Sunday, January 29, 2023

Ole Miss Business Plan Competition Winner Finds Herself in Fashion

Taylor Isabel Thomas, a rising star in the fashion industry, seemed like an unlikely candidate to win the Ole Miss Gillespie Business Plan Competition.

Taylor Isabel Thomas

Born and raised in Atlanta, Thomas came to Ole Miss in 2008 to study psychology with an emphasis in behavioral development. As a sophomore, she was one of the youngest students chosen to run a research lab in the psychology department. But even with her passion for psychology, she felt something would be missing if she followed that career path.
Thomas loved making dance and Halloween costumes as a child, so after three internships in the Ole Miss psychology department, she decided to try a fashion marketing internship for an international accessories collection. It turned out to be a great fit.
“I learned a lot about being self-motivated and anticipating a company’s needs before the opportunity to excel had passed,” she said. “I learned the importance of being organized as well as not being afraid to think outside the box.”
While taking a year off after her first semester of senior year, Thomas landed a job with couture designer McCall Wilder in Atlanta. She worked as a design assistant until the week before her first collection launch, all the while learning the fundamentals of running a small business, design and customer service.
After her launch at the Atlanta Apparel Mart last August, Thomas landed several accounts and won “Buyer’s Choice” for favorite emerging designer in the Southeast.
“I didn’t even have tags in the clothes, just business cards pinned on the sleeves,” she said. “I had weeks to learn the ins and outs of production, sourcing and management of six new contractors. It was stressful to say the least.”
Even with these experiences, Thomas was still a bit intimidated about entering a competition where most students had a strong business background.
“Though I don’t have a business background, the opportunity to create something I loved and find potential for sustainable, long-term profit was something that seemed second nature,” Thomas said. “I didn’t realize how much potential my company had until I entered this competition. It opened my eyes to how far I can go and how far I will go.”
The goal of the Gillespie Business Plan Competition, said Clay Dibrell, associate professor of management and Gresham Entrepreneurial Lecturer, is to help students, like Thomas, increase the probability of their new ventures succeeding.
“The Ole Miss Gillespie Business Plan Competition provides an opportunity for our students who have an idea for a new business to refine their business model by presenting their ideas to our judges over three rounds of competition,” Dibrell said.
“Taylor is an excellent example of how the process works,” he said. “Through the [competition], she was able to further refine her already working business model through her presentations and by having a mentor who worked in the garment industry. I am highly confident that Taylor will be wildly successful with her Isabel Thomas venture as she has the entrepreneurial attributes needed to flourish.”
After winning, Thomas used the capital to expand her collection to almost triple the number of pieces she had in previous seasons. Having a larger collection has brought in more buyers and helped her establish her line as a strong and reputable brand. Thomas now oversees 12 independent contractors that are experts in their fields. She’s even been profiled in this September’s issue of British Vogue.
“Something I’m very passionate about is women empowerment. I want to give girls like me the opportunity to do things everyone told them they couldn’t,” Thomas said.
“Not being afraid to hear the word ‘no’ has built my business,” she said. “If you know that’s the worst thing someone can say, the fear of going for something you want pretty much disappears.”
– Written by Misty Cowherd, Business First magazine, University of Mississippi School of Business