Products from Sydney Gray, Sam Devane, Vivian Hsia and Olivia Guo’s shops: Nolia Swim, Sam’s Sweets, POSLshop and LunarGuoCo. The bikini set, homemade cake, cake topper, and Demon Slayer enamel pin were all made by these Pepperdine students. Photos courtesy of Gray, Devane, Hsia and Guo.
Running a business is a challenge Pepperdine students are not afraid to take on.
Students Olivia Guo, Sydney Gray, Sam Devane and Pepperdine Graphic Media staff artist Vivian Hsia, break down what it’s like owning a business in college. Their shops include a swimsuit brand, Etsy shops and a baking business. The shops have grown over time and have given them knowledge of the world of business.
“It encompasses learning how to budget and finance and marketing and when to release certain products to try to increase traction,” Guo said, a first-year who owns an enamel pin shop called LunarGuoCo. “I feel like these things are kind of important to know if you want to go into that field or even just to understand the perspective of how a business works.”
These students said their products and their passion for work drives them to do their best.
First-year Gray owns Nolia Swim, a swimwear brand that provides biodegradable and sustainable products. Gray said her passion for designing and creating swimsuits stems from childhood experiences.
“I was that kind of girl who growing up, my parents were pretty strict,” Gray said. “So I never got away with two pieces. So the moment I did I was obsessed with finding the perfect bikini and I never could so I decided I needed to design my own. So I knew I wanted to go into swimwear.”
Sophomore Devane began his business, Sam’s Sweets, after watching YouTube baking videos in middle school. Devane said the business grew really organically and he makes all the baking goods himself for weddings, birthdays and various other special occasions.
“I make custom cakes — mainly cakes and cookies — but sometimes cupcakes for people,” Devane said. “I started baking in middle school, but it actually turned into a business around eighth grade, and then I started doing it more seriously.”
Guo co-owns LunarGuoCo with her sister, Gloria Guo which they started in August 2020. Guo said they make enamel pins for their shop inspired by television shows or games that they like. The pins are sold both on the company website and Etsy.
“Basically the process is that we pick a character, or something that we want to design for, and then we use procreate to draw the design,” Guo said.
Sophomore Hsia said she found opportunity during the lockdowns in 2020 to start her Etsy shop called POSLshop. The shop sells various cake and cupcake toppers for events like weddings or birthdays made from paper clay. She took heavy inspiration from her mom in creating it.
“My mom, she does a lot of stuff with paper clay and crafts and so that kind of inspired me and so she had a lot of materials just sitting around so I could play with those when I first started,” Hsia said.
After turning their dreams into a reality, these small business owners learned to deal with the difficulties and learning curves of it all. For most of these students, they started their businesses during high school with little-to-no previous experience.
“I kind of just self-taught a lot of stuff because obviously I didn’t have any education on how to run a business,” Devane said.
Balancing school and a business is a whole other challenge. Gray said her schedule is constantly busy, trying to squeeze in meetings and work on top of her personal life and academic duties.
“You really have to delegate your tasks out and have a good support system to run a business, especially when you’re in college, or you’re doing anything on the side of having a business, because it’s such a time commitment to make sure that everything is going right, everything is moving smoothly,” Gray said.
Some have found specific solutions to help manage time and stress that comes along with owning a small business. Guo said she and her sister made a system to streamline the whole process by printing their notes instead of writing and doing orders in batches for better efficiency.
“It’s just finding ways to make the packaging still nice but easier to do,” Guo said.
Rewards in Running a Business in College
Despite the technical challenges that arise from owning a business, these students find all of it rewarding in the end.
For Hsia, she finds joy in the process of making her cake toppers.
“My favorite part is just working on it,” Hsia said. “I think it’s really fun since it’s something that I really enjoy doing. And I also love packaging, it’s like wrapping gifts.”
Gray and Guo said they find the most rewarding part to be customer satisfaction and reactions.
“The best part is the look on people’s faces when they put your product on and they’re like, ‘Wow, this is so well made and it makes me look so good and feel so good,” Gray said.
Devane found that running his baking shop was so impactful that it sparked a desire in himself to want to pursue it in the future and now dreams of owning his own bakery.
“I just think that it’s really cool that I can have kind of an imprint on one of their biggest days of people’s lives, you know, and that they support me, just a small business, a kid making cakes,” Devane said.
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