Kent-repreneur is a deep dive into business, tech and entrepreneurial efforts at Kent State. For Women's History Month, this week’s episode focuses on two female entrepreneurs who are making strides in their early careers.
Symone Baskerville is a Kent State senior majoring in fashion design. She has been sewing and selling clothing online since high school.
“That’s what I’ve been doing forever pretty much, just in my basement in my little sewing studio there,” she said.
But as she began studying fashion design in college, it became harder for her to make clothes as she noticed there were no fabric stores near Kent. She told this to the staff at LaunchNET, a service for entrepreneurs at Kent State.
“(LaunchNET staff) were like, ‘What are you talking about? There’s no fabric store here for fashion majors?’” she recalled. “And I was like, ‘No, we have to go all the way to JoAnn’s or shop online. And after talking to my advisor there, Zack, he told me, ‘that’s a business idea right there.’”
Baskerville pitched her idea at LaunchNET’s IdeaOlympics competition last year and won. She received $2,500, which she used to help start her business, Kent Fabrics.
She shares space with Handcrafted in Kent in downtown Kent.
“We signed the lease in November ... and our grand opening was Jan. 19” she said.
In addition to IdeaOlympics, there is another pitch competition held for Kent State entrepreneurs through the Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation, or CEBI. This year, the CEBI Pitch will award the winner $30,000 for their idea or business; last year, the prize was half that.
The 2018 winner, Anne Skoch, used that money to launch her business in January as well. She purchased office space in an old Match Works building in Mentor.
“I am living my dream. I never thought I would have this opportunity so soon out of college,” Skoch said.
Like Baskerville, Skoch has been sewing since she was young. She said she’s always had an entrepreneur mind, selling jewelry and accessories to family and friends growing up.
Her customer base skyrocketed in her sophomore year at Kent State when she sewed pillows with three of her favorite city skylines on them for her dorm room.
“I had just made them for personal reasons, but my mom happened to share them on Facebook,” she said. “One thing led to another and people really encouraged me to test them out and to sell them, and so I put a few up on my Etsy shop that I had made prior to that, and in six months I was wholesaling to American Greetings.”
After that, she decided to pursue this skyline design business full time. She calls her shop Anne Cate, which now offers 85 skyline designs for purses, handbags, pillows and more.
“Adventure always awaits when you reach a city,” she said. “When you first see a skyline, it represents that you’re close to that adventure, and that adventure’s about to start. And not only that, the skyline captures bits of home and memories of past adventures and just that feeling of comfort.”
Skoch hand-makes every product in her store. She has three high tech sewing machines, thanks to her CEBI pitch money.
“Every single product goes through our sewing machines and most of the products go through my hands as well, right now,” she said.
Both Skoch and Baskerville said they take pride in being women in business.
“It’s just kind of empowering,” Baskerville said. “I didn’t know a lot of women entrepreneurs before I came here and before I started Kent Fabrics. So it’s just exciting to see that women can actually succeed and own a business and run it all on their own.”
Skoch agreed, saying she feels lucky to be a female entrepreneur.
She said she competed in and won two pitch competitions at Kent State: one with all female entrants, and the CEBI Pitch, which was open to all.
“I competed with some really good … male-run tech companies, all the judges were male, and they still supported me,” she said. “With that being said, I really think it’s the right time to be a female entrepreneur. Maybe that’s because everyone is so supportive.”
Both Skoch and Baskerville said some of the biggest challenges they’ve experienced as entrepreneurs are juggling their businesses with schoolwork and keeping up with business and and creative demands.
Baskerville’s advice to young entrepreneurs is to get started right away and not worry about money.
“You really don’t need money in the beginning,” she said. “Try to sell what you have or whatever you can do without having money at first, because ... that way you can figure out if your idea even works.”
Skoch said her biggest piece of advice is that passion and drive are the keys to success.
“I always like to tell people that if you love it, and if you’re even semi-interested, but if you’re scared, to pursue it,” she said. “There will be lots of ups and downs and it is a roller coaster, but it’s so worth it in the end.”
Skoch said her future plans are to continue her business full time and hire additional staff for manufacturing. Eventually, she dreams of moving the business to downtown Cleveland, which is her favorite skyline.
Baskerville, on the other hand, plans to manage Kent Fabrics for the time being, but she dreams of designing fashion full-time someday, and would hire a manager to keep the store up and running.
You can follow Kent Fabrics on social media @KentFabrics and online here.
Follow Anne Cate on Twitter @shopAnneCate, on Instagram & Facebook @AnneCate and visit the company's website here.