How I Made a Profitable Sustainable Business Before I Graduated

Even though I advocate focusing on getting a job after college through paid internships and extra circular activities, it isn’t the path for everyone. Early on, I recognized that I would not be able to succeed in the a 9–5 atmosphere that awaited most of my friends after graduation.

I have an invisible disability called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), where it has made it close to impossible to be a reliable employee in the corporate world. If you met me, in person, you might not ever know how exposure to perfume and other everyday household products leave me with excruciating migraines. Very often, I would have to go home early and miss the rest of the day of paid work. People felt resentful. My schedule was unpredictable. It was a nightmare, to be honest.

Screenshot of bottlethread.com Who knew shirts for women could actually fit and be made from recycled plastic bottles? While I didn’t plan this as being my “passion,” it definitely is going to help out a lot of people, and the planet.

Once I realized that this might be a major problem later on, I considered two options. I could theoretically work from home at the expense of progressing my career… or I could become an entrepreneur.

I ended up founding Bottle Thread: Sustainable shirts for women, made in America, out of recycled plastic bottles. So far, it has been a success. Though, I wouldn’t have been able to start it without the resources and knowledge from my undergraduate degree at Chatham.

Find the Need: Don’t Follow Your Passion

Most people don’t expect this advice. Contrary to popular belief, following your passion actually doesn’t guarantee life satisfaction or happiness. Instead, follow your talent and MAKE it your passion.

This is what some might call “Character Development.”

If someone told my 15 year old self, I would be running a successful sustainable fashion company at 22, I’d have laughed them out of the room. To put it mildly, I was a punk-goth kid with short-pixie hair, studded belts and an obsession with hard-core metal bands. Fashion seemed frivolous and the word “sustainability” didn’t exist.

When I started brain storming ideas for a business, I wanted to focus on a problem that impacted a lot of people. At the time, I was wearing a great quality polyester button-down shirt that fit me perfectly. This shirt was the only button down shirt that ever actually fit me, and I couldn’t find a replacement ANYWHERE.

I also was learning about sustainable waste disposal at the time, and was appalled at the amount of plastic bottles we throw out every year. Once the two ideas were connected, I knew I had a viable product. Though, if I followed my passion, I would have gotten burned out.

Passion doesn’t always meet people’s needs, but meeting needs can become a passion.

Utilize your Resources when you Have Them

I have yet to find a college metric for aspiring entrepreneurs outside of the things you learn in class. Most schools focus on the curriculum, extracurriculars, and networking when it comes to business majors. I wasn’t a business major, nor wanted to be a business major, and there didn’t seem to be a place where I could do business networking if I wasn’t a business major; until I went to Chatham.

I used to hate math and science. Now I use it all the time to understand the website analytics, and test out different marketing techniques. The only reason I was able to figure it out was through classes I took during my undergrad. Here I’m collecting stream data for one of the qualitative ecology labs, as part of the sustainability major.

On a whim, I took this class in database management with Dr. Chung at Chatham. Why? I don’t know. It just looked interesting. Though, throughout the class and afterwards I made a real networking connection with my professor which would significantly impact my college experience.

Dr. Chung connected me with the Women’s Center for Business and Entrepreneurship. I would be invited to mixers, workshops, and meet-ups throughout the city. I’d have access to incubator programs, mentors, and actual investors.

Many of these resources I would not have had access to, had I went somewhere else, chose a different major, or done anything different.

If you are still in school, and have the motivation to start on the path towards financial security before graduation, utilize the resources you have and meet a need that can become your passion. The rest will follow.

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