‘Watch Us, We’ll Make It Happen’: How a Study Abroad Led to a Booming Business for Wanderlust Wraps Co-Founder, Kennedy Voss

Growing up in Ankeny, Iowa, senior Kennedy Voss always knew she wanted to call the University of Iowa home. She did not predict that 4 years later she would become the co-founder of student startup success, Wanderlust Wraps.

Although Voss originally came to UI as a pre-nursing student, she said she could not ignore her passion for entrepreneurship, later switching her major to enterprise leadership. Even as a child, she remembered wanting to create her own businesses, specifically cake pops and bedazzling. Voss’ parents also played into her entrepreneurial interests as both own and run small businesses. Despite this, Voss said the creation of her brand was nothing short of an accident.

It all started when she met her future business partner, Taylor Williams, on the rowing team as a freshman. Voss remembered having issues with her headband falling off while rowing, but not being able to take her hands off the oars to adjust it.  Thus, Voss and Williams sought out a solution that was functional yet still fashionable.    

When the friends then both applied for Semester at Sea during their sophomore year, a study abroad program in which students travel by ship to over 10 countries in a little over 100 days, they thought their headband idea might be the only way they could afford the fees. 

“We were at the kitchen table in our apartment just like cutting fabric, just testing out to see what size it needed to be, which way to even cut it, (and) how to sew,” Voss said. “Taylor taught herself how to sew completely. It was all trial and error.”

Much to Voss’ surprise, Wanderlust Wraps blew up in popularity, earning over 6,500-unit sales since its formal creation in May 2018. The co-founders spread the word about their brand with everything from craft shows and farmer’s markets to a commercial website of their own.

“It was so much bigger and better than we ever could have imagined,” Voss said.

As the business grew, the women found a warehouse in Minnesota where they now get most of their unique 4-way stretch fabric that Voss said gives their product an edge. It is tight enough to stay in place, comfortable enough to not give a headache, and wide enough to look good, she said.

After returning from nearly four months abroad, Voss said the purpose of the business shifted. The trip showed her that life is truly about surrounding yourself with people who inspire you. Because of this, she plans to focus on customers and encouraging others to travel the world and fulfill their wanderlust. She also said she hopes to use a portion of sales to create a scholarship for future travelers.

“No one should have to miss out on the opportunity (to travel) because they don’t have the money,” Voss said.  “Even if we start small, we want to be able to give back, have that continue to be a part of our story and share where people have gone with their wanderlust, with their wraps.”

She cited opportunities through UI as some of the most impactful when learning how to successfully build the company. Instead of her apartment, the headbands are now made in an office within the Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Lab though the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, a section of the Tippie College of Business. 

Voss also said the Founder’s Club at UI, an organization designed to help aspiring entrepreneurs pursue their startups, was a huge learning experience.  She said the club provided mentors, marketing and logo design—all crucial elements she needed to develop for her brand—along with motivation from others to keep grinding toward her goals. These goals also include emphasizing the capabilities of women in business and empowering other students to pursue their dreams within male-dominated professions. 

“In life, don’t ever let anyone tell you no,” Voss said.  “…achieve those dreams and shoot high because if someone is suppressing you, to me, that’s a motivator. Do whatever you can in your power to make it happen.”

Voss recently decided that she will go onto graduate school to pursue healthcare administration after graduating from UI in December 2019. She ensured that Wanderlust Wraps will continue to be a significant portion of her life. The company hopes to increase sales to 12,000 units by the end of the year, she said.

“My whole past and everything was leading me up to this point,” Voss said, “I feel like I’m right where I’m supposed to be.”

Image Credit: 1 (also published on Iowa Now), 2