The Classic Buffalo Story
What If I Succeed?
In 2015, our founder Ryan Monson was a senior in college and was at the end of his rope. He was doing really bad mentally and wanted to give up on everything. Ryan didn’t see a way out, but something kept him from completely falling into the darkness. It was the rational part of his brain that said, “How can you leave this world when you haven’t even tried this ‘business’ you’ve been working on?”
It wasn’t the strongest thread to cling to but it worked at the time. He had been so worried about “what if I fail” that Ryan never asked himself, “What if I succeed?” That’s when he started to smile.
Any time Ryan would talk about this business or think about ideas for it a positive “energy” would flow through him. He'd be filled to the brim with motivation and purpose. Ryan decided that he couldn’t leave this world before he truly gave this business a shot. This is when Classic Buffalo was born.
Classic Buffalo initially started as a mental health streetwear brand centered around the idea of story-telling. Ryan thought that anyone who was going through what he was needed to know that they were valuable. That no matter who they were or what they had been through, they were enough. No matter what their “story” was up to this point, it was a valuable one and worth sharing it with people.
Ryan wanted people to have apparel that acted as a shield against the negative thoughts that were dominating their minds. That as long as they were wearing that piece of Classic Buffalo merch, they could remind themselves that they were valuable.
Over time, if the brand got big enough, people would recognize “that story brand” in public and organic conversations would start to happen where strangers would swap stories with each other. Through that process, he'd change the world. Maybe it was a fairytale scenario, but it seemed like a good idea to try it anyway.
Behind the Name "Classic Buffalo"
As to what he'd call this brand, Ryan settled on the name “Classic Buffalo” because each word had an important meaning to what he wanted his customers to experience. The word “Classic” means “high-valued” and “an important story.” Ryan believed that every human was valuable and had a story to share so that was the perfect first word for this venture.
Ryan wanted the second word to be an animal so that the brand could have a mascot, but also represent the other aspect of the brand which was community. The one animal with best meaning behind it was “Buffalo.” These animals are are heavily reliant on their herd for safety and rarely stray away from other Buffalo. These strong animals find solace in numbers and aren’t any weaker because they are a part of a community.
Many people think that it makes them look weak for getting help for mental health, but it’s one of the strongest things you can do, and adding “Buffalo” to the brand would emanate strength behind seeking help and safety within community.
Through his own life experience, Ryan found that many people lack a supportive “herd” when things go wrong. Most “support groups” like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) for example rely on anonymity and are centered around heavy topics like substance abuse. The more light-hearted side of things like playing volleyball or going on a hike is often not incorporated. It’s usually just sitting in a room and talking in a circle. Most disappointing of all, the friendships and connections that you form with those people, however deep they may be, are often intentionally encouraged to be left at the door in pursuit of true anonymity. This leaves many left high and dry in pursuit of a true connection within their communities.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, you have surface-level meetup groups (often religious) that are centered around a hobby like Ping Pong or Poker. The problem with these is that if you aren’t of that religious affiliation, or into that one hobby, you could be shut out or feel awkward in that group. The depth of community is not present here. Ryan wanted a mix of both but didn’t know how to put it all together just yet.
A Period of Rest
So after he graduated from college in 2016, Ryan entered the real world and had your traditional 9-5 that took up a lot of his mental energy. In 2017, Ryan started Vintage Indy which involved flipping vintage apparel that he had found while out thrifting. After two years of doing that,he had amassed thousands of followers on Instagram, sold hundreds of vintage pieces, made thousands of dollars, and done something no one had ever done before: visit every Goodwill in Indiana.
By going to 128 Goodwills in the state, Ryan had finally solidified my place in thrift history, yet it only left him feeling empty. He would tell people about Vintage Indy and they would always say, “It’s so cool that you are passionate about thrifting.” He'd then let out an emotionless “thanks” because for some reason those words of affirmation didn’t mean anything to him. Thrifting and flipping were things Ryan was really good at, but it wasn’t his passion.
It was like what you'd imagine Stephen King felt when he was complimented for being a good janitor. He was supposed to be writing books, and Ryan was supposed to be doing something else with mental health. Ryan was supposed to be doing something with Classic Buffalo.
