Former Trojan looks to break into fashion industry

Jordan Hunter

“We want to build a community where we can help empower each other and build our dreams.” Michelle Hanabusa struts back and forth across the Annenberg classroom, donning designer clothes from head to toe. One day she hopes people will be wearing her clothing brand, Uprising.

Hanabusa, 26, grew up in Santa Monica and moved to Palos Verdes when she was in high school so going to University of Southern California was an easy decision. She graduated from USC in 2013 where she studied design. Her affinity for graphic design came as she transitioned from another passion. Hanabusa was a very skilled figure skater until 15 years old, when a hip injury and subsequent surgery forced her to walk away from the sport. She turned to designing and selling t-shirts.

Prior to launching Uprising, she worked at BCBG, a women’s fashion retailer that has since filed for bankruptcy, and AEG, where she worked events at Staples Center and Coachella. Through a friend of a friend, Hanabusa met with someone who needed a creative director and sensed her business savvy. Little did she know this would be where she learns her first big lesson about the business world.

The man ended up being a fraud, stealing all the money and fleeing to India. She personally lost $15,000. She dedicated every moment she had to the brand at the time. “I couldn’t believe it was happening. I thought it was a dream,” she said.

Like a Trojan, Hanabusa bounced back. She self-launched Uprising in November and is expected to officially launch next month. She got inspiration from thrift stores and being able to take clothes and put your own spin on it. She describes her brand as “not your basic basics brand.” The fabric brings moisture-wicking technology similar to Nike but targets young professionals who are willing to spend a little bit more to look good.

She was nervous to tell her parents she was quitting corporate life to go her own direction. But with their support along this journey and a strong work ethic, Hanabusa is materializing a 10-year dream.

Just walking down Melrose Avenue, you can see an abundance of stores trying to break into the high fashion, casual streetwear market. That doesn’t intimidate Hanabusa. Instead, it drives her to want to work even harder to create something that, at the least, has the potential to stand out. “If you find something that you’re extremely passionate about and it scares you,” she said, “that’s the right one to go after.”

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