By Nina Polien Light | Photo by Thomas Skernivitz
“I drew designs and put together presentations working with limited tools,” she says. “The business wasn’t licensed as a legal entity; it was just something I did to practice budgeting and making sales.”
The industrious young adult also honed her business skills by peddling Avon products from her sophomore year of high school through her second year of college. Perhaps that is why it is somewhat surprising that Flemister, the founder of Dunya Jeane, a culturally inspired clothing line, did not follow a direct path to entrepreneurship. Instead, she enrolled at Kent State University as a fashion design major, switched to education, and finally embraced entrepreneurship and marketing after attending an on-campus Entrepreneurship Extravaganza.
It turned out to be a fortuitous move.
Flemister already had a kernel of an idea for a new business — an apparel line incorporating the national colors and symbols of minority and international students’ birthplaces and cultures. She developed the business throughout a yearlong Entrepreneurial Experience course she took after switching majors. Her professors, Flemister says, “went above and beyond their required duties to ensure each student had adequate mentoring and knowledge of relevant sources” and “provided a structure that required me to provide deliverables.”
On her own, Flemister conducted surveys and focus groups to determine the concept’s viability and determine which populations would welcome the clothing line. Launching the business also required designing the products, locating screen printers and digital printers to transfer designs onto clothing, marketing products, and a multitude of other tasks.
“After speaking with international students who happened to be friends, I noticed a need for things that represented their country and culture — not just apparel,” she says, adding that some international students bought sportswear simply because a sweatshirt was the same color as their nation’s flag. “The top three populations of international students in the United States are Chinese, Indian, and South Korean. I spend a lot of energy on Latin students and the African diaspora because those populations embrace my clothing.”
Flemister named the company to reflect both its international appeal and her identity. Dunya means “world” in several languages, including Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Greek. Jeane plays off her middle name, Jean; the “E” was added to clarify that the company does not offer denim clothing.
Now 23 and a college graduate, Flemister splits her time between growing Dunya Jeane and working as a business generalist at McMaster-Carr, a company that supplies products used to maintain manufacturing plants and large commercial facilities worldwide. She devotes as much time as she can to Dunya Jeane, which she runs solo out of her Cleveland home. Currently, she designs the entire line but is working toward hiring graphic designers.
She has also expanded her business model. She is incorporating university emblems into some of her designs with an eye toward selling the clothing in university bookstores and online. For example, a Kent State University shirt may feature the colors and symbols of a flag from a Latin American country on the letters “KSU.”
“The students can identify with their school and culture, and (the apparel) will be unique to Kent,” Flemister says. “I’m also licensed to use a lot of other school logos. Now I’m looking to get contracts with their bookstores. My goal is to have Dunya Jeane apparel in every university and college bookstore. I also plan to have Dunya Jeane in more local retail outlets. I want a bigger presence of Dunya Jeane in the retail industry.”
She also credits Blackstone Launchpad with helping her realize her goals.
“It’s an organization that brings entrepreneurship to higher education and advises students, alumni, and faculty on growing a business,” she says. “I call them for appointments and advice and they link me to any resource I may need.”
For more information: dunyajeane.com
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