Like most great sportswear companies, Driveway Paradise isn’t really about a T-shirt, even if they make a great one. Instead, it’s about recapturing a feeling — the freedom of playing outside as a kid, the symbiotic fierceness and innocence of amateur sports — and the ability to tap into those emotional aspects is how Matthew Carpenter’s clothing brand is turning into a California movement. DP launched in 2021 with a modern take on the classic cotton tee of the ’90s, supercharged with unique plant-based fabrics and recycled materials. But it all began with Carpenter’s own nostalgia.
“The entire foundation of the brand was me going back in time and thinking about what I wore as a kid when I was growing up and playing pick-up ball in the driveway with my brother and my dad,” Carpenter tells InsideHook. “Back when I was going to the park to play pick-up football in the dirt and the grass, the staple was a cotton T-shirt. If you look at our pieces, the first capsule that we came out with was just based off the cotton tee. The nostalgia comes through because cotton looks different texturally, as well as through the silhouettes, shape and drape, and all of the cuts of cotton T-shirts in the ’90s and early 2000s.”
Originally from Dayton, Ohio, Carpenter was a high school athlete who went on to play football at Northwestern, so sports and being active outdoors have always been a big part of his life. Moving to L.A. to pursue a career in entertainment, he got his start in the mailroom of a talent agency, and quickly worked his way up to a job at the digital production company Studio71. But his role managing content creators and influencers, and helping stars like The Rock grow their YouTube channels, led to burnout just as fast.
“I was a little bit bogged down with the digital creative space in general,” he says. “It’s a lot of work for a 4-5 minute payoff for a video. I was tired of watching videos on my phone all day. My job was to take people out of their real daily life and into their phones. I wanted to pivot into a space that allowed me to be more engaged in the real world. And that’s how I got back into sports, hanging out with friends and working out.”
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When his burnout reached a peak, Carpenter took a break from Studio71, started freelancing and made getting back into working out a priority. Setting his own hours meant more of a blend between leisure time and sports, and that’s when his issues with what to wear started to emerge.
“For the first time in my career, I had a bit less rigidity in my schedule,” he says. “Making my own hours meant getting to a tennis game at 5 p.m., or working out at 3 p.m. or going on a run in the morning. I was noticing what people were wearing more, as I was working out during the day, or playing sports with friends in the early evenings, and I realized my own style wasn’t translating to the world of sports.”
Carpenter found there was “no bridge from what I would wear to a bar, or a restaurant, and what I would wear to casually play a game of pick-up,” so he set out to change that. Most of the ideating, research and development for Driveway Paradise happened in 2020, when gathering outdoors was one of the only ways to safely be in community. Since he had the time to design with intention, Carpenter added plants like mint and algae to his fabrics from the jump, using his experience as an athlete to address problems like smell and sweat as well as fit. “I’ve always loved wearing a little bit of a boxier, regular-fit T-shirt,” he says. “We took the cotton T-shirt — and just naturally, cotton is a genius fabric in itself — and we added algae to it, and then we added spandex, so it has a little stretch. The algae is naturally antimicrobial so the shirt will never smell, and it’s woven into the fabric so it’s not a topical finish. It won’t wear off when you wash it.”
Since achieving his goal of creating “the best T-shirt possible,” the Driveway Paradise collection has expanded to include hats, shorts, polo shirts and even crop tops and crewnecks, all of which are functional as unisex items. The sweatpants are old-school grey or black cotton, with elastic at the ankle and DP’s signature throwback logo on the hip. The best part? This brand’s high-fashion feel belies its very affordable price point — nothing in the collection runs much over $100, with most items closer to the $40-$50 mark.
“The price point originated from the idea that I wanted my friends to look at the price and be comfortable buying it,” Carpenter explains. “We are using innovative fabrics — I’m skating a fine line in regards to our margin. But I couldn’t sleep well at night knowing that there are some companies that sell a regular cotton T-shirt for $135. The community of friends that you hang out with and play sports with, that community of friends is ingrained in the price point.”
So far, the nostalgia, the price and the fit is translating in a big way, with co-signs like Washington Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke and Riverdale star Lili Reinhart both recently seen in Driveway Paradise. At the core, tapping back into the energy of DIY projects and doing it for the love are the things driving Carpenter.
“It’s the homey, nostalgic, old-school vibe of ripping curls in your garage, or doing deadlifts in your garage,” he says. “That’s the down-to-earth style that resonates for me.”
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