Caroline Rooney has always had a knack for starting businesses, from selling golf balls on a golf course to selling jewelleries as a 6th grade and let's not forget when she designed tote bags as an alternative to backpacks in high schools.
Starting a business for Caroline has always been a way to show her creativity, especially turning her ideas into reality.
After been inspired by a young program at the United Nations, she decided to create a shirt, something with a really positive message and a clean design and through that after good feedbacks and demands from friends, The Bearon was born, a socially conscious clothing company which has now grown in to a fashion and lifestyle blog.
Caroline has just finished a TEDxUofM event in which she serves as the co-creative director, a way in which she hopes to encourage more young people to be get involved in the start-up community.
This is the full interview.
Hi Caroline, How are you doing?
Of course! Thank you for reaching out!
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I am currently graduating from the University of Michigan where I study organizational management and history of art. As a freshman I launched The Bearon, a socially conscious clothing company which has now developed in to a fashion and lifestyle blog with an online shop component.
I began working in the fashion industry when I was 15 and in the last 7 years have had the good fortune to work with some incredible designers, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and up-and-comers in the creative community. I am a huge advocate for entrepreneurship and want to encourage more young people to get involved with the start up community. I also just wrapped serving as the co-creative director of TEDxUofM - an amazing opportunity to work with some of the most talented up-and-comers in the country.
Tell us about The Bearon, where the idea came from?
I was taking a textiles and design course in high school trying to decide if I wanted to go to art school to study design or to a University of study the business side of the fashion industry. My assignment was to learn how to use a traditional Japanese silk screen process and design a t-shirt to hand screen. I had just returned from a young program at the United Nations and was working on a project to benefit UNICEF so I was inspired to create a shirt with a really positive message and a clean design.
How did you intially market the T-shirts?
When I was in high school, I wore my samples that I created in a textiles class around. My friends were encouraging and all asked to order them. I didn't act on the positive feedback until college, but when I did, I sold out of my initial order in the first week.
Why did you want to start a business? Were you exposed to entrepreneurship as a child?
I stared a bunch of businesses while I was really young. I would collect golf balls on a golf course and sell them, along with snacks, to golfers along the course. In 6th grade, I got in trouble for selling jewelry that I designed out of my locker. In high school I started a company designing tote bags to give girls a more expressive and fun alternative to backpacks.
I don't know where it came from, but I've always loved the creativity, business savvy, people skills, and street smarts required to run a business and I run off of the high associated with turning your ideas into reality.
What would you say was the most difficult thing you had to do starting it up?
The most difficult part of running a company for me has been balancing my company with my academics. I launched my company during my first year of college and have found myself picking between designing new products and studying for a final, writing blog posts or writing Lots of young entrepreneurs face this, and will agree with me that it is the most difficult part of being a young entrepreneur. But it also teaches you incredible time management and forces you to constantly challenge yourself and focus on your priorities.
Why T-shirts? Why fashion?
I like t-shirts because of their universal appeal. I really happened upon it by mistake but it has been a cool industry to break into. There is a lot of competition and it's hard to keep your competitive edge, but it teaches you a lot about design and productive because with so much competition, you have to constantly set yourself apart and be willing to change to remain current. As for fashion, I have always been enamored with the industry.
The creativity mixed with business acumen required to work in such a stimulating, constantly changing, and cutting edge industry really appeals to me. I love how fashion effects everyone, and how fashion really goes hand in hand with all elements of design, hospitality, and architecture, to create beauty.
Who are your fashion inspirations?
My nana (Phyllis Rooney), Ellen Barkin, Diane Kruger, Emmanuelle Alt
How have you been able to run a business, while being in education full-time? How are you able to find that balance?
It is extremely difficult. There are times where I held my company back because I put my education first. That was always really important to me. Now as I prepare to graduate, I don't regret that decision at all.
I have amazing support from my family and friends who help me to fill orders and manage the website when my academic and entrepreneurial responsibilities become overwhelming. This support allowed me to study for 5 months in Sesto-Fiorentino, Italy and to intern with a variety of awesome companies, opportunities that helped me to grow professionally, and to become a better leader and entrepreneur.
Do you believe business has any obligation to make the world a better place?
I don't know that it is an obligation so much as it is an opportunity. I named my company The Bearon based off of the idea of the "robber barons" of the Industrial Revolution in America. The name "robber barons" came to represent leaders in industry- those individuals on the cutting edge. And those individuals became some of the most noteworthy philanthropists in the world, and their names are synonymous with revolutionizing industry.
For me, The Bearon is about being a leader in industry, leading the back to encourage socially conscious business. It is also about using my business as a platform to promote amazing causes and the work of incredibly talented young people.
How does your business “give back” to the community or to society?
The Bearon donates 10% of annual profits to a variety of wonderful non-profit organizations. Additionally, we try to get involved as much as possible in our community, whether that means sponsoring a charity event, planning an entrepreneurship-related event, or just being involved with young people interested in starting a business.
Currently I am working on a project called The Corner Office Project to encourage more visible female role models, in every industry. I also work with a variety of arts organizationals and Alzheimer's related causes personally, and through my work with The Bearon.
Where do you find your inspiration for the Bearon?
Everywhere! The subtitle of my blog is "the insatiable aesthete" for a reason. I love to travel and I draw a lot of inspirations from the places I visit, the people I meet, and the designs that are unique to each of those cultures. I read constantly- blogs, newspapers, books, and magazines.
My favorite blogs for inspiration are TheBlondeSalad, The Sartorialist, and GaranceDore. I am also a huge fan of websites like TechCrunch and Cool Hunter which constantly open my eyes to amazing new projects and ideas. I also draw a lot of inspiration from hotels and art museums, both of which really fascinate me, both from a design perspective, but also from the ways in which they interact with people and the communities in which they are embedded.
What do you like the most about running your own business?
Since the beginning it has been important to me to encourage creative young people to be proactive, passionate, and to get their work out there for the world to see. Young people need to have accessible, positive, and successful role models and access to ideas of what they could morph their passions into- whether it's through entrepreneurship, community involvement, or the arts.
My goal is to give young people a platform to showcase their work, whether that means blogging about a cool new line in Chicago (like The Style Cooperative) or sharing a free download from a young musician (I'm currently obsessed with Kim Grambo and Hoodie Allen). Being able to share these new projects (and the stories of the people running them) is incredibly rewarding and I love keeping up to date with the coolest new things coming out of young creative minds.
What are your hobbies?
I love going to museums and traveling. I spent 5 months living in Italy and now I can hardly sit still! I really enjoy reading and sketching when I have some down time. I also model part time which is a great way to learn even more about the industry and meet really cool, forward-thinking creative people.
What tips can you give female entrepreneurs such as yourself, especially those still in full-time education?
Surround yourself with good people. There are amazing organizations out there dedicated to promoting female entrepreneurs- Get involved! It is important to have great role models who keep you motivated and who you can run ideas by. And never hesitate to reach out. Is there a company you're interested in or a product you love? Maybe you know of an awesome CEO who you really look up to. Reach out to her! People (especially successful women!) love to help out, answer questions, and act as mentors. They know how important it was early on in THEIR careers, and they are eager to help!
Finally, What can we be expecting from you and The Bearon soon?
Right now I'm working on developing my blog. We just launched a new site in January and I'm really enjoying coming up with new content and ideas to share with my readers.
Thanks for your time Caroline.
Don't forget to check out the online shop.