Founded by sibling team, U of T startup partners with university to sell apparel

Clothing brand MOTUS, co-founded by two U of T students and their younger sister, is collaborating with the university on a capsule collection

Along with younger sister and creative partner Calille, left, Malik and Sydnie Pottinger worked with U of T's Trademark Licensing Office to create a capsule collection for their clothing brand MOTUS (photo by Varenya Danthurthy)

Startup co-founders and siblings Sydnie and Malik Pottinger are set to make history by becoming the first students to partner with the University of Toronto’s Trademark Licensing Office to create a capsule collection with their clothing brand MOTUS

Sydnie, a third-year student at St. Michael’s College, and Malik, a fifth-year student in the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education (KPE), will see their MOTUS line of fashion wear, complete with the university’s iconic T-and-leaf logo, go on sale at the U of T Bookstore’s St. George campus location in March.

The collection includes a varsity jacket, sweatsuits, beanies, soccer jerseys and T-shirts.

Bringing this dream to fruition has been a family affair for the Pottingers, whose younger sister Calille is also involved in the company – and whose parents have been a constant source of encouragement.
The siblings, whose university years saw them turn out for the Varsity Blues – with Malik playing basketball and Sydnie, volleyball – began to consider creating a line of comfortable but stylish fashion pieces during the pandemic. They launched MOTUS in January 2023, taking on everything from designing clothing and creating a logo to arranging manufacturing and shipping orders.

Malik says the brand name MOTUS is derived from the Latin word for motion. “It fits us because we are always pushing ourselves and each other to have one foot forward, and it signifies always progressing and elevating,” says Malik.

The business began booming shortly after the e-commerce brand was launched, with Malik and Sydnie soon making regular trips from their small warehouse to the post office to mail orders. 

It wasn’t long before they met their first benchmark of success: seeing people on the street wearing their clothes. 

“Success is your brand being recognized,” Sydnie says. 

The siblings then began to think of how to create a brick-and-mortar presence and pondered whether they could reach an arrangement to sell their items in the U of T Bookstore.
“We brought up the idea to our parents. They encouraged us and said, ‘The worst that can happen is that the bookstore says no,” Sydnie recalls. 
Soon, they were in contact with U of T’s Trademark Licensing Office, where they were introduced to manager Ivan Canete, who previously managed the Under Armour portfolio for the Sport & Rec programs at KPE. Together, they discussed how U of T branding and logos could be integrated into a MOTUS x UofT collection.

In addition to the bookstore stocking their items, MOTUS also received support from Spaces & Experiences, which invested in initial inventory and connected the siblings with resources such as the Black Founders Network.

“We haven’t done a lot of this before,” Canete says of the collaboration, noting that only recently have big brands begun to create collaborative clothing collections with U of T. 

Canete says that since U of T Bookstore royalties are poured back into student experience, partnering with students is a great path. “U of T is pioneering this kind of thinking and developing a model for other schools to follow,” he says, describing the arrangement as part of the bookstore’s evolution.

“It's a great feeling to know that something that my sisters and I created in our parents’ living room is going to help other people,” says Malik, who is set to graduate from KPE this year. “We are the first students to collaborate with the university’s Trademark Licensing Program and it’s really nice to see MOTUS among big-name brands like OVO, Roots and Peace Collective.”  

Malik plans to spend at least a year following his graduation solely focused on building the business. Sydnie, who has two years of school remaining and also coaches volleyball, will also continue to make a full-time commitment.

Among MOTUS’s next steps is to produce leather goods, says Malik, who has been looking into suppliers in Portugal. “We are already developing an assortment of items of this category for our brand. Our goal for MOTUS is to have an international footprint,” he says. “We are so grateful for U of T’s backing.”

Malik says he would advise students to not let their studies box them into a corner. “Just take everything you learned from U of T and apply it in whatever direction you want to take in your life,” he says.

“My first two years at KPE provided me with a great foundation and perspective to figure out what I like. That structure, combined with playing on the varsity basketball team in the first two years of my studies, provided me with discipline and routine that come in handy today.”