When she was just 9 years old, Carlie Christenson was already an early bloomer. By the time she was in middle school, she’d developed a whole lot more than most kids her age: a marketable product, a profitable company, a name in the fashion industry, a budding business career and a whole lot of entrepreneurial acumen. She’d developed Boob-eez.
“Boob-eez made me who I am – it’s changed my entire life’s course,” says Christenson, who first came up with the concept for “headlight concealers” as a 9-year-old girl growing up in Florida. “Puberty is absolutely mortifying – and that’s without having the embarrassment of this problem. I really wanted to make something that would make that time of life just a little bit easier.”
She says she told her mom one day after school, “This is a problem, and we’ve got to figure out a way to fix this problem for me and fix this problem for other girls – because I know I’m not the only one.”
And, with that, she found a solution: stick-on silicone discs with “disappearing edges” that could serve as a barrier between nipples and clothing.
“I knew exactly what I wanted, because it’s what I needed,” she says. “I wouldn’t let it go. I had an idea, and I had the persistence to stay on it.”
She also had a mother who owned clothing boutiques and was working in banking at the time and a father who owned a surf manufacturing business.
“This is a boutique product – I like to compare it to Spanx. There’s that brand recognition, and there’s a little wink there, too,” Christenson says. “It’s fun. It’s an icebreaker. Boob-eez brings a little humor to what could be an embarrassing subject.”
“My mom is very money savvy, so she got the business side of it rolling for me, and we sent a design I drew to some of my dad’s manufacturing contacts,” she says. “After a year or so of going back and forth until we had exactly what I’d envisioned, Boob-eez was born. It was my invention, but it’s really a team effort — a family affair.”
She adds, “When a shipment comes in, it’s all hands on deck. The whole family takes over a floor in my dad’s warehouse, and we just go to town.”
Since its launch in 2008, Boob-eez has taken off — making its way to hundreds of boutiques all over the country.
“I originally intended my product for girls going through puberty, and I wanted to stick to that audience,” she says. “But, even though that demographic really did get excited about it, moms had a hard time swallowing the concept: They didn’t want to believe their little girls were growing up.”
She added, “It turned out women wanted them for themselves. So the target market switched gears a little bit, although I never lost sight of the original purpose, and I still have little fans back home.”
She’s got some fans in Hollywood, too. Among the celebrities who’ve been known to wear Boob-eez: Ryan Newman (Hannah Montana), Eva Longoria (Desperate Housewives), model and Dancing With the Stars contestant Brooke Burke, Vanessa Williams (Soul Food), Whitney Thompson (America’s Next Top Model) and country music icon Dolly Parton.
“Who knows who else: It’s not one of those things people announce they’re wearing when they’re on the red carpet,” laughs Christenson, adding that she never marketed her product to the stars. “It was pretty cool to be going into sixth grade and find out that someone from TV was wearing my invention.”
By the time Christenson was an upperclassman in high school, she was also the CEO of a pretty successful enterprise. She’d seen a problem, developed a solution, launched a successful business and forged a career path for herself. And, while she never imagined that path would lead her to Charleston, she counts that move as among the most pivotal developments along the way.
“Luna on King Street was the first store in South Carolina to carry Boob-eez, so I decided to pay a visit to the boutique to thank them in person. That’s when I stumbled on this gem,” Christenson says. “Coming to the College of Charleston has been the best thing that’s come of all of this. I wouldn’t be here if not for Boob-eez — and I wouldn’t have had all these amazing opportunities.”
Those opportunities included being part of the College’s Interdisciplinary Center for Applied Technology — a program that engages students in entrepreneurial start-up experiences.
“It’s this super-amazing hands-on experience that submerges you in entrepreneurship and gives you all the different aspects that go into entrepreneurship,” says Christenson, who joined the program as a sophomore. “The theme that year was ‘Making a Profit While Making a Difference,’ and that really spoke to me. The idea is to save the world and make money doing it. It was a real light bulb moment for me — it really gave my career a focus on social and environmental impact.”
And that focus remains steady.
“I’m a business/marketing major, but I want to concentrate in social entrepreneurship. It’s not a concentration yet, but I’m going to change that. I’m going to make it happen,” says the junior. “That’s what I’ve wanted from the beginning. Plus, I feel like when you have a cause — something other than just money driving you — the chances for success are tenfold.”
Christenson’s time at the College is testimony to that. Last year she was not only named the Student Entrepreneur of the Year, but was also the recipient of the Center for Entrepreneurship’s first Female Student Entrepreneur of the Year Award — an honor that included a $1,000 prize.
“That money gave me the opportunity to study abroad,” says Christenson, who joined the College’s writing program in Spoleto, Italy in 2016. “It was a treat for me to work on my writing skills because it is so different from what I had been learning in the School of Business, but something that is so important to be successful.”
She adds, “This is what I love about this school: I get to explore both sides of myself. I came to the College of Charleston and I got involved in art and in English and all the things that I love, but I’m getting to explore those things while I’m studying business. You can’t do that at a business school. That’s what this time of life is for: to learn everything there is to learn. When else are you going to be able to do that? So, at the College of Charleston, I’ve been able to acknowledge that arts face of mine and, at the same time, it’s nice to know the business school is giving me the tools I need moving forward.”
And, moving forward, she’s going to use those tools to market her product a little.
“I’m using all the marketing and entrepreneurial tools I’ve collected from my courses and the ICAT program to finally do the marketing side of this the way it deserves,” she says. “Over the next year, I’m concentrating on product development, brand expansion and marketing. It’s time to start the scaling process and really getting serious about promoting the product.”
That doesn’t mean you’ll be able to pick up Boob-eez at the local CVS or Wal-Mart, though.
“This is a boutique product – I like to compare it to Spanx. There’s that brand recognition, and there’s a little wink there, too,” she says. “It’s fun. It’s an icebreaker. Boob-eez brings a little humor to what could be an embarrassing subject.”
Although Christenson does want to sell her company one day (“Every good business has an exit strategy,” she says), she can’t imagine her life without it.
“I don’t know where I’d be without Boob-eez – I know I wouldn’t be at the College of Charleston,” she says. “Aside from leading me here, the best thing to come out of this product has been the growth that comes with ever-constant opportunities. It’s scary. It’s not easy – but it’s that constant state of discomfort that makes us more aware and more savvy and better prepared for the next challenge. Because there’s always going to be another challenge. That has given me a huge leg up with business and learning both in and out of school.”
It is, of course, one of the many benefits of developing early.
Photos by Reese Moore