During the pandemic, serial entrepreneur Alisha Nesbitt decided to go into business with Rian Nesbitt, her 6-year-old daughter. Together, the mother-daughter duo creates custom tie dye clothing and accessories and sells their products through their wildly successful Etsy shop called Rian Harper’s Closet.
Hello Alice recently spoke with Alisha about her own small business journey, how to leverage your network as potential customers, and why she’s OK letting her kindergartner boss her around. What follows are her own words, lightly edited for length and clarity.
Owner, Rian Harper’s Closet | Atlanta, GA
I’ve been a practicing occupational therapist for 18 years, so I still work part time with a home health agency seeing patients four days a week. But my career as an entrepreneur started back when I was 24 when I started flipping houses.
From the age of 24 to 27, I would buy a house, rehab it, live in it for a year before I sold it, and move onto the next project. My mom had always taught me about credit, about home ownership. Whenever they bought homes they included me and my siblings in the process of picking a home and everything that goes along with it. That’s why it was first on my agenda after I got a job — buy a house. A few years later, I started doing travel therapy, and then I got married and focused on motherhood. I got back into being an entrepreneur in 2011 with an event planning business.
Fast forward to now with Rian Harper’s Closet, and we had the pandemic and the quarantine starting last March. Me and the kids were just trying to think of different things to do, and we had Juneteenth coming up. As a family, that’s something that we had never celebrated before. I wanted to use that as a way for us to learn about our culture as a family, so I decided to do a family activity. I was talking to one of my girlfriends, and she was like, ‘Why don’t you do tie dye with the kids?’ So I went online and ordered a bunch of stuff, a bunch of paint, and I watched a few YouTube tutorials and got them set up with the shirts in the backyard.
My son thought it was cool, but my daughter really took a liking to it, and her color combinations were great. We just kept doing it and playing with different color combinations, different designs, different shades. We were like, this is good! That’s when I asked Rian if she wanted to start a business and make T-shirts and see if people want to buy her shirts. I was already thinking of ways to get her started into entrepreneurship like the way my parents sowed those seeds of homeownership. Her grandparents were the first ones to buy shirts. We charged them $20, and they love the tie dye.
Having been an entrepreneur, I immediately went ahead and got online, got a logo going, thought of a name, and got everything started. We launched our Etsy shop in July after some build up. I let our Facebook family know about it, and I still had an old Instagram account that had a couple of thousand followers on there. The first day that we opened, we had orders coming through, and that first month or so we had about 50 orders. We quickly picked up steam, and by the end of December, we closed it out at making five figures within the first five months.
Tie die is a hot trend that’s coming back, so that fulfilled a niche for us to occupy. Then I fine-tuned it even more as far as bringing in apparel for historically black colleges and universities and their sororities and fraternities — the Divine Nine. That’s a huge network that we were able to tap into. I went to my sorority sisters first before we launched, and I said, ‘Hey, we’re starting a business, I would love it to have your support.’ We have Facebook groups that have thousands of people in them, and that was the first place I tested it out. I said, ‘Will you ladies wear this?’ They’d tell me to change this, tweak that. So my sisters have been a huge support. Every single one of them has bought from us, multiple times — not just one time, several times.
Now from January to March — our first quarter — we’ve made another five figures just doing tie dye. From that I’ve been buying Rian stocks, we started her college fund, and she really gets into the business. She writes a handwritten letter for every single package that goes out. We involve her in all of the different new concepts that we come up with. It’s something that she takes pride in as being an entrepreneur and having her own business. Now my son wants his own business!
I really do let Rian know that she is the boss. She’s bossy, she likes having that control, she likes having that money. It’s something I’m proud of that’s really kept her interest because it’s a creative outlet for her, which she doesn’t have a lot of. Rian is in kindergarten, and she’s never been to school with her classmates. Everything has been virtual for her, and everything kind of stopped when she was just getting ready to finish up with Pre-K. We try to give her as much as we can at home to let her get that energy out and let her feel like she has control. This is something that she has control over, and that’s so important when everything else in the world kind of feels like it’s out of your control.
I’ve had to pivot several times in my entrepreneurship journey, but I’ve always kept my job. That’s what’s helped us to kind of get stuff going. It’s helped me to buy inventory. It’s helped me to buy packaging. When our sales may not cover everything I’m able to, you know, fill in the gap because of my steady job. I just feel like this is all important for my kids to learn at a young age because, you know, so many people are coming up now with hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loans. I still have student loans! Also, college isn’t for everybody, so I want them to have entrepreneurship as an option.
The long-term goal for Rian Harper’s Closet is to scale the shop and sell it. I’ve applied for Target’s Supplier Gateway program. I would like to start wholesaling to the big box stores or scale the business to where it’s big enough for a bigger parent company to buy the brand but still for us to have some kind of creative input behind it.
It’ll all be worth it if Rian grows up knowing that she can do whatever she puts her mind to, that she can be self-sufficient, independent, and make money on her own terms. I want her to learn responsibility with this. I promote school and getting an education, but I want her to know there are other options out there. And I just want her to feel like anything that she does is achievable and attainable! I don’t want her to feel like there are any barriers, and I don’t want her to have an element of fear.