Penn State entrepreneur makes ambition fashionable

Sometimes all you need is a little motivation.

And a good T-shirt.

Abu Fofanah wants to make sure you have both. That’s what you get with Motivational Apparel. MoAp for short.

The Penn State senior majoring in supply chain and information systems didn’t come to college to sell shirts. He wanted an education, and he wanted to play soccer. The Special Olympics set him on a new course.

During the summer of his freshman year, Fofanah was working as a summer conference assistant when the university hosted the event.

“I didn’t know they were going to impact me so much. It was eye-opening,” he said. “Every day they hear what they can’t do from other people.”

Fofanah, from Delaware County but born in Sierra Leone, wanted to merge his sports background with the never-say-die spirit of the Special Olympians. He decided to wear his heart on his sleeve in a very real way.

He designed two different shirts with encouraging messages. One said “Time to grind.” The other said “Life has no limits.”

He made thirty. They all sold out and MoAp was born.

“I had to walk around with a backpack full of T-shirts,” Fofanah said.

He has an infectious grin and an appreciation of the value of networking. At the Penn State trustees’ meeting in November, Fofanah was featured as an example of someone who is getting the most out of his University Park experience. If you haven’t met him, the trustees were told, it’s just a matter of time.

That’s how MoAp had a small boom when John Legend came to campus. Fofanah got a shirt in his hands and his Facebook exploded.

Similarly, he found a mentor in designer Kara Laricks when she came to Penn State.

Fofanah said those T-shirts have morphed into something more, a passion for the fashion industry and for motivational speaking.

In January, he will go to Milan, Italy, to study fashion for a year, turning his business over to someone else to operate while he focuses on learning the things he hopes will make him one of the top designers in the country.

“Life leads you in so many different directions,” Fofanah said.

It’s a great slogan. It almost belongs on a T-shirt.