Omaha – There is a traditional career path for people who want to work in the fashion industry. Aspiring designers often dream of working in places like New York or Los Angeles, but not Hannah Olson. Hannah is carving out her own niche in her hometown, and notable industry professionals are taking notice.
Olson is a sophomore entrepreneurship and marketing major, but the list does not end there. She is also a designer, winner of the 2014 Maverick Business Plan Competition, recipient of the national Student Startup of the Year Award, and owner and CEO of Hannah Caroline Couture.
Hannah’s business has already matched its sales from last year, and it is only May. Her talent has earned her a spot in Full Figured Fashion Week in New York City this June. The event, which is the largest of its kind, showcases plus-size models and designers.
The ultimate validation came during Omaha Fashion Week when Amanda Valentine, a Lincoln, Nebraska native and designer who appeared on Lifetime’s hit show Project Runway, approached Hannah and asked if she could take a picture with her. “I was thinking that I should be the one asking her for a picture!” said Hannah.
UNO and Omaha have been the perfect places for her to start her business, but that was not the plan coming out of high school. Hannah admitted that she was not immune to the allure of attending fashion school in New York City. However, while she waited to hear back from schools in New York, deadlines for other schools were passing.
Her father urged her to attend business school at UNO instead, and the rest is history. “I found out pretty quickly that this is where I was supposed to go,” she said. “I think I would have gotten lost in a huge sea of people who do what I do in New York, where as here I am the only person who is filling this need.”
Dale Eesley, director of the UNO Center of Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Franchising, saw something in Hannah during her freshman year. As her advisor, he got one of the first looks at her business plan for Hannah Caroline Couture. “I knew she would win the Maverick Business Plan Competition eventually,” he said. “She has the drive and passion to go along with her idea, and she is pivoting and adjusting as she goes.”
Eesley said that other students have been reaching out to Hannah for advice about their own business plans. It is all part of Hannah’s big-picture plan to be a mentor for aspiring entrepreneurs. Eventually, she plans to go to local high schools to find the next wave of young talent. “I want to keep my business in Omaha because I have gotten so much support from this community,” she said. “I want to hire girls right out of the community and give them valuable experience.”
Once she graduates Hannah hopes to help build the scene in Omaha. “If I had to work 60 or 70 hours a week doing this, I wouldn’t mind,” she said. “It would be fun.”
So where does Hannah Caroline Couture go from here? Once again, Hannah plans on filling another need in an unmanned territory in Omaha. “My goal is to find a way where I can make a living by doing custom work,” she said. “I will sit down with someone and sketch out what they want. Then we would go to the fabric store together, so it’s a totally customized product.”
She has already started and is already making a profit. Working out of her bedroom, it takes her about two weeks to put together a customized prom dress. “I will look at a piece of fabric and I will see a dress. That’s not something that people tend to do, but that’s where I get my inspiration,” she said.
A Regent Scholar, Hannah has accomplished just as much in the classroom as she has as a designer. “I am not just trying to get a degree so that I can hang it on my wall, or hand it to an employer,” she said. “I am trying to get as much as I can out of each class, and I have already applied a lot of what I have learned towards my business.”
Keep an eye out for Hannah Caroline Couture. Hannah, even as a sophomore in college, already has invaluable experience and thinks like a true entrepreneur: “What I learned is that you can be upset that there isn’t something available that you need, or you can go and create the opportunity for yourself. I had problems finding clothes that I liked. I just kind of stopped complaining about it and buckled down and figured it out for myself. I really believe that entrepreneurship is a solution to a lot of problems.”