An awkward problem at a tender age can easily come with angst. But a little determination and creativity can create a positive path for success.
By Carlie Christenson
The most popular question students are asked at the College of Charleston is the infamous “So, what made you choose CofC?” Of course, answers vary by person. There’s always the homebody who loves the city they grew up in and couldn’t bear to leave; the out-of-state art guru who fantasized Charleston as a hipster’s dreamland; and the hustlers who heard of the College’s tech development and startup scene.
Before I started at the College, however, I had no idea it even existed. I love the look on people’s faces when they ask me how I came to be a student here. As a grin spreads from ear to ear, I mention “Boob-eez!” And the story begins …
Yes, you read that right: Boob-eez, the namesake of a venture, more specifically an invention, I created at the ripe old age of 9. You see, in elementary school, it was impossible to conceal the fact that I was an “early bloomer.” I grew up in Neptune Beach, Fla., so wearing sweatshirts and thick-tees in 98- degree weather to hide my premature woman bod was not ideal. I had never been an insecure person, and puberty wasn’t going to stand in my way.
My time at the College (thus far) has led me to believe that business ventures are the catalyst for social and environmental change.
Since no training bra was thick enough, no padded bras were invisible enough and no adult products were advanced enough to make my pointy mountains into subtle hills, I sat down and drew a picture of what I wanted to create: a social lifesaver consisting of adhesive, hypoallergenic silicone discs that allow an invisible barrier between breasts and clothing. And, because I come from a family of entrepreneurs, the stars, the moon and the sun must have aligned to make my vision a reality.
My dad, Dale, created a surfboard repair product called Ding All when he was 21 and attending Flagler College in Florida. His company, now Surf Source Inc., has grown to include thousands of products with distributors worldwide. Thanks to my dad’s chemist contacts and database of manufacturers, we were able to find a factory overseas that would create the very first Boob-eez prototype. With a corporate background working for Merrill Lynch and experience owning and operating several local women’s and children’s boutiques, my mom, Emilie, was the perfect sounding board. She taught me the importance of “doing the best we can with what we have,” while also having the courage to dream big.
It was Boob-eez that brought me to Charleston for the first time to visit two of our best South Carolina accounts, located along the city’s famed King Street. It’s the best feeling in the world to walk into a boutique incognito and witness the looks on women’s faces when they pick up my product. It’s almost always the same – a little twist of the mouth and a furrow of the brow as they quizzically study the packaging and its contents. And then, they get it. It’s a ping of pure enlightenment.
After getting a secret confidence boost (and a little retail therapy) from the two boutiques, Luna and Bevello, my mom whipped out her itinerary and asked if I wanted to see the Cistern on George Street. “It’s an old building the city is known for,” she said, adding “I think it might be a part of a school, but I’m not sure.”
And so, what I thought was a business trip to check out our most loyal customers turned into a blind date between me and CofC. And oh, did we hit it off! The cobbled brick, trees and blooming flowers screamed European romance. Aside from the voluptuous atmosphere, the thought that “college happened here” sealed the deal for me. We signed up for a tour of the College that day, and the rest was history.
At first, I fell in love with the arts side of this liberal arts school. For me, art has always been such an efficient way to stay present (and because I already had a successful business, I thought I didn’t need to go to school for it). I got really into sculpture, drawing and writing my first year at CofC. Being away from home, I struggled with obsessing about all the things I wasn’t doing – traveling, focusing on my business, being home, volunteering in the community – so I turned to more creative classes. They helped me focus on – and appreciate – the city I was living in.
I created Boob-eez to strengthen my confidence in grade school. Now, I’m working toward a degree to reinforce my credibility as a woman in business.
But as much as I tried to stay away from the business school, it kept luring me in with emails about intriguing guest speakers and club events. Before I knew it, I was tiptoeing through the School of Business’ double-glass doors and into a modern space that offered a sleek getaway from the nostalgic historic district.
The big ticket to my change of heart came in 2016, when I got an email to apply for Student Entrepreneur of the Year. I filled out a Google form, pressed send and waited. Suddenly, I got a stream of alerts that said: “You’ve been nominated not only as Student Entrepreneur of the Year but as Woman Student Entrepreneur of the Year!” And when President Glenn McConnell ’69 called my name for both honors at the award ceremony (and said Boob-eez in front of a theater full of people), it was a memorable moment that continues to motivate me both personally and professionally.
The business school is where I’ve learned the most. It really puts me on the spot to rethink the structure of my business as well as look intrinsically at myself and the values I want to incorporate into my business model. And it has been really important to trust that the classes that surprise me the most are the ones I’m meant to be in. That includes the ICAT (Interdisciplinary Center for Applied Technology) program, where teams of students create startup businesses from scratch and learn the ins and outs of what makes a successful venture.
Although I had Boob-eez to pull drops of knowledge from, I’d had NO business school prerequisites under my belt before accepting my spot in the fall 2016 ICAT cohort. It was priceless to relive the startup experience with a more adult mindset. My team created KydCo: an online, e-commerce platform that rewards parents for buying smart for their children. Our prototype was a double-sided service that gave a voice to small, organic, impact-oriented brands and connected them to “parents that care” while rewarding them for their decision to “shop KydCo.” Although we won second place in the ICAT pitch competition, we decided not to pursue the developmental phase of our concept. But it was still worth the effort. The whole sprint of it all taught me a lot about teamwork, the difference between commitment and devotion, and a heck of a lot about business!
As a millennial in the middle of the “Impact Age,” my time at the College (thus far) has led me to believe that business ventures are the catalyst for social and environmental change. I’m looking forward to learning as much as I can in my remaining years as a student at the College of Charleston, and to growing Boob-eez into the most positive, impact-oriented business possible. I created Boob-eez to strengthen my confidence in grade school. Now, I’m working toward a degree to reinforce my credibility as a woman in business.
– Carlie Christenson is a junior majoring in marketing. She founded her company, Boob-eez, in 2008, when she was in the fourth grade.
Illustration by Timo Kuilder