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Sophomore learns entrepreneurship through clothing brand

Sophomore James Manning is learning a lot about what it takes to own a clothing brand. He started his own business, Broken Club Clothing, in February 2020 as an outlet for self-expression and a way to help others who may also be struggling as he does with anxiety or other physical or mental challenges.

The business got off to a slow start, but James considers it all part of the learning process. His first product release – a line of T-shirts and hoodies featuring his Heartbreaker design of a heart with one side in blue and a jagged edge separating the other half in aqua blue – sold only 12 pieces, mostly to his friends. But he spent the last year focusing on his mistakes in order to learn from them to make sure his next clothing drop, Crying but Your Tears Are Snowflakes, will do better.

“I had to take a step back and really look at the choices I made for my project, so I could learn for my next release,” James said, which also meant he didn’t have time to focus on promoting the Heartbreaker line. “I anticipate those numbers changing, knowing what I know now. Experience is the best teacher.”

James said he learned some basic marketing skills that will help his next release, such as creating a demand for the product by doing several tease posts to build interest and excitement. He also researched his social media following to learn more about their interests in order to attract others with similar interests to his brand, @broken_club_clothing.

He also spent more time working on the design. His first clothing drop came about in a month, from design, to having a local print shop print the design on three different shirt styles, and to offering them in an online store. This time, he spent almost a year on the clothing line.

The Crying but Your Tears Are Snowflakes design was inspired during a visit to his mom last Christmas when she was in the hospital in Florida. To help him deal with his anxiety, James listened to his favorite artist, guardin, with the song “Snowflakes” on repeat. The name for his newest clothing line came from a line in the song that really resonated with him, James said.

“I really grabbed on to his lyrics in that song, particularly, ‘crying but your tears are snowflakes,’” he said.

After spending the spring reflecting on how to improve his marketing for his next clothing drop, James started designing his Snowflake idea in July 2020 and finished it in December. He is now working with a local printing shop to adhere his design to various pieces of clothing. He said he hopes this drop is more successful as he plans to implement what he learned over the last year.

James’ biggest hurdle is having enough time to devote to his business. Most of his time goes to school and homework, and his free time is dedicated to creating more designs, researching, planning, estimating costs, or marketing.

Creating and planning are important elements to a successful business, and James is devoting what time he can to both. Even though he is only on his second clothing drop, he has created about 10 other designs. Some will never go beyond his computer, but some have been sold to other small clothing brands, including Energy Never Dies and Bubblenumb by musician Jumex.

James also has hopes to expand beyond clothing such as designing jewelry and resin pieces. He would create the design and find a craftsman to bring his jewelry ideas to life while creating his own resin pieces.

I have SO much planned for the future of Broken Club. I want to do more than just clothing,” he said. “I really enjoy helping people so I hope one day, when my brand gets bigger, I will be able to donate money to charities.”

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Junior turns love of clothes into online business

Junior Rachel Burns is well on her way to being an entrepreneur. This holiday season, she is turning her love for wrapping her family’s Christmas gifts into a small business opportunity by offering a gift-wrapping service for extended family and family friends. She hasn’t had any customers yet but expects to as the holiday draws near. But she has been busy with her other business, an online clothing boutique targeting teen girls and young 20-somethings she named Monhegans.

The online boutique has been open about a month, and Rachel is excited to have to purchase more clothing to stock it. The week of Black Friday, during which she offered discounted prices, brought in several sales from her friends and a few from customers outside her circle.

“It’s mostly local, but it’s starting to spread out some, but not much,” she said. “I’ve only had it for a month.”

Opening the online store, which features tops, bottoms and dresses in the $20-$30 range, took several months as she acquired a business license, created a website and Instagram account, and bought clothes through a wholesaler. The most difficult part was getting the business license, she said, adding that it was also scary to spend so much money, all which she earned through her babysitting job.

Although she hasn’t totaled up her startup costs because she spent the money over time, buying inventory especially meant spending more money than she ever had before, Rachel said. But once she got past the legal requirements, running her business has been fun.

“I like working, and I love clothes,” she said “I’ve always wanted to work in a store when I was little.”

Now she has her own store, in a room in her basement dedicated to holding her inventory and boxes for shipping. She hasn’t had to ship too many items and instead delivered her friends’ orders personally. She hasn’t tracked the time she has put into her boutique, especially because it hasn’t felt like work.

She enjoyed designing her website, using Shopify to choose a template and modify it for her needs. And she enjoys shopping for more inventory, choosing clothes that she knows girls her age will like but that aren’t ones she has seen sold at other stores.

Having an online boutique fits in with her friends’ buying habits since they usually buy online rather than in brick-and-mortar stores, Rachel said. When her friends buy something, they usually text her to ask what sizes she has available or the size she recommends. Customers also can use the sizing chart on the website.

Rachel said she is pleased with sales at this point, especially since Monhegans – a name she chose from a book she once read, The Miracle on Monhegan Island by Elizabeth Kelly – has only been open a month. She hopes her business succeeds and that she can grow it as she finishes college.

In the meantime, she’s grateful for the support of her friends and family, including her mother, DeAnn (Kaiser) Burns ’82, who took her idea for starting the boutique in stride.

“She wasn’t surprised” when she told her, Rachel said. “She liked the idea, but she thought it was something that I would definitely do.”

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Young alumni open businesses despite pandemic

It’s tough enough opening a small business in any climate, but doing so in the middle of a pandemic is even more challenging. Yet inventive, determined people, such as the three young alumni featured here, continue to turn their ideas into money-making ventures for the sheer love of sharing their passion with the public. Their businesses range from a part-time hobby to a large-scale sporting adventure club.

