Written by: Elizabeth Gortmaker, Director of Entrepreneurship, Belmont University
Entrepreneurs, by nature, are creative. They are the thinkers, the doers, the drivers of new development. They imagine what is possible and then make it happen. Today, we have more students around the world studying entrepreneurship than ever before. It is an exciting time to celebrate and support these students and their ideas. At Belmont University, we seek to foster and encourage that creativity in our students.
Belmont University’s Center for Entrepreneurship offers a hands-on approach to help students hit the ground running. One of the many ways we do this is through our student-run business program which gives student entrepreneurs an opportunity to run a retail space on campus. This program provides students the opportunity to manage all aspects of a retail business – from developing the business plan to hiring new staff, managing inventory, and promoting the business through marketing campaigns. The students gain tremendous experience by working in the store and seeing their ideas come to life.
Our newest student-run business, House Of (www.HouseOfNashville.com), opened its doors in April 2016 and has since become something much bigger than we could have imagined.
Nashville has the third largest concentration of independent designers behind New York and Los Angeles. You see it all around you, from fashion designers, to graphic artists and jewelry makers. This vast creative community has been steadily growing in Nashville without much of a support system. That is, until the Nashville Fashion Alliance was formed in 2015. Today, the NFA provides valuable resources to over 200 designers. Their mission is “to incubate and accelerate emerging fashion brands through four primary pillars of work: Advocacy, Education, Shared Resources and Economic Development.”
Around the same time the NFA was forming, students from one of our on-campus businesses were experiencing challenges with their current business model. Their store, Feedback Clothing Co., had thrived for 5 years as it sold inexpensive clothing to college age girls. But as online shopping became more popular, Feedback needed to differentiate itself and evolve to continue to provide value to the customer.
We began talking with the Nashville Fashion Alliance with the hopes of carrying a few local designers and engaging in the Nashville fashion community. Six months later, we had a completely new business plan and began revamping the space. In those six months, our students had developed a business model that would provide a new retail experience, support the Nashville Fashion Alliance, and become a tremendous resource for the local design community.
House Of exclusively carries local designers and features clothing for men and women, home goods, accessories, and apothecary goods. Each staff member is matched with a local designer and helps support the designer’s business needs. House Of is an exciting learning environment for the students as it provides a retail location for up-and-coming designers. These designers are then able to sell unique merchandise to the Nashville community. It is a full circle of support that fosters creativity for all parties involved.
We worked with Fort Houston to build out the custom interior so that everything in the store is local, even down to the shelves. Ryan Schemmel (a Belmont alum) founded Fort Houston with Josh Cooper in 2011. Fort Houston is a maker space that features a wood shop, metal shop, 3D printer, and various other resources for local makers. Ryan and Josh were supportive of the House Of concept and worked with the students to design a custom space that was flexible, unique, and served the needs of the store. House Of’s mission is all about supporting local talent, so it only made sense to work with local makers who could design and build the shelves, clothing rods, and furniture. The end product is a beautifully designed space that showcases the expertise of Fort Houston.
Nashville is a wonderfully vibrant city. I’ve seen it change dramatically over the past decade, but the one thing that remains constant is the thriving creative community that drives so much of what makes Nashville special. At Belmont University, we are equipping our entrepreneurial students to become the movers and shakers in our city. Our approach encourages creativity while also grounding them in a strong business education. By bringing together our students, the NFA, Fort Houston, and numerous local designers, we’ve built a new retail experience in our city.
House Of has become a home for new local designers, and we know it will continue to support and enhance Nashville’s wonderful creative community.