Putting ideas to work


POSTED: Thursday, November 26, 2009

Carol Anne Dickson had been teaching an entrepreneurship class at the University of Hawaii for 3 1/2 years, with a focus on learning to research and write a killer business plan. But all along, something about the course bothered her.

There were too many times she'd asked successful entrepreneurs about their business plans, only be told, “;I wrote it in five minutes on the back of napkin,”; she said.

“;I've owned two businesses myself, and one had a business plan written on the back of a cocktail napkins, and the other on half a napkin,”; she said. “;I could write you a business plan that would knock your socks off tonight, but whether it works is the issue. If you can't make it work, what good is it?”;





        Here's a list of product lines available from the students:

» Krystl Apeles: Puka (SPF lip balm, sunscreen, shell jewelry)


» Alyson Case: Gleam (discounted designer clothing, headbands she makes)


» Nancy Cheung: Beaded Asian bracelets


» Jaime Higa: Carpe Diem Clothing (handmade screen-printed T-shirts)


» Lauryn Inouye: Lala Loops and Hoops (makes her own circle scarves, jewelry, graphite pencils)


» Sara McCollough: Nau Ko'u Aloha (vintage Hawaiian wear for men and women)


» Ayumi Miyano: Charmed (cell phone charms)


» Katie Sera: Cute as a Button (vintage button earrings)


» Jasmine Soong: Kawaii, Etc. (Asian accessories and stationery)


» Tammy Tajiri: Tam Tam Nails (discounted OPI nail polishes and sets)


» Katlin Taosaka: Trunnk (vintage, secondhand jewelry and reclaimed-hardware jewelry)


» Keola Warren: Kicks and Caskets (customized shoe boxes, blank shoe boxes and DIY kits)


» Nichole Williams: Hairballahz (novelty hair accessories)


» Tak Yamaya: Bangles




Beyond the brilliant ideas are the basics of adding one's own blood, sweat and tears to one's dream, and that's just what she now puts students through in her Boot Camp for Entrepreneurs course (APDM 437), for students in the Apparel, Product Design and Merchandising program.

“;We also have students from Shidler College of Business,”; Dickson said. “;This is where they find out whether their business plans will work and whether they have the heart to apply it.”;

In its fifth year, the capstone class requires students to start and operate a business throughout the semester, marketing their wares in a temporary shop on campus, the Store, under a small blue tent just outside the department building, Miller Hall. They're also required to set up a Web-based shop, and the most ambitious take their wares to the general public, placing goods in consignment shops and boutiques around town.

“;They have to tend to their business. There's no other way out of it, and some tend to it better than others,”; Dickson said.

Fourteen students take turns minding the Store, committing to at least two hours a week, and keeping all the money they earn from sales of their products. Some of the more enterprising students have also taken their merchandise on the road, setting up shop at various First Friday events.

Last Wednesday, Katie Sera and Katlin Taosaka were manning the Store, which is ending its semester with final hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Sera's business, Cute as a Button, reflects her product line of vintage buttons that she refashions as earrings that sell for $2.50 to $6.

Taosaka was presenting her Truunk line of vintage jewelry and necklaces she fashions from reclaimed hardware.

Her unisex reclaimed-hardware necklaces, currently $15, reflect an overall business philosophy of promoting values of living creatively and sustainably.

“;Besides my cotton cord, all materials are used and given new life—things that would otherwise be thrown away and take up space in a landfill. I want to inspire people to approach design in a new way, by looking at what we already have available and thinking of new ways of using it,”; she said.

She just placed her necklaces at the new downtown boutique, eTown, at 1164 Smith St.

In addition, visitors could see the work of the entire class, from floral and jeweled headbands by Alyson Case's Gleam, to Charmed cell phone charms by Ayumi Miyano.

IN THE PROCESS of managing their businesses, the students learn aspects of retailing from sourcing and pricing merchandise, marketing, discounting, recouping their capital and reinvesting in the business.

Most important is the lesson in flexibility. Dickson said many an entrepreneur is felled by failing to heed the consumer and changing marketplace demands. “;They have to see what's selling, what's not and be willing to change direction.”;

One good idea that didn't seem to be working at first, she said, were Lauryn Inouye's Lala Loops and Hoops, circle scarves that are clever, practical and easy to wear but that were not selling well during the hot days of early fall.

After strategizing with Dickson, Inouye added jewelry and jeweled graphite pencils to her mix that kept her business humming until the change in seasonal dressing brought out the scarf and wrap buyers who discovered the Lala Loops are a stylish new option that is right on trend.

Taosaka said she was pleasantly surprised to find people drawn most to her vintage rings, although she's not sold on the idea of becoming a retailer.

“;This has been a good learning experience, but I see myself working more with historic pieces,”; she said, aiming toward curatorial work.

The sagging economy has also left its impact on the students. Pulling a vintage dress off the rack, Dickson said the dress, marked down to $30 from $40, “;would have sold for $50 or $60 last year.”;

Sensing a deal, she decided to buy it, loading up on Inouye's graphite pencils as well, and putting her students one step closer to future riches.