Designers reinvent black for every generation. In the jazz age, it was Coco Chanel’s little black dress. Though millennials have done away with such rigidity, designers still return to classic black as a point of inspiration.
In black on black on black, Zoltan Csoknyay (W ‘20) mirrors his fashion brand: Hooded Staff. A slim fit leather jacket layered over an anti–fit hoodie. It’s reflective of the rest of his line, which is a combination of the classic business suit and streetwear, at once paralleling his identity both as a business student and an artist.
The formation of Hooded Staff was “like a domino effect,” he says. Hailing from Hungary, he says the first domino to fall was the Iron Curtain. In 1991, after the end of Communism, Hungary experienced its first taste of individuality: its people clamored for clothing, perhaps one of the most profound and accessible modes of self–expression, but found themselves limited. Seeing the gap in the market, Zoltan’s father started driving to Italy (a 14–hour drive) four times a week, bringing back carloads of jeans and Italian leather boots to fill the void. He would then resell these products and within just a few hours, items that cost more than the average Hungarian’s annual salary would be sold out.
Not long after, the family started negotiations with the Italian leather brand “Replay” to become the Hungarian distributor for their collections. And the variety expanded across Italian leather boots to include jeans, denim, and shirts. Soon enough, he became the Hungarian distributor for a variety of other foreign brands, paving the way to eventually start his own, “Retro Jeans Company.”
With his family in the fashion business, Zoltan had early exposure to aspects of the industry, such as the photo shoots for “Retro Jeans Company” and the most dominant trends. This affected his own choice of clothing, which was always a little different from that of everyone else. In many ways, the family was the second domino. In fact, it was this environment saturated with business and fashion that inspired him to apply to Wharton.
But the development of “Hooded Staff” came just this past summer. It began with a desire to come up with an idea for a startup. The answer? Fashion. Working alongside his sister and later Hooded Staff’s co–founder Anna, the two began to brainstorm “a product that we both like to wear, that we want to bring to the market. Something that we want to do differently.”
This product was a combination of the places and the people that influenced them. With Anna studying Business Administration at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in LA and Zoltan at Penn, their products reflect the casual vibe of Los Angeles with the clean–cut style of New York, but with a European twist to embed their own identities into their work. Stylistically, Zoltan describes the first collection as minimalistic. “Everything is black. Everything is simple. Everything is unisex. Everything is oversized. Everything is anti–fit.”
Like their father, in creating their business, they were responding to a gap in the market. “In Europe, in a lot of cases, comfort is not really a priority,” Zoltan explains. “Some people say, if you want to look good, you have to suffer through it.” Clearly not the case here in America. Even just looking on campus, the number of sweatpants seen down Locust is a testament to these words. But with Hooded Staff, Zoltan hopes to create an alternative: comfortable T–shirts, sweatshirts, and baseball caps that match with everything (hence the black).
But, their product seeks to offer more than just aesthetic value. “Other than creating this unique identity of New York, LA, and Europe, we wanted to create a sense of community for the people,” Zoltan says. The choice of “Hooded Staff” as the brand name exemplifies this idea. The “hooded” refers to hoodies, products accessible to nearly everyone, while the “staff” is meant to convey a sense of community, such that the consumers are invited to be a part of this circle. “If you think about it, when you go to a concert or you go to an event, who are the people who have access everywhere? It’s the staff members,” he describes. Within hours of his first launch, the collection sold out.
Since then, positive responses have flooded Zoltan’s way. People have reached out to him and other members of the staff, emailing them, subscribing to their , and DM’ing their Instagram to ask when the next restock is. And their advertising has gotten Hooded Staff even further. has accumulated nearly 600 followers in just three to four weeks due to their work with Instagram influencers, one of them having over 160,000 followers. And the number is still growing.
Although Hooded Staff is currently only available to European customers, it won’t be long before it infiltrates the US, starting with Penn. There is already a huge demand among Zoltan’s friends, who are not only supportive of the brand, but of Zoltan as well. As one of a handful Hungarians at Penn, his fraternity quickly became his own community. And there’s nothing more Hooded Staff than that. As Zoltan says, “It’s a sense of community. It’s a sense of belonging. You want to remember. You’re proud of it. You want to show it to people.”
Whites and grey melanges are set to join the mix for the coming collections, set to launch this summer. So keep your eyes peeled for “The Hooded Staff.”