Students craft an income online

Jessica Rothschuh

Students show off their design skills and make a few dollars by selling their homemade clothes online.

Credit: Jessica Rothschuh

Alison Rose Bartlett had lots of fabric scraps left over after she graduated from the Kent State fashion design program. She also had a Web site.

“I kind of started to make these bags for fun,” Bartlett said. Soon, she was selling the purses online.

“It kind of just evolved,” Bartlett said. First, she used the Web site to post her resumé and fashion drawings.

“And now, it’s just mainly a store,” Bartlett said.

Besides the purses she has sewn, Bartlett has added reconstructed and appliquéd T-shirts, journals made of old vinyl records and other crafty creations to her site.

She aptly named her business Alison Rose, after herself.

But she doesn’t work alone. Bartlett has help from her boyfriend, Nicholas Nocera, who is also a Kent State graduate and an elementary school art teacher. Bartlett does the sewing, and Nocera does the printmaking and screen printing.

Starting an online business seemed like a logical next step for Bartlett, who eventually wants to open her own shop and sell her original designs.

“We still don’t know exactly where we’re planning to settle down,” she said. And with a Web site, “you don’t really have to commit to anything.”

Besides the minimal commitment and maximum flexibility, there are other benefits an online business offers.

“Being online, we’re able to talk with all these people,” Bartlett said. “It’s a really nice community, and everyone is really friendly.”

Elizabeth Wahl, senior biological anthropology major, owns her own Web-based clothing business, called Epidemic.

Unlike Bartlett, Wahl said there are drawbacks to having a business online instead of owning a store.

“There’s not a lot of money in it,” Wahl said. “There are so many businesses out there that you’re competing with.”

Epidemic is primarily a printing company, putting original designs on anything from posters and T-shirts to pins and yes, even thongs.

“We’ll print on basically anything that’s printable on,” Wahl said.

Epidemic started out primarily by word of mouth and fliers until Wahl’s cousin introduced her to the Web site idea.

“It’s kind of an easier way to get the word out,” Wahl said. Now, she has customers in Seattle and New York.

She has also made T-shirts for the national band The Gadjits.

“They were very picky at first,” Wahl said. She had to send them several samples of her work before band members decided she was good enough to print their shirts.

Wahl has advice for students who want to start a similar business.

“Make sure it’s something you really want to do,” she said. “Starting out, it’s just a matter of getting the money back that you’ve invested. It’s a lot of work.”

Horst, a Kent State crafts graduate and textiles artist who goes only by his last name, knows about investment. He creates one-of-a-kind articles of felt clothing and spends hundreds of dollars per design.

Horst’s Web site is less of a store than an online gallery, though he said he receives e-mail inquiries from people who are interested in ordering his designs.

“Some people get the idea that my stuff is out for sale,” Horst said. Right now, he only sells clothing in boutiques in New York.

Being an artist, Horst said there are a few drawbacks to having his art available online.

“A lot of people warn me I should get my stuff copyrighted,” he said. “I just want people to see my (work) and appreciate it.”

The site wasn’t Horst’s idea. He actually avoided it until people’s interest was high enough that he had his wife start the site.

He said he needed to begin a Web site because everyone was asking for one.

Nancy Stanforth, assistant professor of fashion design and merchandising, said the hardest part of online businesses is getting traffic to your Web site. Most online buyers use sites of companies they are already familiar with.

“Online is pretty much dominated by brands everyone knows,” Stanforth said. “It’s a very challenging kind of thing for people starting up a new business.”

Whether a seller decides to open an actual store or start one online, Stanforth said, there are obstacles to overcome.

“Finding the right physical location is a huge job,” Stanforth said. With a Web site, it’s “just trying to get people to come.”

However, once online sellers can draw customers to their sites, they have the potential to reach a range of customers that doesn’t exist for the traditional store owner.

With a specialty product like handmade clothing, few people in a particular geographic area may be interested. Online, a company can reach the whole world.

“Now, you have a customer base that’s big enough to be viable,” Stanforth said. “I think it’s a huge advantage. We are in the perfect business for it because the variety of fashion is what makes it exciting.”

In the world of online selling, both businesses and customers get the long end of the stick.

“I think people love working for themselves,” Stanforth said. “From a consumer standpoint, we get more variety. It’s a win-win situation.”

Visit Epidemic online at and Alison Rose online at Horst’s designs can be found at

Contact student politics reporter Jessica Rothschuh at [email protected].