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Missouri State University sophomores Jesse Romano, left, and Katie Sulzner plan to continue their small-business venture at least through college.
SBJ photo by Jessica Rosa
Missouri State University sophomores Jesse Romano, left, and Katie Sulzner plan to continue their small-business venture at least through college.

MSU students turn fundraiser into small business

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The desire to attend a faith-based trip this summer provided the impetus for two Missouri State University students to create their own clothing business that has generated over $5,000 in sales since inception.

She is Wonderfully Made was born out of a brainstorming session in March between friends Katie Sulzner and Jesse Romano. The company name was largely inspired by Psalm 139 in the Bible, Sulzner said. Both wanted to attend Kaleo, a multiweek summer faith and leadership development program in Canada, but each needed to raise $2,700.

So, the sophomores devised a fundraiser to hand-paint jean jackets and sell them, along with earrings and hair scarves.

The investment and expectations were low, Romano said, noting the pair each spent about $100 to start.

“We’ll be lucky if we make $50 off of this,” she recalled thinking.

By the time the spring semester ended in May, the duo had made $3,700 in profit from the clothing sales. The students also had been raising money for the trip through donations from family and friends, which provided them both with more than the $2,700 needed.

Social media has been the biggest catalyst for the sales, Sulzner said, as the two promote products on the company Instagram page, which has over 700 followers.

“We also used our personal accounts to leverage the business account,” she said, adding their sorority sisters at Alpha Chi Omega also post about the jean jackets on their Instagram pages.

Word has spread beyond Springfield, as Sulzner said they’ve sold jackets in at least eight states, including Texas, New Jersey and Alabama.

“It really was just good timing in the sense of where our social networking was at the time,” Romano said, noting their target audience is females in their late teens and early 20s.

MSU marketing instructor Carly Pierson has Sulzner as a student in her principles of marketing class – a general education course required by the College of Business.

Pierson said the sophomore, who is a triple major in marketing advertising and promotions, marketing research and marketing sales, has visited with her on several occasions about business concepts.

Methods to grow the business and potential pitfalls have been part of their conversations, she said.

“Katie is probably unique as she already had this fully fledged business concept,” she said. “Their target market was their peer group. That is unique.”

In October, Sulzner got to learn more business concepts at a New York City-based conference. She was one of 100 college women from across the country selected to participate, free of charge. Forte Foundation’s College to Business Leadership Conference provided career preparation workshops, networking and mentorship opportunities, as well as tips to develop leadership skills.

Sulzner suspects her application was approved because of her experience starting She is Wonderfully Made.

“I got to network with college students for an entire day,” she said, adding the event was hosted by U.S. banking company Citigroup Inc. “I also learned a ton about how to have people respect you as a woman in business.”

Sulzner and Romano, who is an elementary education major, took a break from the business over the summer but decided to continue the venture in September.

Their sole focus is now on the customized jean jackets, having completed 45 designs – including a recent creation featuring Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

They purchase the plain denim jackets through retail outlets, including thrift stores. Sulzner said she placed an order a couple of months ago for 30 jean jackets from multiple vendors, mostly the Black Label brand.

“There are times when we take hits, but we know it will pay off,” she said.

Romano estimated jacket sales have tallied $1,500 since September. Most of those sales have come through the company website, SheIsWonderfullyMade.shop, which they spent $300 after the summer to launch and keep running for the next year on Bluehost. It’s their biggest investment to date.

“It made us feel this is kind of legit, like we have something going,” Romano said of the website.

Estimating the average time to design and paint a jacket takes two to three hours, Sulzner said the jackets are generally priced between $55 and $65. It’s a price the duo believe is right for the college student, as they considered how much they’d be willing to pay when determining the cost.

“We started it to hit this college market, and I think we honestly have more success because we priced it as we do,” Sulzner said.

Pierson said it can be a balancing act to determine pricing. People are going to pay for something they really like and want.

“They are in such a budget and discount mindset that they will market it in that area,” she said.

Sulzner and Romano said there hasn’t been a lot of long-term talk of the young business, but both are determined to continue it through the remainder of college. Expanding to customized children’s jackets and screen-printed T-shirts are considerations.

“Right now, we’re definitely just trying to find our niche with this and really focus,” Romano said.

But time is another factor for the full-time students.

“Whatever’s happening with it, we’ll keep on doing it and putting our heart into it,” Sulzner added. “But we just don’t know where it’ll end up.”

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