Through her brand e.xclusively, junior Erin Watton sells painted pieces such as clothing and handbags customized to each customer.
She got her business idea from a printmaking class that she took in her first semester at the University of Richmond, Watton said.
“I spilled ink on my favorite sweatshirt and tried stain remover, but when nothing worked I decided to paint over it and then my friends then wanted me to paint stuff for them, too,” Watton said.
Each piece has a custom design, with none painted exactly alike. Watton said getting design inspiration for what to create and paint next could be difficult. It forces her to do a lot of research, she said.
“Design creation depends on the customer," Watton said. "I have made a few wedding jackets and for other special events, but if someone doesn’t know what they want I create Pinterest boards and show trendy symbols."
Since Watton is a full-time student at UR, when school is in session she creates and paints all her customer orders on campus.
“I paint in my dorm room, otherwise when I am at home I take over my dining-room table,” Watton said.
It took Watton a few rounds of trial and error to find out what kind of paint to use. Using a durable mix of paint is essential in making sure her custom painted items last and don’t fall apart, fade or get too worn out after use, Watton said.
Running a business while being a full-time student can be a lot to juggle all at once.
“It is super time consuming," Watton said. "I have to have a consultation with each client and then the actual painting for a jacket can take three hours for a simple design or 12 hours for something more complicated."
As well as taking huge amounts of time doing the physical painting for each customized piece, Watton also runs every other aspect of her company on her own.
“I do everything," Watton said. "I created the website, I do the Instagram marketing, the consultation and the painting."
Watton's clients find her through her website, Instagram page and hashtags, she said. People can order from her by sending an Instagram message or by going on her website and filling out an order form. Her website includes the order form, a pricing page and a gallery page of different design options.
Today, Watton has a diverse clientele, but her business initially attracted UR students.
“It started mostly from UR, but now a lot spread out from best friends, friends of friends and strangers," Watton said. "This past winter break I made a jacket for a memorial and she found me through Google, which was really cool to see that my marketing is working."
Junior Elisabeth Sciolla purchased one jean jacket from Watton with a creative design idea already in mind.
“I knew I wanted a jacket representing Tri Delta and St. Jude that I could wear as the philanthropy chair," Sciolla said. "We brainstormed the overall theme together and then she drew me a few designs that I could choose from and tweak as necessary. We talked about the sizing of designs and color palette together to make sure it was everything I loved."
Junior Emily Lombardi also purchased a denim jacket that Watton designed for her.
“I had been following Erin’s business Instagram for a while and kept telling my friends about how I really wanted her to paint something for me," Lombardi said. "As soon as I texted her about it she was super interested in hearing what I was thinking about design-wise and quick with getting my ideas down on paper and into something I could actually see."
Watton and Lombardi settled on a denim jacket design that says 'Treat People With Kindness', which Lombardi called a "sort of personal mantra and also Harry Styles reference."
Running a business comes with many successes but also various challenges. Watton's biggest challenge so far has been time management, she said.
"It is a full-time job to grow a startup," Watton said. "Just marketing is a full-time job and most of my time has to be used for painting or talking with a client. It is a one-woman show."
However, "the success and great achievements I have earned is all worth it," she said.
“I have had 100 orders thus far and have three more next month," Watton said. "It is more than just painting, it is being involved with milestones in people’s lives and the response from the clients, especially seeing pictures of my designs of people who went abroad."
In terms of the future, Watton is passionate about going into the fashion industry but may not see herself making this business her long-term career goal, she said.
“This business has taught me a lot about what I want to do," Watton said. "It created insight into the fashion industry with hands-on experience and allowed me to keep doing art. It has been a great business venture and my marketing classes can help me to apply to my actual business."
Contact lifestyle writer Dylan Ramer at firstname.lastname@example.org.