By: Eric Elliot
The Robert G. Hisaoka Speaker Series continues with a Young Founders Panel on Tuesday, February 13 from 5:00-6:45 p.m. Panelists Ali von Paris ’12, Evan Lutz ’14 and Brandon and Bradley Deyo are all successful entrepreneurs who started their businesses as students. In a panel moderated by Robert Hisaoka, students, staff, faculty and alumni will hear about the experiences and challenges each founder faced while turning their dorm room startups into lucrative businesses. Register now to attend, and stay tuned to our blog to learn more about each of the panelists.
Route One Apparel – Ali von Paris ’12
In November 2010, Ali von Paris was faced with no work after the bar she worked at, the Thirsty Turtle, closed down. Wanting to honor the fallen bar along with her co-workers, Ali designed her first product, the “Turtle Survivor” jersey. Even though the jersey was initially targeted toward the employees, other fans of the bar quickly became interested. Ali saw this as an opportunity to leverage her passion for design and creativity into a business. Utilizing her social media channels, Ali advertised the jersey to her friends and family and secured 600 pre-orders for the product within just a few weeks, marking the start of Route One Apparel.
Seeing the impact that social media had on her business, Ali took advantage of the viral nature of off-brand collegiate apparel and collected the contact information from those involved in that first purchase. She built an extensive online network from day one which contributed to further sales and promotions. Additionally, her designs were based around modern music and UMD references to draw increased attention from the college demographic. Her social media following grew organically as Route One Apparel grew, and her authentic presence and usage of social media allowed Ali to connect more intimately to her customers. Later, Ali’s designs would shift from a focus on UMD to other campuses, and eventually to the state as a whole.
Ali continued developing Route One Apparel by applying what she learned at the Robert H. Smith School of Business as a Supply Chain and Finance major. She taught herself how to build her own website to capitalize on e-commerce which, through leveraging her social media network, managed to generate more than $12,000 in additional business the very next morning after it launched. In March 2012, Ali entered UMD’s annual Cupid’s Cup competition where Route One Apparel was selected as a finalist, making Ali the youngest and only female finalist in the competition. Additionally, as of 2014, Route One Apparel was selected as a participant in Goldman Sach’s 10,000 Small Business Initiative, making her again the youngest participant of the group. In 2016, Ali won Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year at the Dingman Center’s Rudy Awards ceremony and the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award from the University of Maryland Alumni Association.
As of today, Ali has launched nearly 700 products with the goal of releasing 15 new designs a month, and her products can be found at wholesale locations across the state. Route One Apparel frequently partners with other businesses such as non-profits, startups and campaigns to host philanthropy events and to launch custom designs. Ali continues to design and distribute her merchandise while managing her street team and in-house staff. Ali and the Route One Apparel team maintains an e-commerce website with over 40,000 unique customers. In recent news, Ali has secured a licensing deal with McCormick to allow Route One Apparel to sell official Old Bay merchandise.
Learn how Ali von Paris leveraged her social media network to create an online following for her startup on episode 12 of the Dingman Center’s Bootstrapped podcast: Put Your Social Media Skills to Work.