Winner of King's Business Plan Competition Continues Developing Fashion Website

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Empire State Building, NEW YORK—Sydney Bellows sits cross-legged in her chair, dressed in a loose, elegant black dress, her hair long and well-groomed.  She behaves in a friendly, professional manner, as if she were born ready to be successful in the business world. In January, she proved her potential when she and her team were announced as the winners of the first King’s business plan competition.  As her appearance might suggest, her business plan drew from the world of fashion.

Nineteen-year-old Sydney wasn’t always so polished.  Growing up with her brothers in Florida, she was a tomboy until middle school.  When she switched from private school to public school, she was able to experiment with clothing without the constraints of a homogenizing dress code.

In middle school, she started wearing the Hollister-type “name brand” clothing her friends wore, but in high school, she developed her own style and discovered that she loved piecing outfits together.  She says her style is conservative yet current and colorful—her wardrobe includes bright dresses, big sweaters, tall boots and heavy jewelry, and her favorite designer is Ralph Lauren.

Sydney’s interest in fashion caused her to pursue a new project during her senior year of high school.  In November 2010, she took a web design class and created a website she named Better Than a Cupcake.  She designed the website as an online retail clothing store for men and women.

Here’s the twist: the clothing she would sell would be made by college students studying fashion design.

When Sydney first completed the website, she didn’t really know what to do with it.  She eventually decided to contact the board of Winter Park Fashion Show, which is inspired by the New York Fashion show and held in Winter Park, Florida.  She asked the board members for the names of the designer applicants who didn’t qualify for finals so that she could interview them.

The designers were all from colleges and universities in Florida.  Sydney found one designer whose clothing she wanted to sell on her website, but she needed many more.  Searching for talent, she “contacted all the Florida colleges with design programs but didn’t find anything eye-catching,” she explains. “I want to sell clothing that is affordable, unique and trendy.”

Down on her luck and nearing the end of her senior year, Sydney shelved her project to look for a college.  Soon after arriving at King’s, however, she heard about the business plan competition and decided to dust off her website and plan out practical ways to implement her idea.

“I tweaked [the website] and took out the bugs,” she says.  “I formulated a clear, concise idea, focusing solely on NYC student fashion designers.”  Not only would the designers be college students, but Sydney would also market the clothing specifically toward college students, who often want cheap, unique fashion.

She added a polling and blogging section to her website to allow customers to vote for their favorite designers.  She installed “like” buttons beside designer profiles to facilitate the voting process.  Sydney also planned to interview designers to see if they meet her requirements.

Those who land a spot on the website would not only be able to sell clothing on Better Than a Cupcake but would also be featured in a fashion show.  Sydney hopes to organize a regular fashion show from which a portion of the proceeds would go to charity providing clothing for children in need, “bringing fashion full circle.”

The student designers would also receive the opportunity to get feedback on their designs and be placed under a professional light at young age.  “Fashion design is one of the hardest and most competitive industries to enter right now, and I’d want my business to help some young designers build their resumes,” Sydney says.

For the business competition, Sydney worked on her plan with a team, comprised of members James Bollen, Sarah Ampil, Jonathan Erwin, Ebenezer Valvi, Caleb Ely and Victoria Robinson.  After her team won, Sydney spoke with several of the five judges, asking them for feedback.  Sydney believes she contributed to her team’s win in two main ways.

The first is that she learned how to improve her plan by doing her own testing and revising before she even came to King’s.  She is currently conducting an official test of her business plan, but up until now, she had self-tested by speaking directly to potential customers and had revised her website enough to have created the equivalent of three websites.

The second way she believes she contributed to her team’s win is that the judges saw how much she had invested in her idea.  “The more you love something, the more effort you put into it,” she says.

Her youth prevents her from worrying much about the risks of her entrepreneurial endeavors, since she has very little to lose.  Yet she continually takes steps necessary to reaching her goal, because, she says, “if I waste time, there’s a chance that someone could have already thought of a similar idea.”

Despite Sydney’s drive and innovation, she had never anticipated where her gradual steps would lead her.

“I never really saw myself in business,” she says.  “This entire project stumbled along, and for a large part of the journey, I hadn’t taken it too seriously, but things just kept falling the right way.”

Sydney considers Better Than a Cupcake to be the starting point of her future career.

“The more I’m getting myself out there and doing testing, the more I’m realizing there’s a lot that can go with this, and it can be a little bit bigger than I thought,” she says.

CampusCelina Durgin