Imagine if on top of studying for exams, meeting with professors, going to class, and attempting to maintain a social life, you were also writing your own blog, updating a website, meeting customer demands, and, I almost forgot, running your own business. Meet Caroline Rooney, a current undergraduate student (gasp—just like you!) and the founder of The Bearon, a recently launched and socially conscious clothing line. I talked with Caroline about how her company got off the ground, and how she still manages to stay sane.
Her Campus: So tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do.
Caroline Rooney: I am a junior at the University of Michigan, and a major in Organizational Studies and a minor in Art History. When I was in high school I served as a US delegate to the United Nations global youth delegate, and from there I developed an interest in global development, globalization, and philanthropy. Since I have always been interested in fashion, art, and business, The Bearon is a way I have been able to combine all of those passions.
HC: How did the first t-shirt for The Bearon come about?
CR: In high school I was in a textiles course and I was asked to design a t-shirt based off of a traditional Japanese-style silk screen we made. Since I had just returned from my UN trip in Manhattan, I wanted to put a little bit of my experience into the design, and came up with our popular Peace & Love look.
HC: So how did it go from a simple school project into a company?
CR: I just wore the shirt I designed and people would ask me where I got it, how they could get one, and eventually one of my friends told me, “If you don’t make me a shirt, we wont be friends anymore.” So then I had to! For his birthday I was making a new one, and I realized it would be less expensive if I made more than one, so I ended up making fifty and assumed I could just track down the people who had told me they wanted one. Well, through word of mouth and through the people I know at home (I only live an hour away from school), we sold the first batch in two weeks. So I made the shirt when I was a junior in high school and launched The Bearon in January of 2008, second semester of my freshman year.
HC: Wow, that’s amazing! How did you take the step to make the brand official and get it off the ground—making a website, building a team, etc.?
CR: [Having a team’s] a huge step, because I think so many people want to ‘do it on their own’ and don’t think about having other people involved, but having a team is essential. Myself and the web designer do most of the day-to-day stuff, and then my other friend does customer service, like managing returns and exchange. Divvying up the responsibility like that enables us to make the business really efficient. And I knew that having other people involved, being a governmentally recognized company, being able to open a Bearon bank account, having a Bearon credit card—all those things make it more legitimate. Also, my friends at other schools across the country wanted to buy the shirts and had no way to see what they looked like and choose their favorite. Let’s be serious, everyone and their mom shops online. The best way for a new designer to sell their product is online rather than operating out of one little store.
HC: Her Campus can definitely relate to the efficiency of being online. Tell us a little bit about your website.
CR: There are a couple cool things about our site (TheBearon.com): we have a blog that we run, information about the nonprofits, and the Friends of the Bearon. That’s where we post other student artists, photographers, designers, friends of friends, and other people who just need a launch pad to showcase their work. Its great to have someone already established recognize you and I wanted my friends to have that opportunity. Also, that same textile course I took in high school is sending us all of the current student designs, and our plan right now is to pick our favorite and hopefully have that be one of our next designs. I am really excited about that, I just found out last week.
HC: What are your plans for The Bearon’s future? Anything besides t-shirts? (Not that we don’t love them!)
CR: I would love to do all different things, but it’s important to decide what I can manage and what my team can manage. We want to make things that college kids want because that’s our target demographic. What do they want to wear everyday? What makes them put on a Bearon t-shirt instead of all the others stuffed in their dresser? We want to make a quality product for our customers, which means just doing t-shirts right now. However, when my team and I can manage it, we plan on making hoodies next (because it’s so cold in Michigan!), and then hopefully tote bags, because I was into designing those in high school.
HC: Tell us a little bit about the philanthropic aspect of The Bearon.
CR: Every other kid in the country has designed a t-shirt, so I really wanted to make my t-shirts special by being socially conscious. Twenty percent of our profits go to organizations that mean something important to me and members of my team, and we have picked groups that specially focus on children’s rights, global non-profit and humanitarian aid, the arts, and Alzheimer’s. Each design is paired with one of these organizations, and our next design will actually be for Alzheimer’s foundations.
HC: Is it difficult balancing school and running a business? How do you stay sane?
CR: I would love to draw a new design, write for the blog, follow up with customers, make sure everyone is happy, make sure we are not sold out, but at the same time we are college students; the biggest thing about doing both is making choices about what is the most important to do right now. There are so many great stories of a student who dropped out of school and ran with an idea and is now a millionaire, but that’s not what I am going to do. Graduating from University of Michigan opens so many doors, so first I am a student and then I am a business owner. It’s only manageable because at times I have to say no. If I said yes to everything I couldn’t do it all.
HC: Lastly, any advice to girls in college thinking about starting a business?
CR: Follow your passion no matter what, and if in the morning you don’t wake up loving your idea, you shouldn’t be doing it. You don’t say, ‘I am going to do this because I bet I will make a lot of money.’ You shouldn’t start a business only to make a lot of money, you need the passion. If you’re passionate about it, people get excited about it.
Go to TheBearon.com to check out Caroline’s shirts! Sources: TheBearon.com