Special Guest post by Amy Reeves Robinson | Northwest Arkansas StartUp Cup Mentor.
How does a daughter with a major in Political Science along with her mother, a retired Hospice Director, turn a hobby into a local economic engine and fashion clothing line? With skill, passion and a little help from StartUp Cup Powered by GriffinWorx.
I had the opportunity to coach Leah Garrett and her mother, Lou Reed Sharp, during the Northwest Arkansas StartUp Cup, on their business, Olive Loom. Winners of the 2012 Cup, Leah sat down with me to discuss the journey she and her mother have taken over the past few years in developing their company and how it’s grown since their win in November, 2012.
Lou was the Director of Circle of Life Hospice for 18 years. After leaving, she took her love of caregiving a little closer to home when started caring for her own mother. In her new role, she found she had time to start sewing again. “She sewed all of our clothes when we were kids. It wasn’t something new, but it was something she hadn’t had time to do for a long time.” said Leah.
Leah saw the amazing pieces her mother was creating and started to bring it to shops and then the local farmer’s market in Fayetteville, AR. Leah began helping Lou and, although she already knew how to sew, her skills improved exponentially with the constant practice she acquired as the demand for their bags, aprons, and other goods grew. Soon, there was more sewing than they could keep up with, creating the perfect opportunity for them to outsource to local artisans they knew were looking for work. This was in 2010, during the still down-turned economy, and they realized they were also helping those they employed make ends meet. This soon became a strong thread in their business model as they developed their socially conscious company and lived by the mantra that “small businesses have the power to change economies for people and their communities.”
So, now what? That’s what Leah found she was asking herself as their hobby began to transform into a business. Leah’s political sciences background was telling her, “…to look at the micro vs. macro. We knew we wanted to be at ground level helping communities and this created a struggle with how to be a for-profit or non-profit company.” Fortunately, they heard about the StartUp Cup in Northwest Arkansas and they entered. “I love to compete and this lit a fire that got things going,” Leah states excitedly. It was a challenge to articulate the full concept of the company at first but she says, “