Three years ago, Erin Stoskopf took a chance on a sewing project over Christmas break. Now, she has turned that chance into a profitable small business with her own office and potential career opportunities. And it all started with K-State spirit.
Stoskopf, now a senior in apparel and textiles marketing, is the sole owner and employee of “Stostyles,” a Manhattan-based, hand-crafted game day apparel company. She specializes in game day dresses popular at K-State football games, as well as sweatshirts, tanks and bandeaus.
“I ship a lot of my products,” she said. “[After K-State], I sell mostly to mid-west schools including KU, MU, Nebraska and Oklahoma.”
A self-taught seamstress, Stoskopf’s small business journey began her sophomore year of college. She was inspired by the game day apparel she saw at K-State sporting events and wanted to try her hand at it.
“My friend and I created [a game day dress] over Christmas break,” Stoskopf said. “It was actually kind of terrible, but I put it on Facebook, and I got so many requests to make some for girls at other schools.
After honing her designs and skills, Stoskopf dedicated long hours to creating the apparel and growing her business, especially at the beginning.
“I was so busy,” she said. “I would sew for like 12 hours a day.”
Now she spends an average of 10 hours a week sewing creations, in addition to serving as the president of the Apparel Marketing Design Alliance, student ambassador for the College of Human Ecology and member of Pi Beta Phi sorority.
“In the first two years, I had three jobs. That’s all I would do – sew, go to work as a waitress and work with special needs children and sew some more,” she said. “The next summer, it took up so much time that I could do was sew and work part time as a waitress.”
She eventually quit working as a waitress to dedicate more time to her company and other activities, a choice tailored to love for entrepreneurship.
“I’ve always had an entrepreneur spirit,” she said. “I’ve been working since my freshman year of high school. Ever since I made that first pay check, I’ve been wanting to keep profiting ever since.”
She currently sews the apparel on her Project Runway Limited Edition, a Brother brand sewing machine. It’s the third one she’s used in her business.
“I was sewing so much that I had to keep getting it cleaned and tuned up. My grandma saw that my business was growing so she helped me invest in an expensive machine,” Stoskopf said.
Stoskopf entered the 2014 College of Business Administration’s K-State Launch competition earlier this year, placing in the top eight out of 365 competitors. Placing well in the competition opened her eyes to potential career options after graduation, she said. She will graduate next month.
“If I don’t get a job right away this summer, I might try to expand, get some investors and sell in local stores, ” Stoskopf said.
Also new this spring is Stoskopf’s office, located in the Venture Accelerator building on Manhattan Avenue. Stoskopf shares the house with two other students with small business.
“I have my own room,” she said. “It helps me lay out all my materials. I can go in and sew whenever. I’m grateful I have that space. It’s easier for my clients to come in and try on things, too.”
Before she had her office, she worked where ever she could, sometimes overtaking her roommates’ and family’s space.
“My siblings hated when I’d go home and everything was laid out on the kitchen table and we had nowhere to sit for dinner,” she said. “My roommates weren’t very happy when I started sewing, because it was everywhere. It took over my room and the living room and almost creeped into their room.”
While she was developing the business, Stoskopf asked clients to choose their own shirts for the game day dresses, which helped cut down on up front costs. Now that she is more established, she choses the shirts, whether they’re from K-State, the University of Kansas or the Kansas City Chiefs or Kansas City Royals. She then creates the individual, unique pieces.
Sometimes, for special orders such as ones from out of state or Wichita State University, she has the clients chose their own shirts, because they aren’t as readily available in Manhattan.
Her cliental ranges and she hopes to expand her line to include high schools soon, she said.
“I sell to everyone from 14-year-olds to 65-year-olds,” she said.
Her products range in price from $15 for tanks to $50 for game day dresses. She posts pictures of finished products on social media and her website.
Stoskopf said her small business experience has been extremely rewarding and educational.
“It’s taught me how to time manage, how to interact with clients and keep a loyal client base,” she said. “It’s taught me marketing skills, how to run a small business and interact with people in a professional way and how to manage money.”
Overall, she feels excited about her success and how much it has grown in the last three years.
“I feel accomplished in that I’ve made this business all by myself and it keeps growing,” she said. “It’s through word-of-mouth. I’m passionate about apparel. This reassurances me I’m in the right field.”
For now, Stoskopf is looking for a post-graduation job in the apparel and textiles field. She said she is open to what opportunities may arise, either with Stostyles or another company.
“I’m kind of leaving it up to fate,” she said. “If I get a job, I’m going to take that. If I have time, I might work with investors to expand Stostyles.”