During her junior year at UMD, Ali Von Paris was working at the popular restaurant and bar, The Thirsty Turtle. When the watering hole closed, Ali decided to design a t-shirt for her beloved co-workers as a tribute to the College Park institution. The shirts doned clever designs that read, “Turtle Survivor” and “Barely Remembered, Never Forgotten”.
Originally marketed toward employees, others started asked Ali where they could purchase their own Thirsty Turtle tee, and Route One Apparel was born.
A first-time entrepreneur, Ali applied what she learned as a Finance and Supply Chain undergrad major at UMD, to develop her new venture. She worked tirelessly and learned several important business lessons on the job and out of necessity to maintain market share. For example, she learned how to create her own website after someone told her she was missing on sales by just selling from her dorm room. Not knowing about e-commerce at that time, she learned how to build a website and started doing online sales. After staying up all night to develop the site and leveraging social media, by the next morning Route One Apparel had more than $12,000 in online sales.
In 2012 Ali entered UMD’s annual Cupid’s Cup business competition. At that time, she was only selling t-shirts and doing pre-orders for athletic apparel. Ali was a finalist and was the youngest and only female finalist.
The CEO and founder has grown the company from 1 to 450 designs and has branched out from t-shirts to other apparel. Ali comes up with the designs and caters largely to the Maryland market, though she is starting to expand to other states and campuses nationwide.
Social media has been a key aspect of Route 1 Apparel’s growth. “We have over 100,000 followers now on Facebook alone and the majority of our sales come direct from our social media accounts,” says Ali.
Social media is also a large part of Route 1’s marketing efforts. “We do a lot of ‘Like & Share’ contests, ads and promotions, partnering with other local businesses — and in exchange they advertise us on their social media accounts,” Ali shared. “I think our best ad campaign is the ‘Where are you wearing your Route One’ ad, where the winner gets a $100 gift card. Individuals post their photos where they are wearing our product, and we pick one at random. We get a plethora of photos that way and amazing customer reviews.”
We asked Ali if she has any advice for student entrepreneurs:
If you don’t give up, you’re already ahead of tons of your peers — so always keep that in mind when you’re facing a tough challenge. As long as you have the passion, knowledge, and some common sense I believe very strongly that you can accomplish anything.
YOUR NETWORK IS YOUR NET WORTH! Don’t burn bridges, and offer your skills to those individuals you find a unique value in because you never know when they will be needed.
Get your time management down and stay organized, the thing most individuals hate the most is when you are hard to get in contact with.
Today, Ali is the full-time owner of Route One Apparel. The company has grown 10-fold annually since its founding. What started in her dorm room has expanded to a 2500 sq ft residential office space where she operates the business. Ali now enjoys being able to give back to the College Park community through hiring campus students.
She was recently accepted to the 12-week Babson 10,000 small business owners program sponsored by Goldman Sachs. “I was selected out of hundreds of applicants to attend, and I am the youngest in the program EVER, so it’s pretty humbling,” said Ali.
Route One Apparel’s first brick-and-mortar store will open later this month in Hunt Valley. She is also shooting video commercials for online television and holding many sales events. In the meantime, Route One Apparel can be found online and at a pop-up shop located in the PA Dutch Market in Hunt Valley, Maryland.