Meet Christie Garton, Founder and CEO of UChic, a mission-driven lifestyle brand created to help young women. Since launching in 2008, UChic has developed a number of books about helping girls get through college, guiding them to what happens after they graduate and more. Additionally last year the UChic Foundation was launched with the “1000 Dreams Scholarship” program at its core. Today, UChic is dedicated to helping girls reach their dreams. How did you come up with the idea of UChic?
“I was in law school at the time and I had gone online looking for a website and information. I was in graduate school living in a new city; I didn’t find anything available uniquely for me as a female graduate student. I discovered there was no informational resource for women in college either.
I thought wow this could be a really awesome, not only business opportunity, but an opportunity to make a difference and provide that resource for other women like myself.
I launched the website and we grew our audience really quickly. It was providing information written for women, but I also wanted to provide an opportunity for women to be published. We had girls from day one giving their advice. It was peer-to-peer, which has been at the heart of what we do. That became a book. We had a publisher approach us to turn what we had online into a book geared towards women in high school getting ready for college.We put that together. That came out in 2009 and it was a big success. We had created something in product form that met a need. We’ve updated that book four times now.
For me, professionally, during most of those years, it was a passion project, something that I had invested my time in. This past year, I decided to go full-time on the business and expand the business.
This past year we launched our foundation. All of our products going forward will support our scholarship fund. It’s called the 1000 dreams scholarship fund. We want to be able to help fund young women.”
Could you tell me a little more about the UChic Foundation and its mission?
“The foundation is our way of being able to give back. We want to give back to our consumers.
Our mission as a company is to encourage young women to live their dreams. We’re doing that through information, products, and now we’re doing it through funding. The mission of our foundation and scholarship fund is the same as our company’s. It’s to empower young women to live their dream and we’re doing that by providing her with the financial means to do that.”
What do you do to keep expanding UChic? How do you come up with new ideas?
“From day one we put our girl at the heart of everything we do. She’s been contributing content. We’ve had girls writing for us over the years and we’ve worked with so many young writers and watch them grow and get awesome jobs. So in addition to continue to have girls write for us, we now have an ambassador program so we’re able to involve girls in product development. We have a group of ambassadors we ask advice for products we’re considering launching, etc.
How we’ve grown and how we come up with new ideas involve our consumer in that very same process and we have the ambassador program that allows us to do that.”
What is next for UChic?
“This year we are out with our [book’s] fourth edition and we are out with our tech case. We’re going to be launching our tote bag that coordinates with that tech case.
My goal as a founder of this brand is to expand our product offering because as a for-profit, we want to be successful and grow on that side of the business so that we can continue to fund scholarships.
We’ve already funded 13 girls last fall and we have a new group of girls that our committee has picked to receive scholarships, so we want to be able to continue to be successful and sell products, which would fund more scholarships.
The reason we call the scholarship fund 1000 dreams is because we want to be able to put a number and have a goal as a company that we’re working towards. If we reach that this year, that would be amazing and to do that we need to sell products, we need to be at retail, we want to expand that side of the business.”
What is your personal favorite part about UChic?
“It’s exciting to have something where collectively, there is a place for women who want to help other young women do that. We’ve done that, helping girls with their writing experiences and getting published in our book.
Now, with our expanded opportunity through our funding model, we can actually fund a lot of dreams and goals, so it’s not just media that we’re helping young women through, we’re now able to help any woman with a big goal hopefully get one step closer towards it. To me, that’s exciting.”
What does a typical day look like for you?
“I have a two-year-old daughter now and I love to be able to spend as much time with her as I can, but I have a start-up that I’m running now that occupies a lot of my time. I like to spend time with her in the morning and then catch up on e-mail and take phone calls with my team to make sure we’ve got all of our things lined up.
Right now, I’m very focused on our product side of the business and the sales side. My role is very sales driven. I’m pitching to retailers and talking to universities, getting the word out to sell more products.”
Who or what inspires you?
“For me it’s just personal stories that really connect with what I’m working with at the time. I’ve always looked for models or examples of people out there doing things.
There are a few companies out there that are doing similar things [as my company], this idea of being profitable but also being able to do good. You’ve probably heard of TOMS shoes, that’s a great inspiration to me.”
What is some advice you can give for readers who want to start some major project in their lives?
“I always like to start with what are your personal goals and strengths? Start from there. Create the life you want based on what you’re most passionate about. I think when you start with that, then a project or idea that you have that you want to make happen, doesn’t seem so hard.
All of this is a lot of hard work. If you start from a place of passion, it’s going to be a whole lot easier. I also recommend surrounding yourself with a great team, whoever that team is. Every great successful project has a great group of people involved. Always be seeking that network to help you realize your possibility.”
Do you have any mentors? Did you reach out to anyone when you were creating UChic?
“Definitely. From my experience in the media industry, I’ve been able to stay in contact with a lot of great people. Over your professional career, stay in touch with the people you’re meeting, maintain those relationships that matter to you. It’s all about having really great mentors you stay in touch with. You never know when that relationship can be important to you again.”
How can girls get the most out of their internships?
“You only have a set amount of time at that internship, so as much as you can, get the opportunity to get involved in a project. That way, you’re learning along the way. [Do] as much as you can to approach your internship as a means to be involved in a project that you can talk about for a real job. Look for those opportunities. Be willing to network; try to build relationships at that company with as many people as possible.”
What does it mean to be a smart girl?
“Being a smart girl is being confident about who you are and not being afraid to say it. You can be smart in different ways, but it’s about the confidence of being able to say who you are.”