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This Startup Raised $215,000 Defying Gender Stereotypes to Empower Girls

This Startup Raised $215,000 Defying Gender Stereotypes to Empower Girls
Image credit: Shutterstock

Rebecca Melsky and Eva St. Clair never planned on becoming entrepreneurs. Melsky, a teacher and mother of two, and St. Clair, a stay-at-home mom of four, came up with the idea for their company, Princess Awesome, the old-fashioned fashion way: They had a problem and decided to fix it themselves.

"I wished I could buy my daughter a dress she would love that also had a spaceship on it. Or a robot. Or a train. I wanted to honor her feminine tastes in fashion and her interests in space, pirates, and other things,” Melsky told me. “But that type of girls’ clothing just didn’t exist. Those themes were only found in the boys' section of stores.”

Guessing that she wasn’t the only parent who felt this way, Melsky teamed up with co-founder St. Clair to create “girly” clothing with designs usually found on boys’ clothes.

En route to launching their business, St. Clair spent the first year sewing dresses in her basement on her 1948 Singer sewing machine. Through word of mouth, people heard about the project, and friends of friends started asking for the dresses; the pair found themselves struggling to keep up with the demand.

“We knew we had hit upon something,” said St. Clair. “The question became not whether we should move into mass production, but which dresses we should make first.”

From idea to execution

In 2015, Melsky and St. Clair decided the time was right to see if they could scale. They launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $35,000, with the hope that they could transition Princess Awesome into larger-scale production.

Within days, they'd broken the record for kids’ clothing projects, eventually acquiring more than 3,000 backers to raise over $215,000 and attract attention from the Today Show, People magazine and CBS News.

Shortly after, Melsky quit her teaching job to go full-time with the business.

Like Kickstarter mega-hits Goldieblox and Jewelbots, Princess Awesome meets the established demand for STEM-related items created specifically for girls. Only half as many women as men pursue STEM degrees, and part of the reason for the gender gap may be subtle differences rooted in childhood experiences -- including all those toys and clothing marketed to girls.

As a mother of three boys (and her latest: a little girl), St. Clair has become well acquainted with clothing that features trucks, pirates, and power tools. “Plenty of little girls would come to our house and play with all our toys -- even staging dinosaur tea parties -- but none of those little girls wore clothes that reflected those interests,” she recalled.

Throughout their Kickstarter campaign, Melsky and St. Clair heard from parents all over the world tand concluded that there is a widespread desire for expanded clothing options for girls. Parents shared stories about girls donning princess costumes while playing with train sets or racecars.

Their customers also expressed interest in clothing that would encourage budding interests in science; one even cited her little girl’s fascination with the periodic table of elements. They heard about others whose daughters refused to wear pink, ruffly clothing, but still liked twirling in dresses with bright colors and patterns.

“We heard that we’re not alone. A lot of girls want to wear both ‘girly’ things and ‘dinosaur-y’ or ‘math-y’ things, and a lot of parents want to be able to buy their daughter clothing that is both ‘girly’ and supports interests beyond kittens and flowers,” Melsky said. “Princess Awesome meets that demand.”

From Kickstarter to full-fledged business

Everyone who backed the Princess Awesome Kickstarter campaign received their investment returns on time, and the company expanded to a new product offering,  the “Busy Dress.” The founders said it is the first-ever “play-able” dress featuring plane, train and car themes.

“Comfortable, playful, twirly, well-crafted, and play-able,” Melsky said: “The Busy Dress is unlike any other dress your daughter owns.”

Last year, Princess Awesome faced the next challenge of going from Kickstarter success story to full-fledged business. With the launch of their new Shopify site, the founders planned to use Facebook advertising and email marketing to gain new customers and grow their ecommerce presence.

"We've proven that there is demand in the market for our product,” Melsky said. “Now, we need more customers to find out about us."