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Her Childhood Bullies Inspired Her to Start a Brand. It Boasts Over $20 Million Annual Revenue Now — and Just Appeared on Stage With Taylor Swift. Little Words Project founder Adriana Carrig was bullied growing up, so she channeled her "pain into purpose" with small, wearable affirmations that became a big business.

By Amanda Breen Edited by Jessica Thomas

Key Takeaways

  • Adriana Carrig initially started beading bracelets featuring inspirational messages with her sorority sisters.
  • The idea to track the bracelets using a unique code came to Carrig in a dream — and took the little affirmations big.
  • Little Words Project has grown into a successful brand with a flagship store in New York City and a growing retail presence.

When Little Words Project founder Adriana Carrig began beading bracelets featuring inspirational words for members of her sorority, she couldn't have known they'd spark the multi-million-dollar brand she helms today. But as her college graduation neared and the women of her chapter continued making and wearing the bracelets as "an iconic symbol of sisterhood," she realized the movement had the potential to grow into something much bigger.

The original impulse for Carrig's "Little Word" designs came from personal experience. Carrig was bullied growing up, and she "desperately wanted to do something that would fulfill both [her] desire to help others while also making a difference in the world," she tells Entrepreneur. By taking a "kill them with kindness" approach and channeling her "pain into purpose" with Little Words Project, the founder was able to do just that.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Little Words Project. Adriana Carrig.

According to Carrig, the "real catalyst" that took Little Words Project from a casual sorority activity to a full-fledged business venture came to her in a dream in a "made-for-TV moment." She remembers waking up and thinking, What if the bracelets had a code so you could track them?

Related: This Woman Launched a Multi-Million Dollar Company Out of Her Dorm Room in College. Now She's Helping Kids Launch Big Ideas of Their Own.

"Instagram was taking off, and hashtagging was this very relevant concept at the time," Carrig recalls. "And I had been using hashtags as a way to track some of these pictures of the same bracelet. So I'd do hashtag, Little Words Project, one, two, three, four, or whatever. Long story short, I thought, Wouldn't it be cool if we could use a code [and] you could follow it in a hashtag? That translated into, Okay, let's go develop this for a website [where tracking] could be done internally."

Strung with tiny letters that form words and phrases like "Strength" and "Keep Going," each bracelet is meant to be worn as long as the wearer needs the message on it, then "passed on to someone who needs it more," Carrig says. To that end, each one has a gold tag with a unique code that connects the bracelet to the website and Little Words Project's broader community, dubbed "Nice Nation," where people can share their stories and explain why they chose the word on their bracelet. Then, when they do pass the bracelet on, they can track where it goes and how it continues to make an impact.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Little Words Project

"We really wanted to have those in-person, connected experiences so that we could be practicing what we preach."

Little Words Project "owned the category" of the word-bracelet market from the beginning, Carrig says, explaining that other brands that sold them did so in a "tangential" way, tacking the word bracelets on as an "extra" to their main lines. With its then-singular focus on word bracelets, Carrig's brand launched direct-to-consumer in 2013 and went wholesale within a few years. Now, Little Words Project boasts more than 1,000 retail partners worldwide, including Nordstrom and Target.

And, in 2021, Carrig's husband left his private equity career to join the team and "help expand its horizons" in the retail space. That year, Little Words Project opened its flagship location on Bleecker Street in Manhattan's West Village. The brand has since opened additional stores nationwide in Boston, Miami, Tampa, San Francisco, Georgetown, Columbus, Austin and Chicago — with more to come, particularly on the West Coast.

Related: How This Teenager Turned Her Childhood Hobby Into a Global Business

Little Words Project's retail expansion has accelerated its growth, contributing to a $20 million run rate in revenue, Carrig notes, partly fueled by the "experiential" element in all of the brand's brick-and-mortar stores. Each location features a bead bar where members of the brand's community can make bracelets together. Some of those customers even walk away with a new friend after the experience, Carrig says.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Little Words Project

"We wanted to have those in-person, connected experiences so that we could be practicing what we preach, which is that we build communities — and also kind of supercharge communities that already exist," Carrig explains. "Having a space for our customers to come interact [and] bead with one another at one of our many bead bars, which we have in each store, really created this authentic experience for the customer."

Additionally, the brand recently expanded its line with the "Little Layers" collection, which features demi-fine, handcrafted jewelry made of 14-karat gold vermeil at accessible price points. "We've been intentional about quality there," Carrig says, "and the pieces are made to layer with the other styles that we currently offer. One of my most asked questions throughout my journey as the founder of this company is, 'What does your wrist look like, and how do you get it to look like that?' And it's because I always mix and match. So I wanted to create a line that [made it so] the customer didn't have to go somewhere else to buy the other products that live on her wrist and her body."

Image Credit: Courtesy of Little Words Project

"The team and I are a bunch of Swifities, and we couldn't have aligned with a more perfect ambassador for this brand, if you will, than Taylor Swift."

Little Words Project celebrates its 10th anniversary this November, a fitting milestone during National Entrepreneurship Month. And the buzz around the beaded bracelets appears only to be growing. In September, NSYNC's Lance Bass presented Taylor Swift with Little Words Project's bracelets on stage at the VMAs. "The team and I are a bunch of Swifities," Carrig says, "and we couldn't have aligned with a more perfect ambassador for this brand, if you will, than Taylor Swift. She embodies everything that we stand for. And so, though she herself hasn't come out and said, 'This is the friendship bracelet I wear,' we know she wears them. We know she has them. And she did thank Lance on the VMA stage for the friendship bracelets that he gave her. So we feel very connected to her and her story."

What's more, for World Kindness Day on November 13, Little Words Project is teaming up with KIND Snacks on a LIVE KIND bracelet; together, the companies will donate $10,000 to FoodCorps, a nonprofit providing students with nourishing meals, food education and culturally affirming experiences with food.

Little Words also has a year-round giveback initiative, partnering with nonprofit organizations to design custom bracelets and donate 25% of net proceeds to each one. To date, the initiative has raised nearly $700,000 for partner organizations, including the American Cancer Society, Fuck Cancer, Project Healthy Mind, St. Judes, Baby 2 Baby and more.

Related: Breast Implants Left This Founder With Debilitating Symptoms, So She Launched an Intimate-Apparel Line That Goes Beyond Buzzwords

Carrig might not have anticipated Little Words' massive popularity back in those early days of beading bracelets with her sorority sisters, but the brand's "kill them with kindness" creed has transformed those little wearable affirmations into a big business and community — and Carrig credits her mother, who came to the U.S. from Mexico at 18 and taught her "both the value of hard work and believing in yourself," with a lot of that success. "Querer es Poder," which is Spanish for "If you want it, you can achieve it," is something her mother would often say.

And it's advice Carrig would give any emerging entrepreneur who wants to turn their big dream into reality.

"If you want it bad enough that you're willing to work for it and believe in yourself, and all those things come together in this perfect trifecta, then there's nothing you can't achieve," Carrig says. "So go for it."

Amanda Breen

Entrepreneur Staff

Senior Features Writer

Amanda Breen is a senior features writer at Entrepreneur.com. She is a graduate of Barnard College and received an MFA in writing at Columbia University, where she was a news fellow for the School of the Arts.

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