EO Q&A: From College to Clothing Empire
One-on-one with the 2012 EO Global Student Entrepreneur of the Year
Chelsea SloanIf the 2012 EO Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) Global Finals were any indication, the future of young entrepreneurship is bright. For the first time in GSEA’s history, the title of “Global Student Entrepreneur of the Year” went to a woman, Chelsea Sloan, a recent graduate of the University of Utah and the owner of Uptown Cheapskate, a retail clothing franchise that buys and sells new and like-new designer merchandise. In this interview, Chelsea talks about running a business while in school, her biggest lessons learned and GSEA’s influence.
What inspired you to start your business while in college?
CS: When my brother, Scott, and I started Uptown Cheapskate in 2009, the market timing was perfect, even though the scholastic timing was less than ideal. The economy was in a recession, and we saw a huge opportunity for an ‘upscale resale’ concept that would offer cash for stylish, gently used clothing. We positioned Uptown to appeal to fashion-savvy young adults who were affected by the recession, but were still anxious to maintain the appearance that they’d just spent a lot on their apparel. Scott and I knew that the idea was great, but if we didn’t jump in and establish ourselves as leaders in the industry, someone else would. So we jumpstarted Uptown Cheapskate, and I juggled that with getting a college degree.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a student entrepreneur?
CS: School was an important exercise in patience for me. You master a lot of material, and about 30 percent of it is useful ... but that 30 percent has been critical in helping us build Uptown. I also think it’s important to pick the right teachers. I did research on which classes would be good, or which professors knew the most, before I committed my time to a class. The one semester I failed to do the proper vetting, I ended up with several dud experiences ... and your time is so valuable, you can’t afford that. Some of my professors, though, did have a huge impact on how I built and focused the company.
What kind of opportunities did GSEA create for you and your business?
CS: I feel so lucky to have been a part of the GSEA competition— it’s an absolutely unparalleled experience! It was incredible getting to go to New York City with the other global student entrepreneurs, and to be energized by their vision and creativity. I think the way GSEA helped most was in giving us a chance to find inspiration from one another. Now, my attitude toward how I’m building my business is much more focused on re-defining what is possible and charging ahead with confidence in my ability to see it through. Every student entrepreneur should work toward being a part of GSEA— it’s life-changing!
What’s next for your business?
CS: Uptown Cheapskate is doing extremely well, and we are on our way to hitting our goal of opening 20 new stores in 2013. We’ve closed several more franchise deals, and have stores planned in five more states. Our ultimate goal is to have 100 stores by the end of 2016. My ‘hockey stick’ growth plan isn’t hugely exponential, but it’s solid and very easy to scale. Candidly, in order to reach our full potential, we will need to grow outside the U.S., and we’re working on finding partners overseas to bring the resale-clothing model to new markets. So that’s another focus for us.
How will you apply what you’ve learned through GSEA to grow as an entrepreneur?
CS: One thing I learned from the GSEA competition is that entrepreneurs are constantly learning. Also, attending EO Alchemy was the coolest experience for me, just watching successful businesspeople earnestly taking notes and engaging with speakers on a myriad of subjects. I love that about the organization, and it’s not going to be something I forget. I think that’s a huge part of why EO is so important— they provide an outlet for creativity, idea sharing and ongoing education. I’m very excited to join EO Utah soon, and will use that experience to propel Uptown’s growth.
Learn more about GSEA by visiting www.gsea.org.