A Textiles Student Will Play for the Wolfpack this Textile Bowl
An injury prompted Teshaun Smith to launch is own brand; see how the Wilson College of Textiles is providing him with the skills to achieve his dreams.
In 2019, Wolfpack football great Bradley Chubb returned to Carter-Finley as part of Head Coach Dave Doeren’s guest speaker series. The Miami Dolphins linebacker and first-round pick had a powerful piece of advice for the current student-athletes:
“He was just coming off his ACL injury, and he told the guys to find something outside of football that you love to do and that brings you peace,” recalls NC State corner Teshaun “Tay” Smith.
This guidance would soon prove especially valuable for the then sophomore, who was starting for the Wolfpack at the time. Shortly after Chubb’s visit, a second shoulder injury would sideline Smith for the rest of the season.
“Recovering from that injury, combined with the COVID lockdown a few months later, gave me more downtime to think,” he says.
He points to this well-timed advice as the catalyst for starting his clothing line OffThaTop. On Oct. 28, Smith will play in the Textile Bowl as a graduate student at the Wilson College of Textiles, where he’s honing the skills to take his business to the next level.
The brand’s name is a nod to Smith’s eclectic and spontaneous style. Look through his inventory and you’ll find metal-influenced tees alongside traditional paisley prints, streetwear silhouettes and retro graphics.
Smith keeps his designs purposefully disjointed. He avoids looking to other designers for inspiration.
“I was thinking about how I create my designs, and they usually start with whatever I can come up with off the top of my head,” he says. “I feel like when you start trying to dig into other designer’s bodies of work their ideas sort of spin off on you and you start losing your own creative niche.”
Instead, it’s the diversity of everyday style that sparks his creativity.
“I would say people are my biggest inspiration. Everybody has their own different swag, especially when they’re from different places,” he says.
This commitment to individuality provides cohesion for OffThaTop. Family and friends quickly began calling Smith “Top” in recognition of how authentic the brand felt to his personality.
Reprioritizing after injury: no losses, all lessons
It’s natural, then, that Smith started to also see OffThaTop as a creative outlet that could let him be vulnerable.
He used the downtime during the COVID-19 lockdown not only teaching himself design and building his business, but also clawing his way back to a starting position with the Wolfpack. Then, during his first game back on first string, Smith suffered a season-ending injury for the second time in his college career.
In the following months, he says, he felt completely lost.
“I really didn’t know my path. I was really at a crossroad of ‘What do I really do? Am I going to keep trying or am I going to sit down and give up?’ It really put me into a bad space of depression.”
With Chubb’s advice in mind, he channeled his frustration into his passion. Smith’s designs began to serve as an outlet for challenges he wasn’t ready to talk about.
“The more designs I made, I started to put ‘Top Luvs You’ on them. And honestly, that wasn’t for the people buying or wearing my clothes. I was talking to my inner self in the third person just as a message of self-love to keep myself going.”
It was these designs, however, that ended up being some of his most popular. To Smith, it felt like a clear sign.
“Seeing the reaction of people and how they felt in the garments, even if they really didn’t know the message, kept me going and allowed me to realize that this business might be something that could work,” Smith says.
This experience formed the motto for his brand: NO losses, ALL lessons.
“The injury really opened my eyes,” he says. “I started paying attention to players in front of me and seeing how they responded if they didn’t reach the NFL. I saw that some of them were happy. Some of them were not. I want to be on the happy side. That really made my drive even stronger.”
Once he’d resolved to transform his business into a career, Smith says the decision to earn his master’s at the Wilson College was simple.
“Knowing that this is something I want to pursue, why not get the best knowledge from the best school in the country?”
Leveling up his brand with a new set of skills
Enrolling at the Wilson College actually marks the completion of a dream deferred.
“I actually wanted to go to college to do fashion, but due to the demands of a D1 football schedule, I wasn’t going to be able to balance both,” says Smith, who instead earned his bachelor’s in sports management.
“I’m actually learning about the fibers and fabrics and really gaining a true understanding of how to develop these products.”
He says his classmates, however, have made the biggest impact on his growth as a designer.
“It’s really provided me with more of a drive being around students with the same goals and interests. I’m learning a lot just seeing how they move and operate.”
Support on and off the field
While his priorities have begun to shift more towards building his business, Smith says his time on the field still plays a big role in his success because of the support he has from Wolfpack football.
“When my teammates wear my merch or purchase it, they have their own followings and that brings traction to my brand,” he says.
In the name image likeness era, having NFL players – and former teammates – like Drake Thomas and Tanner Ingle function as free brand ambassadors becomes especially valuable.
Does Smith think he could convince Head Coach Dave Doeren to wear his merch?
“Of course! Me and Coach D have a father and son relationship. He actually wrote my letter of recommendation when I applied to grad school.”
Post-graduation, he plans to continue leveraging the influence of his Textile Bowl teammates.
“The goal is to open up a small space in Raleigh to work and sell my merch where I can get the football players to come in and pull a lot of traction,” he says.
The one thing he refuses to do when envisioning his future is limit himself.
“When I say I want to expand,I mean I want to design OffThaTop skateboards. I want to launch an OffThaTop seafood restaurant. I want to build a lifestyle brand that touches everything. Everything.”