Monetizing a crafting hobby
Becca Hellinger ’15 has always loved to do crafts. At Providence her favorite classes were art, and she loved spending time working on various projects. But once she began nursing school at Indiana University Southeast, her studies kept her from spending much time at. After earning her bachelor’s degree in nursing in May, she promised herself she would return to doing things she loved as a personal reward, she said.

She started making decorative badge reels and epoxy tumblers for herself and then for friends as a way to destress after her night-shift job as a nurse in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Norton Children’s Hospital. Coming home after a long shift and working on craft projects has become her favorite way to unwind.

“I love how I can go into my basement and start working on something and everything else in my mind melts away,” Hellinger said. “I lose track of time and stay up way too late quite often, but it’s worth it to me to have that outlet to unwind at the end of each day. I also love the happiness and excitement on people’s faces when I deliver their items. I love being able to make something personal for them to bring a little more joy to their day when they see it. Their excitement makes my heart happy.”

The idea for selling her creations came when friends who received her gifts suggested she sell them. In June, she started a Facebook page, Becca’s Craft Creations and Personalizations, and began taking orders. Since then, she’s had a steady stream of orders from coworkers and friends. For now, she plans to limit her orders to local delivery to avoid shipping.

She spends a couple hours each day either crafting for herself or working on orders. It takes five days to complete an epoxy tumbler because of the curing process, and she can make up to eight at one time, thanks to additional turners her dad made for her.

Hellinger said she plans to continue nursing full time and maintain her business as a hobby. Even though she loves crafting, she loves her career too.

“This is a tough job (working in the Pediatric ICU), but I love how rewarding it can be,” she said. “I not only care for children during some of their worst days, but also for their families.

Being able to see the kids go from very critical to walking out our doors is definitely a highlight I love. I can’t see myself working in another profession.”

Turning family tradition into marketing opportunity
Collin Rauck ’15 also is turning his hobby into a business. Whitetail Bloodline, which he co-owns with a friend who shares Rauck’s passion for hunting, “is a hunting brand that aims to promote hunting and conservation that has been passed down throughout our bloodline,” he said.

The business is still in the early stages of development and for now offers a merchandising line of hats, hoodies, shirts, and decals. Next up, Rauck and his business partner, Gavin Sodders, plan to post videos of themselves hunting to the Whitetail Bloodline YouTube channel. Future plans include starting a podcast focusing on hunting tips and strategies.

Rauck and Sodders began formalizing their longtime dreams of owning an outdoor company just as the spring quarantine began. Despite the shutdown, the two moved forward with their plans. Merchandise sales opened in late August, and the pandemic has meant shipping delays, but orders are coming in. The two continue promoting the brand and their love of hunting and the outdoors on the business’s Instagram and Facebook pages.

Although it may seem like a crazy time to start a business, Rauck said he and Sodders were ready to launch their business despite the climate. After all, hunting can be a solo sport, and they are both looking forward to the fall season opening soon.

“We’ve both been hunting since we could basically walk, and we both are very thankful for our dads being the biggest influence in getting us into hunting and the outdoors,” Rauck said.

Old family farm now a sporting club
Jack G. Koetter ’14 also has launched an outdoor activity business, but of the three profiled here, his is the only full-scale business. The Sporting Club at the Farm, located on 740 acres along the Ohio River on River Road in New Albany, offers a variety of outdoor activities, mainly focused around shooting and archery, with plans to expand into hiking, corporate outings and more.

Koetter left his job as foreman with his family’s business Koetter Construction in order to launch The Sporting Club. As assistant manager, he oversees daily operations and handles property management. It’s been a busy year for Koetter and his business partner, Bobby Brooks, who is a cousin to Koetter’s wife, Catherine (Emerson) ’14.

Brooks shared his vision for the river-bottom land one of his relatives was selling, and Koetter saw the potential for the old farm. The two began work on the property in July 2019, and The Sporting Club opened this past June – delayed from the original April opening because of the statewide quarantine. He also is using his former construction business skills to restore the nearly 150-year-old farmhouse into a pro shop and clubhouse.

“It has been seven days a week, daylight to dark getting us to where we are now,” Koetter said. “And I have to thank my wife, Catherine Koetter, for allowing me to spend countless hours away from her and our three young kids,” Summer, 4; Jackson, 2; and John Kayce, 8 weeks.

Business has gone well this summer, with families, individuals, and organizations coming out to enjoy clay target shooting, archery, fishing, and hiking. The facility also offers events, banquets, and weddings.

“These are some of the things we do to keep the lights on but our mission and our ‘why’ is to get kids in the outdoors,” Koetter said, noting that organizations such as the National Archery School Program and Scholastic Clay Target program use the facilities. “(We want) to get kids that maybe aren’t the star quarterback or pitcher or maybe don’t have a father figure in their life to get them outside and teach them that there is more to life than just video games and give them a chance to be a part of a team or talk about God. That’s something that is very near and dear to our hearts.”

Koetter said that despite the full-time effort needed to launch a business, he is grateful to see how families and children are enjoying the farm and its offerings.

“The opportunity to bring the business to our community that has an economic impact and to share our passion for the great outdoors has been a dream come true,” Koetter said. “I have to thank my business partner, Bobby, for including me on his idea and to give the glory to God for putting our families together and assembling our team to get this business to where we are now.”

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