Former Norwich Free Academy standout athletes hope to score in business venture

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Jul. 27—NORWICH — Two former NFA classmates and star athletes, one of them now an NFL football player, formed a different kind of team when they first met in a high school accounting class and became known as the "class clowns."

Norwich Free Academy Class of 2014 graduates Ibo Rivera and Tuzar Skipper are still laughing and trying to make their hometown proud.

Rivera and Skipper have partnered to form Other Worldly LLC, creating and marketing a line of streetwear apparel with their logo emblazoned on T-shirts, hoodies, hats, shorts and long-sleeve shirts, decorated with flowers or butterflies and cartoon characters, with lettering in various colors, font styles and sizes.

"I was sick of paying for overpriced T-shirts in stores," Rivera said of how he came up with the idea for his Other Worldly brand. "I showed the design to a couple of friends, and they said: 'You should put it on a shirt.'"

Skipper — a member of The Day's All-Decade area high school football team — played college football at the University of Toledo, where he majored in interdisciplinary studies. He has played in the NFL for the New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans and is a free agent.

Rivera, a playmaker on the 2014 Eastern Connecticut Conference championship NFA basketball team, graduated from Mitchell College in 2020 with a bachelor's degree in business. He is assistant marketing director and coach of e-sports — recruiting and coaching high school students in the growing phenomenon of competitive video games — at Putnam Science Academy, a private prep school. Skipper would joke about it, but he knows both Rivera and e-sports are serious.

Last week, they dressed a mannequin and hung shirts on hangers to prepare for a popup event on Saturday. Rivera sported a shirt with Other Worldly lettering, while Skipper, listed as 6 feet, 3 inches tall and weighing 246 pounds, wore a long-sleeve shirt adorned with colorful butterflies fluttering around the Other Worldly lettering.

The two started talking about T-shirts and designs as freshmen at their different colleges.

The two entrepreneurs were part of a COVID-19 summer of 2020 outdoor popup shop with neighboring entrepreneurial shop Woombs & Wankle. Other Worldly made about $2,000 that day, Rivera said. Normally, they earn about $1,000 per month on the venture. Prices range from about $15 to about $40. "Nothing crazy," Rivera said.

Rivera, 25, and Skipper, 26, are under the mentoring arm of Ashon Avent, owner of Main Avent Athletics & Apparel custom design and printing business and a new shop, T-Shirt World.

All call Avent's shop at 40 Franklin St., Suite 105, their business home. The shop is in the rear of the retail section of Foundry 66 shared workspace run by Norwich Community Development Corp. Saturday's popup shop event in the Bath Street side parking lot will spill into the store, as well.

Rivera did a business internship under Avent, and developing his Other Worldly business plan was Rivera's main project, Avent said.

Support for new ideas abounds in this corner of Foundry 66. Office manager Liz Baez helped Rivera and Skipper with their popup display last week. Heather Pigg, owner of Midnight Media, works with Rivera and Skipper to translate their ideas for Other Worldly designs onto paper and clothing. Avent also works with Pigg on designs for his custom apparel.

"Ibo comes up with the weird concepts," Avent said. "Heather does the design, and we put it into action."

Avent hopes Norwich and area residents come out Saturday to support Rivera and Skipper.

"They're Norwich guys," Avent said. "NFA grads, trying to do something good. And in Norwich. I'm thankful to be able to support them. I partnered with them. They're legends here in Norwich. They came back. They went to college and came back."

c.bessette@theday.com

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