Eventually, he just couldn’t keep it in the back of my mind anymore. Ryan had to bring Classic Buffalo back. Thanks to a good friend named Gracie and her encouragement, he decided to bring it back not as a company but as a podcast where he would interview people on their experience with mental health. Ryan didn’t know how he was going to do it, he just knew he had to go and figure it out on the fly and trust that his passion would carry him as it had in the past.
The next year that followed was beyond rewarding for Ryan, even despite the on-set of COVID. It wasn’t the final form of Classic Buffalo, but it was way closer to the ballpark than Vintage Indy was.
Midway through 2021, Ryan had an opportunity to have a popup store in downtown Indianapolis for a whole month completely for free. The space they gave him was too big for just himself so he decided to share it with a bunch of other small businesses like Vintage Indy. There was everything from thrifted goods to custom artwork. If you were a small business, Ryan wanted to promote them alongside him.
By the end of that month, he had learned so much. Ryan had met new business partners, got rid of bad business partners, made new friends, and gained invaluable experience by seeing what worked and didn’t work in a retail environment. Best of all, his vision for what Classic Buffalo would become turned into what it is today.
Statistics and his own personal experiences show that the 18-35 age range is plagued with mental health issues and they receive the least amount of help with it. When he took a look at the current mental health non-profit landscape in Indiana, there isn’t one that is solely dedicated to this demographic. Many mental health non-profits take a “blanket” approach offering services to all ages. They specialize in everything which ultimately limits their ability to do a few things really well.
When I talked with some of the “big name” mental health non-profits, they informed me that they are only present at a handful of colleges in the state of Indiana, and by “handful” I mean less than five. For context, there are more than 50+ colleges in the state of Indiana and those five don’t include large schools like Notre Dame, Butler, or Ball State and almost none of the smaller ones.
Why you ask? Because they don’t have the money. They don’t have staff to keep up a presence on college campuses. In an effort to provide all of the services, their main demographic most affected by this issue is left under-served. This isn’t meant to bash any big-name non-profits, but serves to shed a light on the opportunity for a grassroots non-profit like ours to come in, specialize, and excel in a practical way.
What is Classic Buffalo Today?
The best way to explain what it will be is a “herd” of small businesses. This herd will be comprised of various different small businesses ranging from vintage clothing to plants to artwork to pottery to jewelry and beyond. Our “herd” will pop up around Indianapolis and throw monthly flea markets where customers from all over the Midwest can purchase from small businesses. The best part is that any customer’s purchase will have double the impact. Here’s how:
When a customer buys a shirt, for example, they are directly supporting the small business selling it. The second positive impact will be that Classic Buffalo will funnel 10% of each sale directly to a local mental health non-profit (ex: Irvington Counseling Collective) until we have set up ourselves as our own non-profit with our own programming. After our nonprofit status kicks in, we will shift that 10% toward our own programs which will be detailed below.
Our programs will start within the borders of Indianapolis and seek to collaborate with college campuses (i.e. Marian, Butler, IUPUI, and University of Indianapolis) in the following ways:
- Help each university put on a annual mental health week
- Plant a support group on campus (think a non-religious YoungLife that has an activity once per week and a dedicated “pow wow” day another time that week where you can support each other, maybe it’s just once a month so that the focus isn’t all negative or all surface level)
- Create a fund for students/young adults in the specific college area that helps with practical needs (i.e. rent, utilities, bills) or directly pay for free/scaled counseling initiatives in the college’s community
- Build a list of resources available on campus/in the area (other non-profit resources ex: Irvington Counseling Collective)
- Collaborate with the university to host an annual flea market on a college campus that will support young-adult small businesses within that community
By focusing on points A through E, Classic Buffalo will strategically make a direct impact on the communities that need help the most. We won’t go for speed, we will go for impact and one college at a time. Slow and steady wins the race.
As to the businesses and creatives that comprise our “herd”, we have carefully selected a group of diverse and unique enterprises and individuals to join our team. We pride ourselves on having a fully mutual relationship between vendors and our brand as we serve as a “step-ladder” to whatever dreams our members have in life.
As of now, we have secured a monthly pop-up spot at HotBoys Restaurant (1004 Virginia Avenue). This should go through at least through October '22 (if not longer). Here you can shop small business and 10% of our proceeds will go to our mental health programming.
We see this monthly popup at HotBoys as the first step towards our grander goals in 2023 and beyond. We hope you want to join us in our effort to support both small businesses and mental health!