Western grads marry fashion and social responsibility

By Adela Talbot, Western News

Western graduates Bianca Lopes, left, Sonja Fernandes, centre, and Samantha Laliberte are the founders of Ezzy Lynn, a business that manufactures trendy hair accessories and merges their three common interests – social entrepreneurship, fashion and wildlife conservation.

Three common passions brought this trio together.

Western graduates Sonja Fernandes, Samantha Laliberte and Bianca Lopes met during their studies through the campus business incubator, immediately forging a connection. This spring, they launched Ezzy Lynn, a business that merges their three common interests – social entrepreneurship, fashion and wildlife conservation.

The trio handcrafts trendy hair accessories, including scrunchies, headbands and flower crowns, which they sell online at ezzylynn.com and in-store through retail partnerships, including Moksha Yoga in London. For every 25 units sold, Ezzy Lynn ‘adopts’ an endangered animal through the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

“We knew we wanted to come up with a business model that combined our many passions. We came up with the idea, but we didn’t know what the product would be. Then we realized we all wore scrunchies and that was something we could make ourselves. And it blossomed from that idea,” explained Laliberte, who graduated in 2011 from Western’s Management and Organizational Studies (MOS) program.

“It started from the idea of us being socially conscious, from conception to delivery of the product. It was really important to us to not just be another for-profit corporation, but that part of our proceeds go somewhere else,” added Lopes, also a MOS graduate.

Having just wrapped up their first quarter, the trio has sold more than 1,000 units and has adopted 15 animals, including the Amur leopard, gorilla and great white shark.

Ezzy Lynn employs a local female seamstress who handcrafts every product. The materials she uses are all vegan and ethically sourced, Lopes explained. The product designs are partially inspired by the animals they’re supporting – for instance, a scrunchie with rhinestones is inspired by the rhinoceros.

“As a consumer, you can be conscious about the planet you live in. With us, it’s more than just a purchase – you can do some good,” Lopes continued, noting she hopes the business continues with a social conscience that has an international scope.

Ezzy Lynn was recently selected as the region’s first recipient of a $5,000 Starter Company grant. The Starter Company Program is a key component of the Ontario government’s Youth Jobs Strategy, aiming to help young adults (under 29) find jobs and start their own businesses.

The funds will help Ezzy Lynn grow its brand and manage inventory. The trio is looking at exploring new socially conscious manufacturing avenues, including partnering with Goodwill Industries, not only to grow business, but to also help and contribute to the local community.

Fernandes, Laliberte and Lopes see Ezzy Lynn as a vehicle to empower female entrepreneurs and women in the community, they explained. And this is something they want to foster going forward.

“There weren’t too many female entrepreneurs that came in (to the campus business incubator). So when they did, I made sure they were my new best friends,” Laliberte said of the first time she met her business partners, when all three were pursuing a business venture through BizInc.

They hope to employ local women as they grow their business, she added.

And the name? It’s expressive of two sides of a woman’s personality, explained Fernandes, who graduated from Huron University College in 2012 with a Philosophy degree.

“We feel like each girl has two sides to her personality – a free spirit – that’s Ezzy – and a polished poised and professional side – that’s Lynn,” she said, adding the products they make are meant to express both sides.

As the women grow their business locally, they are launching a 50 drinks campaign, taking 50 different community members out for a drink to pick brains about their business model and see what kind of insight others might provide. 

“We’re open to mentorship and collaborating with anyone who wants to be part of our mission and help. To someone who might read this and want to give us advice, we’d love that. We absolutely encourage them to reach out to us,” Laliberte said.

Posted with permission, Western News

Making a Splash: The Entrepreneurial Story of DrawSplash

By Shirley Chen

A friend of mine once jokingly said that the most successful place to produce prominent business leaders is in a garage.  And, surprisingly, the founders of some of the most successful businesses, including Amazon, Apple, Disney, and Google did start their initial operations in their own garages.

Similar to those success stories, the co-founders of DrawSplash, Gary Rodrigues and Hyunbin Lee, two ambitious business students, started their company as a small scale T-shirt printing operation in their garages in London, Ontario. Within three years, they quickly learned about the entire distribution network and challenged the inefficiencies in the industry. They have now transformed their original operation into a one-stop solution to schools’ merchandising needs, offering a much simpler and more user friendly ordering system to their customers.

When the operation first started in 2009, Gary and Hyunbin had very little help, so the two of them were in charge of every aspect of the operation - ranging from acquiring sales contracts to printing T-shirts. Leveraging their social network on campus, the two best friends first secured orders from student clubs; then they were able to gain orders from student councils and eventually became the supplier for Western University’s Orientation Week.  

Since the transition from a small printing company to the current version of DrawSplash, the tasks of everyday work have changed for the two founders. As the company grew, so did the need for more high-level coordination and leadership. Now on a typical workday, Gary and Hyunbin are likely to be booking meetings and talking to team members, and occasionally traveling to various cities for sales meetings.

When asked to reflect upon the best part of his job, Gary replied that it’s “[the] freedom and the satisfaction from being responsible for your own success” and knowing that “[you are in] total control over your future”. Indeed, unlike many office jobs students get after graduation, where much time could be spent idling, the job of an entrepreneur requires the two founders to be highly focused. They spend every minute of their working hours trying to be efficient and productive in order to reach their goals.

Although experience is not necessarily required to be an entrepreneur, Gary recommended starting early. By starting while still in school, you will have something to fall back on if your business tanks. Additionally, starting early will give you the ability to learn about the industry before fully committing yourself to it. One of the perks of being a student entrepreneur is that you could talk directly to your competitors and find out what they are doing without being perceived as a threat or as a serious competition.

Finally, some direct advice given by Gary: “Make sure you are doing what you want to be doing. Think about the job you are in and see if you would do it for less pay. If you’re doing it only for the paycheque, it’s not going to be worth it.”