In this series on The Southern C, readers get to “meet” many of the interesting and creative Southern entrepreneurs we know online through our social network and also in “real life” at The Southern C Summits. These individuals are the CEO’s, founders, creative directors, artists, designers, makers and doers that are shaping our landscape with their vision and ingenuity. Take a peek into their day to day life, find out what they are working on, discover their “a-ha” moment and gain insight into what motivates and inspires their work and lives.
The subjects and their niche may vary but many share the paradoxical traits of creative individuals – they daydream, observe, ask big questions, people watch, seek new experiences, view life as an opportunity for self-expression, take risks and bounce back all while following their true passions. We hope you will be inspired as we spotlight the creativity that abounds in our region. According to Einstein, “Creativity is contagious”, and this is one thing we are happy to spread.
In 2011, during the summer of her sophomore year at the University of Georgia as a marketing and fashion merchandising major, Michelle Blue took a trip to Ghana for a study abroad program. During her trip, she visited various programs that take in girls and empower them through educational opportunities to equip them with the tools to live independently. She immediately fell in love with the girls and was in awe of the their spirit. Despite the material possessions they seemingly didn’t have, they had so much joy and love to give.
Forever changed by the experience, Michelle took action with her best friend, Sasha Matthews, a mathematics major at Florida A&M University. Through their joint efforts, Bené was born in 2013. This stylish collection of scarves, inspired by the culture where the seed was planted, is committed to providing an education to girls in Ghana by sponsoring tuition, books, supplies and the uniforms for the girls to continue their education and fulfill their dreams. Meet the girls here: Bene Girls “Buy a scarf, educate a girl” — doing good while looking good sounds like a win-win. I know what will be topping my Christmas list this year!
Tell me more about your brand and how it got started:
While I was a student at the University of Georgia, I had the opportunity to study abroad to Ghana. Forever changed by the experience my best friend, Sasha, and I were inspired to start Bené, a collection of scarves committed to help support girls in Ghana continue their secondary education by providing tuition, books, supplies and uniforms to fulfill their dreams. Our name comes from the word ‘Benevolent’ meaning ‘characterized by or expressing goodwill or kindly feeling; Desiring to help others’. Bené is derived from this word with a simple meaning- ‘good’.
Describe a typical workday in your office of studio:
Truthfully, there is no typical workday for me, which is something I love. Our operation is still relatively small so I get to be involved in every aspect of the business from reaching out to press, working with our interns, to order fulfillment…everyday looks different and holds a new challenge.
What did you want to be when you grew up and/or how has your background influenced your work?
I went to the University of Georgia for Business Marketing and a minor in Fashion Merchandising and Sasha studied Mathematics at Florida A&M University. Neither one of us had any experience in fashion design or really had any idea of how to run a business but I think a lot of our business sense has come naturally, reading, surrounding ourselves with mentors and a lot of trial and error.
What made you take this direction with your business and enter the world of what I like to call “good giving” or what’s your motivation to use this business model?
When we started Bené we knew that we wanted to make a difference in the girls lives that I met on my trip to Ghana. We knew that it had to be sustainable and something greater than the two of us. Through Bené we have committed to sponsoring tuition, books, supplies and uniforms to the girls so that they can continue their education. The girls have their own dreams and aspirations of becoming teachers, doctors and nurses and it’s great knowing that we are helping them make those dreams a reality. When you educate girls, you’re not just educating them, you’re changing their lives, their family lives, and you’re contributing to their countries. When you think about what impact that really has, that can change the world. And if we can be apart of that, I think that’s awesome!
Any “a-ha” moment that made you take the leap?
I asked myself, “What do you have to lose?” I realized that you have to let go of your fears and inhibitions and just go for it. I didn’t want to live with regrets and question what could have happened.
Best business advice you’ve received?
Get a mentor! There have been so many people that have played an instrumental role in helping us grow Bené and provided guidance to us as we have embarked on this entrepreneurial journey.
Advice to others wishing to take their passion and tie into a biz idea?
Go for it! Be sure to prepare yourself by researching your field, gaining experience and getting great mentors but at some point you just have to start. You will never feel like you know enough, have enough money or is the perfect time…and truthfully you never will.
Whitney Wise Long, co-founder of The Southern C and The Southern C Summit, loves to connect with Southern entrepreneurs and learn more about their creative endeavors.
This series – “In the Studio With” – offers her the perfect opportunity to do so!
For more of Whitney’s Southern Creatives Q&A’s click the names below: