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UNC’s Entrepreneurial Challenge Helps Student Back Eco-Friendly Fashion in Thrifty Way

Kennedy Dechant, a sophomore Environmental and Sustainability Studies major at the University of Northern Colorado, never imagined that she would one day be running her own business. Now the owner of the online thrift store, Eclecticism, her business began as a website she created for her web design class in high school. 

Kennedy Dechant, a sophomore Environmental and Sustainability Studies major at the University of Northern Colorado, never imagined that she would one day be running her own business. Now the owner of the online thrift store, Eclecticism, her business began as a website she created for her web design class in high school. 

During that time in her life, Dechant had been learning about climate change and other environmental issues. This became a passion of hers and inspired her to make the website something that blended this passion with her interest in fashion. She took photos of her clothes and put them on the website as though she were selling them. After completing the course, she developed what was once just an assignment into a small business.  

As explained on the website, Eclecticism is a brand which aims “to provide a more sustainable and affordable alternative to traditional means of clothing in an attempt to reduce global waste.” 

Dechant further explains that 150 million trees are cut down each year in order to make fabrics. It takes almost 3,000 liters of water to make a single cotton t-shirt. So, by encouraging consumers to up-cycle and purchase clothes second-hand, Eclecticism hopes to combat the environmentally-destructive effects of the fast fashion industry, which is responsible for more than 8% of total greenhouse gas emissions. 

“I’d like to encourage people to shop second-hand.” Dechant said. “One of the main goals of my brand is to make environmentalism accessible and affordable for everyone. Most products on my site are less than $10 just to encourage people to buy the second-hand option or the environmentally-friendly option without going bankrupt.” 

That includes selling a jean jacket and a cardigan for just $5 each. The brand also supports sustainability efforts by donating half of the proceeds from every purchase to an organization working to repair the environment. 

“I’ve looked into the organizations I donate to to make sure that a majority of the money is going towards the actual environmental causes that the organization promises to work towards,” Dechant said. 

Eclecticism clothes

All of the clothes sold on the website are either previously owned by Dechant or are donations from people in the community. News about her business has spread primarily through word-of-mouth, so most of the donors are people Dechant knows or are friends-of-friends. 

“It would be nice to expand more, but it is nice that it’s kind of a community I know, just for the convenience aspect for everyone,” Dechant said.

Usually, Dechant picks up the donations directly from the donors' houses. A few times, however, people from out of state who have wanted to donate clothes have mailed them to her. 

“People are appreciative when I go and pick up the donations myself,” Dechant said. “That’s something that bigger thrift stores don’t offer because it’s impossible to do on a large scale.” 

Dechant does make a profit from the sales, but this was never the goal of the business. 

“I’m willing to spend a little bit extra on my business to make something that would help the environment and the community,” Dechant said. “If I lose a little money along the way, that’s ok. Hopefully this will get popular enough to where maybe it’s profitable and also meets the goals.” 

Dechant does hope, though, to one day formally apply to make Eclecticism a non-profit organization. 

“I think it would be cool to get it to a point where I’m getting grants, like a real non-profit. I think it would be more in line with my mission,” Dechant said. 

To get closer to that goal, Dechant participated in UNC’s 2022 Entrepreneurial Challenge her freshman year. Hosted by the Monfort College of Business, this annual startup venture competition allows students and non-students alike with business ideas or startups to pitch their brands and compete for a chance to win a share of $25,000. 

Along with being a pitch competition, the E-Challenge provides educational and networking opportunities to help participants succeed in the modern business world. This includes panels with business professionals, open discussions and other opportunities.

E-Challenge winner

Kennedy Dechant receiving her E-Challenge prize

Dechant found out about the E-Challenge through her friend, Emmy Scott, a UNC alumna and fellow E-Challenge participant. 

“I figured it could be a good opportunity or at least a good challenge for myself,” Dechant said. 

Dechant said participating in the challenge was helpful for her in that it put her on a better, more productive path in her approach to her business. 

“It helped me look at my business through more of a professional lens, because before it was something that was more in the back of my mind,” Dechant said. “Doing the E-Challenge and setting up the presentation made me look at my income over the next five years or what I would use the money you can earn from the E-Challenge for and how I could grow my business.” 

Colorado-based non-students compete in the Open Division of the E-Challenge, while students at UNC or a Colorado community college compete in the Collegiate Division. Dechant was a finalist in last year’s Collegiate Division and earned $2,000. 

Dechant used part of the funds to pay for a booth at the Mile High Flea Market this past summer. She said she enjoys doing in-person events for Eclecticism during the summer months, since it drives sales. She plans on using the rest of the money towards social media advertising and SEO optimization. 

Because of the ways the E-Challenge was able to help her with her business, Dechant recommends other students also participate. 

Kennedy's booth

One of Kennedy Dechant's Eclecticism booths

“It is a good challenge for yourself, even if you just have an idea that you want to explore,” Dechant said. 

She is grateful to the community for helping make her business idea a reality that continues to grow and evolve. 

“It’s really been a community project, too, and I always try to emphasize how important the community is for helping progress my business,” Dechant said. “I can’t do it without the donations of everyone else and the support of the community.” 

What began as a website created as an assignment for a high school course has grown into something that Dechant hopes will help make environmental options more accessible and affordable. 

“I’ve always wanted to do something that helped people, so to be able to help people through this business or to create a better world through this has been cool to see,” Dechant said. 

Applications for the 2023 Entrepreneurial Challenge are now open through Dec. 1. Visit the E-Challenge website to learn more. 

Visit the Eclecticism website to learn more about the brand, how to donate and how to support organizations advocating for climate action.

– written by Alani Casiano, a senior English major at UNC

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