University of Maryland entrepreneurs tackle fashion problems

By Jamie Weissman
Senior staff writer

In November 2011, the doors opened to Kelsey’s Kloset, a women’s fashion boutique based in Laurel, Maryland. But behind the storefront was no industry veteran or experienced businesswoman. It was Kelsey Kleinhen, a 19 year old with a dream of owning her own store.

Kleinhen is part of the growing number of young entrepreneurs who are taking the fashion industry into their own hands.

“I honestly think that it doesn’t matter about age,” Kleinhen said. “It just matters about determination.”

Kicks designed by Samantha Handler. Photo courtesy of Samantha Handler.

Kicks designed by Samantha Handler. Photo courtesy of Samantha Handler.

Since 2012, the University of Maryland has seen a growing number of student entrepreneurs. Dingman Fridays, a weekly program for student entrepreneurs to gain feedback from alumni on their business ideas, has had a 30 to 50 percent increase in attendance within the last three years, according to Adam VanWagner, community and student programs manager for the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship.

“I do think that the biggest trend is people trying to solve problems that relate to college students, people their age,” VanWagner said.

University of Maryland graduate David Engle is trying to do just that. In the summer of 2014, Engle was interning at Zappos.com where a colleague told him he needed help with his style. Determined to assist others with the same struggle, Engle created Demere, a fashion app that creates outfits for users based on photos of their wardrobe.

Though the app is still in testing mode, the Demere team hopes to publicly launch early in 2016.

“No matter the age, everyone should dip their toes into entrepreneurship,” Engle said. “Whether it be creating a company, a new project at work, or a new project at their house, creating things from idea phase through to the company phase is a very important aspect of developing one’s mind and own personal being.”

Kicks designed by Samantha Handler. Photo courtesy of Samantha Handler.

Kicks designed by Samantha Handler. Photo courtesy of Samantha Handler.

To help University of Maryland students develop their goals of becoming fashion entrepreneurs, senior marketing and supply chain management major Brittany McCoy created MasTERPiece, a campus organization devoted to helping fashion entrepreneurs to gain skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the retail industry. Creating the club was a no-brainer for McCoy who started her own brand, Dynasty by Brittany, in 2013.

“I think it’s important to pursue you passion and pursue what you love. Millennial are filled with so much creativity, passion, and drive that we shouldn’t let it go to waste,” McCoy said. “I think many people stray away from the fashion industry because of the effort it takes to really become successful, but now is the time to take risks because many of us have very little to lose.”

Junior psychology major and business entrepreneurship and innovation minor Samantha Handler knows firsthand how important passion is. About two years ago, Handler started Kicks By Sammy, which sells hats and shoes with hand-drawn designs by Handler. Though it takes Handler, who receives orders from around the country, around eight hours to finish a pair of shoes, she says she loves the products she’s able to create.

“I personally love fashion because it’s a way to express yourself,” she said. “I think it’s important for people to find their passion and just expand with it and go with it and try and turn it into something.”

Passion is exactly what led Omar Goheer to create his own business. Goheer founded scarf company K. Sultana to help Muslim women who experience discomfort in hot temperatures while wearing a headscarf and donates 15 percent of their sales to Helping Hand for Relief and Development. According to their website, the idea came from Goheer’s “passion to serve marginalized women.”

“I strongly believe that people should simply pursue their passion,” he said. “If you enjoy working on something and you’re passionate about it, you’ll have the energy and motivation to gain the skills to become good at your passion. If you’re good at something, odds are you’ll find a way to make a good living doing what you do.”

Kelsey Kleinhen, owner of Kelsey's Kloset, model's fall fashion in her Maryland store.

Kelsey Kleinhen, owner of Kelsey’s Kloset, model’s fall fashion in her Maryland store.

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