Paxton says. “It doesn’t even cross my mind to work on it or not. I just want to be the best possible human I can be, and I see a lot of good things going through iame.”
Paxton threw all his cards on the table. He put college on hold to live in New York City as an 18-year-old, returned and then left again to pursue his dream of owning a clothing line. Paxton has supporters, some of his biggest being friends and family, and doubters.
People aren’t used to seeing someone break the mold. They want normality. But that wasn’t good enough for Paxton.
“You just have to take the risk,” he says. “You have one life, I hope you want to do something crazy with it, make something big, be the most successful person you can be, so why not take that leap?”