By Maycee Dukes
Haart Graham, a sophomore English and Film Studies student at the University of Georgia, said she loved writing, clothes and art, and wanted to turn these hobbies into something bigger. Just like that, HaartLine Fashion was born.
“It’s like I have a million ideas and I want to do all of them, but I’m only one person and I only have so many hours in a day,” she said.
She’s already done a lot of the work – a website is set up, merchandise has been designed and made. A few customers have made purchases. Social media accounts are in the works. Graham said she needs to be profitable as quickly as possible to get a head start on repaying the student debt she’ll acquire over her four years in college.
It’s not easy to manage a brand while also studying for a degree, and Graham said this means progress will take a bit more time. But her creative drive and endless ambition are already pushing her to expand her audience.
“It’s just me, you know?” Graham said. “And that’s fine. I love working on the brand, but getting the word out is difficult when it’s just one voice.”
She’s sold a few shirts to family and friends, but now must solve the puzzle of tapping into the larger market.
“Businesses solve problems,” said Jim Flannery, a founder of FourAthens, a nonprofit focused on entrepreneurship in Athens-Clarke County. “If you don’t have a problem, you don’t have a business.”
Flannery, who is also a part time instructor in the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, stressed the importance of creating an “ideal customer,” a person that falls into every category for which a business is striving to serve.
He gave an example for a hypothetical company based in Atlanta. Their target is not just a woman in her forties, it’s a metropolitan woman in her forties who works in an office and manages a family at the same time. Entrepreneurs must understand their customer from head to toe to provide the most appealing solution to the problem they are trying to solve.
“You have to go out and find that person,” said Flannery. “Meet a whole group of those people. Find out what they like, where they go, and what problems they’ve got. Find a problem they share. Figure out what your product can do for them. That’s where you start.”
Flannery said getting out and communicating with people is a great way for an entrepreneur, not only to learn about their customer base, but to gauge interest in their idea and make the best product possible.
Lucky for Graham, this approach helps spread the word and can create an entire network of potential customers just by word-of-mouth. Flannery said even in the age of digital media, nothing beats face-to-face interaction with clients and encouraged entrepreneurs like Graham to find their people; to go out and learn what they need and then create a solution.
Graham is working to define and reach out to her ideal customer. She plans to officially launch Haartline Fashions and sell to a greater market by the end of 2018.
“I’m equally excited and nervous,” she said. “The launch will be a big accomplishment, but it makes it all more real. It’s going from an idea to…a legitimate thing, and I’m excited to tell everyone about it and watch it start growing.”
Maycee Dukes is a journalism major at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.