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At Age 18, Incoming Student Has Already Created, Sold Her Own Design Business

Incoming student Brett Cushing, 18, already has the best of real-world experience. For three years while in high school, she created and ran her own design business – and now has licensed her designs to an apparel manufacturer.

Date: 8/4/2006
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
UC ingot When incoming University of Cincinnati first-year student Brett Cushing was 15, she began a design business that upended the routine at her Cleveland home: Brett’s parents were recruited as labor, and her three dogs lost their favorite sleeping spot in the basement in order to make room for all the business supplies.

Brett Cushing

But these costs were worth it in the end since Brett’s business prospered, so much so that she eventually sold rights to her designs to apparel manufacturer Mighty Fine, Inc., a supplier to large retail chains like Hot Topic.

“It was a business that began with a casual thought,” explains Brett, now 18, and a recipient of a full UC Cincinnatus Scholarship to attend the Digital Design program in the university’s top-ranked College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP).

She adds, “I would attend art shows and renaissance fairs where I would see people selling items they’d made, and I thought that would be cool and that I’d like to try it.”

Brett carried that thought to completion by borrowing funds from her parents in order to buy the supplies she would need – T-shirts, ink, a hot press, transfer paper, as well as paper stock for greeting cards and bookmarks. Her parents were willing to support the effort because Brett had already gained a bit of experience in producing t-shirts. In 2002, she raised nearly $1,000 for the victims of 9/11 via her t-shirt sales. Those funds were ultimately used by the Red Cross in offsetting medical care costs for those injured in the attack on the Pentagon. 

So, with her parents’ backing and the experience she’d already gained, Brett set to work crafting new designs which she then transferred to t-shirts and paper. And…her business flopped, at least that first year.

“That first year was a bust. My first transfers were defective. The first designs I transferred to t-shirts peeled off in the wash. That’s definitely not good for business. So, I did more market research and improved my process,” states Brett.

She further explains, “Also, at first, I was too conservative in my designs. I created small designs. But, I observed what was selling at the fairs and later switched to crafting large, colorful, more easily eye-catching designs.”

Those changes plus persistence paid off for Brett. In her second year, she made enough money to pay her parents back and put a little aside for college. Same for the third year.

It was in that third year that Brett began thinking of the future, specifically the future of her business. “I was entering my final year in high school. I knew that I’d be busy my senior year, and then, college would come after that. Not to mention that my parent’s basement was VERY full of raw supplies and finished products. It looked like our dogs would never return to their favorite sleeping spot underneath the ping-pong table.”

Almost on a whim, Brett e-mailed a licensing proposal and her portfolio to Hot Topic. She wasn’t sure what to expect if anything. But shortly, the novelty t-shirt buyer for the chain contacted her and agreed to license Brett’s designs. A short time later, Brett similarly licensed her designs to Mighty Fine.


Now she’s ready for her next challenge: the Digital Design program at DAAP, and after that, she hopes to one day create special effects and animation for the entertainment industry, specifically Hollywood.

“I feel lucky to have found the program at UC. When I started my college search, I didn’t even know there was the name of ‘digital design’ for what I wanted to do,” says Brett, a graduate of Lakewood High School. “My teachers told me to check out UC’s program, but I really thought only an Ivy League school could give me what I wanted.”

But the opposite turned out to be true. Brett investigated her Ivy options only to find that she’d have to cobble together a major through classes offered by different departments. Adds Brett, “No employer would want that. But then I came to UC, and it had the entire program I wanted. I also found out about the co-op program and all its connections with employers.”

Brett plans to arrive on campus several days before classes start. Not surprisingly, she wants to get right down to business in getting started at DAAP. And then? Brett just hopes that, as with her previous design efforts, people respond to her work. She recalls, “From my apparel business, the best part was when I saw someone walking around wearing my t-shirt. I never went up and told them that I’d designed it. It was enough for me that they’d liked it enough to buy it and wear it. I figure doing special effects some day will be a lot like that. I’m really hoping people will just really enjoy what I can create.”   

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