Sometimes it’s not just what you learn at college. Sometimes it’s all about where you learn it. As communities, college campuses can be unique — personalized by geography, region, climate, affiliations and traditions. Very often it’s the community the college serves that can distinguish an institution’s identity. “Some names matter — and Boston matters,” explains Steve Turco, General Manager of the Barnes & Noble at Boston University bookstore. “The people who live in Boston have a strong passion and identification for being Bostonian, and they’re prideful of their city and the teams and schools who represent them,” he adds. That sense of identity with a city can sometimes come from something as big as a winning football team or as small as a college logo, but in the case of Boston University, it required nothing less than a step back in time.
Very often fashion looks to the past for inspiration, and today’s fashions are particularly influenced by retro, distressed looks. It’s a fashionable take based on something more substantive, something that has its roots in something of value. It was that retro look favored by so many of his student customers that inspired Turco to embark on a very specific quest. “This is a university founded in 1839,” he points out, “and we felt that somewhere in the past we could find some former representations of the BU brand, and bring new life to them.”
That kind of out-of-the-box thinking is typical of the way the bookstore and the campus work together, as Kenneth Elmore, Dean of Students at Boston University explains. “I have found working with Barnes & Noble here at Boston University to be a great experience, a really creative experience, and one where there’s some good back and forth — where we challenge and surprise each other at the same time,” he says.
Working closely with the campus licensing director and the athletics department, the group began to search out logos from the past that would resonate with the 21st century consumer. In that search, the team was given access to old yearbooks and old sorority and fraternity publications, some dating back over 100 years. Webb Lancaster, Director of Operations, Auxiliary Services at Boston University was also involved in that mission. “We went through all those yearbooks, old mascots and all these old images on varsity sweaters and crew uniforms and found some really cool stuff,” he recalls. In the process, they also unearthed a rich and fascinating history of the University’s brand. In some cases the iconic Boston terrier was shown as friendly, in others fierce, and some logos were fully realized while others looked more like pencil drawings.
Different organizations and groups had taken some liberties with the brand over the years and logos changed. Even the fonts had changed to reflect the fashions of the time. “In some cases we were working in climate controlled environments with white gloves, in others, we found some amazing materials just sitting in file cabinets in manila folders,” Turco says. From thousands of different designs, the next challenge was to get the unique and iconic images into a digital format and translate that to a graphic on a garment. Turco credits his vendors for representing those brands faithfully and attending to details as specific as hang tags for the products, so they were strikingly displayed in the store.
There was also another key element to the search: that many people would remember logos from their own time spent at the university, even though that might have been twenty years ago. The feeling was that retro logos would also resonate with alumni and bring back some good memories. “While we wanted to create something very fashionable, we were also creating designs would resonate with a lot of different constituents,” Turco explains. “Although we chose logos that we thought would speak to today’s generation of students, they also turned out to represent some great memorabilia for our alumni and those who may been enrolled or spent time here on campus at the time the logos were originally created.”
That dedication to just one element of the University’s identity is now evident on a whole range of Boston University retro merchandise, with the terrier logo finding its way onto gift bags and notepads. The fact that the items are so popular is almost secondary to Turco and his staff at the BU bookstore. “I really think we have a responsibility and an obligation to encourage the institutional experience our students and alumni can enjoy here on campus,” he says. “Our DNA tells us that we’re part of the institution we serve, and the store can really play a part in helping to build that university identity.”
Whether it’s working with students on their course material options or developing unique campus merchandise, Turco and his colleagues at Boston University are continually looking for new ways to support the University’s goals and ambitions. Because just as every campus is different, so too is the individuality that goes into every campus bookstore.