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Student Entrepreneur Launched Clothing Line from Campus

Be a CEO Before Becoming a Senior

Nikki Lehr ’19 is not waiting until graduation to follow her passion. “It’s part of my personality and my identity,” she says about the Messed & Distressed clothing line that she started in her residence hall room while she was still a first-year-student in 2015. When asked about the difficulty of being an entrepreneur while carrying a full course load the communication major from West Orange, N.J. says, “It’s been challenging, but definitely worth it.”

 “But this is my dream, and I’ll make it work.”

Nikki says UHart students quickly became interested in the t-shirts and sweatshirts that she customizes by bleaching and cutting designs into the fabric. Some even wanted to get involved in the business. “I created a brand ambassador team. If someone wants to help promote the clothing line, they can earn sales commission and rewards points toward the purchase of clothing,” she says. With more than 200 custom clothing orders filled to date both online and through pop-up shops, Nikki found the need to hire marketing major Ashley Walk ’20 of Massapequa, N.Y., as an intern. “She started out as a model for me and asked how else she could get involved. I created an internship guide and every week we share ideas. It’s been working out great.”

As a public relations and advertising student, Nikki says she uses her social media skills to promote Messed & Distressed, but she learned additional business and promotion expertise through a digital marketing internship with West Hartford Co-Working (WHC). In the spring of 2017 she managed WHC’s social media and branding to help promote its product, which is affordable office space for individuals and small companies. Nikki devised the idea for WHC’s now widely popular Thursday after-hours networking events and encouraged participants to share their attendance on social media “The purpose was to show all the networking that goes on and that WHC is not just people who work in the office and go home at the end of the day.”

After graduation, Nikki says she’d eventually like to become a full-time entrepreneur and move to New York City to run her business, but she knows that could take some time. “Maybe I’ll get a part time social media or marketing job and do my business on the side,” she says.  “But this is my dream, and I’ll make it work.”