It’s All Greek to This Sorority Wear CEO
When Allie Anderson started her first business in 2013, she was a recent college graduate, newly married, and an expectant mother. Adding to all of these new parameters, she also had a new place to live, having recently arrived in Florida, where her military husband was stationed. Given all of these challenges to both her and her fledgling family, she knew that she needed to make her own money on her own terms. Anderson didn’t know it then, but her first foray on Etsy would be the seed of her very successful, later-launched business, Rush Crush.
“I got on Etsy and I just started selling handmade totes,” Anderson tells CircleAround. “I was sewing totes for brides, that's how I got started.” For the first 18 months, Anderson was trying to figure out how best to operate and scale her business, starting with teaching herself how to sew.
“I taught myself my last semester of college,” recalls Anderson. “My husband bought me a little $99 sewing machine from Walmart. After a few months I was like, ‘Okay, I really like running my own business — I don't want to go back to a 9-to-5 job.’”
I really like running my own business — I don't want to go back to a 9-to-5 job.
For the first two to three years, Anderson was working 40-to 80-hour work weeks, while taking care of her baby daughter. Sewing 50 or so totes everyday for brides, her workload was ascendant. She even got into the wedding-planner space, but her profit margins simply weren’t materializing. That’s until she realized that there was another market that she could pivot toward and really take ownership of: sorority wear.
“I realized it was a niche that just wasn't tapped into too much,” recalls Anderson, who was in a sorority herself at college and who remembers the T-shirts and other items the sisters wore with the name of the sorority on them as being less than satisfactory. “I always had the idea that, when I was in college, the T-shirts weren't cute and I realized at the same time Instagram was becoming huge, and so the two really go together.”
Creating a Lifetime of Memories for Her Customers
Calculating that each of the thousands of college campuses across the country has roughly six sorority chapters, totaling between 75 to 150 young women, Anderson knew that this market had incredible potential for growth. Anderson took her business observations and personal experience to develop her idea with the aim of “not just selling T-shirts, but selling an experience.”
“You're taking pictures all day long with your sorority sisters,” Anderson continues. “You want those sorts of cute photos because you're going to look back on those pictures 20 years from now and be, like, ‘Oh look, we're all matching!’ ”
Anderson set about getting her Greek Letter license so that she could legitimately design, create, and sell sorority wear. In 2017, the year that she launched Rush Crush, Anderson turned over $200,000 in sales.
“It was a really huge deal, like, ‘Okay, something's working!’ ” says Anderson. “So that's really how it started and I never really looked back. I kind of just went with the flow. Things happen in life and you just sometimes have to take the bull by the horns and do what you need to do.”
For Anderson, part of the journey meant teaching herself how to design and make prints for her sorority wear, which for years she created by herself. Initially she used a simple vinyl print machine, and later upgraded to commercial-grade equipment.
Anderson says that, for her, Rush Crush is more than a business. She feels personally connected to creating lifelong memories for sorority members.
“When you go to college, scared, it's a whole new world,” she says. “I think just being able to make friends right away is super important.” She sees sorority wear as a great way to solidify friendship bonds.
Sisterhood Shaping the College Years
Anderson notes that when she joined a sorority in college, the sense of sisterhood underpinned by philanthropy really positively shaped her college years. Taking those memories forms the values that Anderson built Rush Crush on: Positivity, Happy, Colorful.
Anderson also seeks to reframe the sometimes negative connotations of sororities. She says that although there’s often a perception that sororities are exclusive and cliquey clubs centered around partying, there’s much more to them.
“Making everyone feel welcome, everyone feel inclusive, diversity for me is huge,” says Anderson. “No matter what shape or size, anyone can be a part of Rush Crush.”
Anderson says that, during the pandemic, it has been challenging to maintain momentum as college campuses closed down during shelter in place, and many are still operating remotely. In the meantime, she and her family moved from California to Texas.
It was a bittersweet move for Anderson, who had to let go of her small staff and reimagine her business in this era. On the plus side, though, Anderson says that she is looking forward to restarting her business in a new market that has lots of campuses and sorority chapters. She also notes that this is a great moment to scale.
There's been so many times where you know you're wearing so many different hats, and especially juggling the work life balance is huge, but just not letting people tell you ‘no.’
“We've had a lot of individual orders all over the map, but wholesale-wise I want to build relationships with chapters all over the U.S.,” says Anderson. “I want [college sororities] to know me, who I am, who the company is.”
For Anderson, pivoting, innovating and evolving has been central to her business philosophy. She says being fearless and optimistic has stood her in good stead up until this point.
‘There's been so many times where you know you're wearing so many different hats, and especially juggling the work life balance is huge,” she says, “but just not letting people tell you ‘no.’ Not letting things get in the way and just keep going forward.”