For Seton Hill students and business partners Fitzgerald Robertson and Halie Torris, the opportunity to meet and learn from some of the nation’s top entrepreneurs at HSN’s American Dreams Academy and then pitch their products to representatives from the multichannel retailer was life-changing.
The pair, who own Gray Hemlock, an online retailer of fair trade jewelry that sells for under $30, were selected for the three-day academy in Washington, D.C. in November. They learned from entrepreneurs such as FUBU founder and president and “Shark Tank” investor Daymond John and Stacey Schieffelin, CEO and Founder of YBF Beauty.
“It was truly an experience that I will never forget,” said Torris, a graphic design major from South Park, Pa. “From the minute I walked through the doors, the community of entrepreneurs had an indescribable energy about them. It felt like a family. There’s something about being in a room with an array of like-minded people that is extremely palpable.”
She added, “The best piece of advice that I got was from Stacey Schieffelin and her advice was to be authentic, to be honest, and to be approachable.”
“It was an amazing experience, and we enjoyed every minute of the journey,” said Robertson, a business administration student from Brooklyn, NY. “We met Linda McMahon, the Administrator of the Small Business Administration, and presented her with one of the American flag hand-crocheted bracelets from our collection. These bracelets are handmade by over 200 artisans in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal, helping them to overcome poverty.”
The entrepreneurs were recommended to the conference by Seton Hill alumna and Trustee Carmen Rivera-Bauza, vice president and chief merchandising officer at HSN, Inc., whom they met on the Seton Hill campus earlier in the fall.
During the conference, Robertson and Torris attended educational sessions led by established entrepreneurs. They also participated in a video shoot for HSN, which may be used on the company’s social media channels.
On the final day, they had the opportunity to pitch their product line to HSN officials for possible sales through the multiplatform retailer.
Robertson and Torris originally launched Gray Hemlock in December of 2016 as an online marketplace for men's and women's fashion accessories. However, in January 2017, the business owners viewed the documentary, "The True Cost,” which highlights the status quo of fashion manufacturing – that a large portion of fashion products are produced in deplorable conditions.
Gray Hemlock relaunched in May 2017 as an online marketplaces selling affordable fair trade fashion. Their products are made by artisans in Nepal, Rwanda, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Texas, Costa Rica, Mexico, Ecuador and Uganda who receive fair wages under proper working conditions and utilize no child labor.