For the average university student, balancing classes, coursework, sports, jobs, clubs, and friends is a rarely perfected art. Finding that balance is a struggle that we overachieving students at McGill know all too well. Daunting as it may seem, it is not unusual to find students who do it all, and still find time to develop and manage their own start-up businesses. This week, to learn more about the ins and outs of running a business, I sat down with two second year Arts students who have succeeded in combining an artistic passion with an entrepreneurial spirit to learn more.
Starting Up with Socks
Last winter, Matt Tse, a U1 Sociology major from Toronto, came up with the idea for his custom-made athletic sock company, Vision Wear, when his lacrosse team ordered custom-made socks that ended up being cheaply made and ripped easily. “I was going to buy new ones,” Matt explained, “but they were really expensive and not very nice, so I decided to make my own.”
After designing a logo and finding a manufacturer in Utah, he ordered six hundred pairs of plain Vision Wear branded socks. With a substance called Sublimation Ink, Matt used transfer paper to imprint various designs he had created onto the socks. Matt then used a template from a site called Shopify as a skeleton for his own website, and did some coding to create special effects.
“My best advice for anyone wanting to start a business is to use crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter,” said Tse. “It’s like a marketing ‘sprint’ because of the time limit and it’s a good test for you as an entrepreneur to see if running a business is something you’re good at. Crowdfunding democratizes business, giving people who don’t have the capital to “start up” the means to start up.” However, crowdfunding wasn’t the only source of capital Matt used. After the success of his Kickstarter campaign, Matt used the legitimacy afforded to him by his campaign to apply for a grant from the Ontario government, which has a special program for student startups. Along with the monetary grant, the program provided Matt with a mentor, access to business lectures, and opportunities to network with other young entrepreneurs.
As for his business team, Matt has delegated accounting duties and “public relations” to a friend, but he takes care of marketing, production, and everything else himself. “I primarily do direct marketing – reaching out to local teams or clubs. In terms of advertising, I’ve worked with some notable figures – bloggers, professional athletes (namely lacrosse players). I’ve sent them samples to do giveaways or write reviews.”
Looking to the future, Matt is thinking of expanding to other types of apparel but he aims to stick to the same niche of personalized sportswear that can also be worn in everyday life, a term Matt has coined “active lifestyle wear.”
Fellow second year Arts student, Tessa Battistin, an English Literature major from New York, has similarly transformed a penchant for art and design into a creative business venture. Tessa’s startup, Asset Designs, sells unique screen-printed t-shirts featuring her own illustrated work.
Tessa began screen printing in her penultimate year in high school. “I had two really influential art and history teachers who showed me how to screen print and encouraged me to continue experimenting.”
She used her old drawings as inspiration and continued to work on creating illustrations, eventually narrowing it down to a few designs to start. Using start-up capital, which consisted of some pocket money as well as donations from family and friends, she bought all her own materials and now creates all of the merchandise herself. She has recently started to dabble in making printed tote bags as well.
Tessa began by marketing to her closest friends and family and then started using Instagram and Facebook to advertise her designs to kids from her high school. “Now, I mainly use Facebook, though I am in the midst of making a website in order to better represent my designs and sell on a larger scale,” she explains.
When asked what advice she would give to other students wanting to create businesses of their own, Tessa emphasized the need to be creative and to use your friends as a resource. “When your target market is people your own age, it’s helpful if you’re in touch with the needs and wants of that target market. Most of my prints are marketed towards young people my own age. Start off with what you know, and go from there.”
She also reminds students that, “even though we don’t have an art program at McGill, creativity is still highly valued here. Never be afraid to be creative.”
To learn more about Tessa’s and Matt’s innovative start-up businesses and to check out their designs, visit their websites below: