Third-year student and budding fashion designer Aariella Houston was one of 20 winners nationwide of Victoria’s Secret PINK GRL PWR Project, an initiative providing $10,000 grants to female entrepreneurs between the age of 18 to 25. Houston is the founder and CEO of online apparel store, Zage Apparel. She is enrolled in a dual-degree program, studying chemistry at Bennett College and chemical engineering at North Carolina A&T.
Houston’s business started when she was a junior in high school and working for the local Girl Scout council in her native California.
“I made a painting for one of my co-workers and the Chief of Mission Delivery said, ‘Oh my gosh, I love that! I want it on a shirt.’” Houston turned that painting, as well as several others, into a line of T-shirts, which were sold at the Girl Scout office.
When she started Bennett College, she noticed a lack of variety in Bennett apparel sold at the bookstore. The summer between her first and second year, she designed a variety of collegiate T-shirts for her fellow Belles, gaining permission to sell them when she returned to campus. As her designs gained popularity, she expanded her business to include sweatpants, sweatshirts, and shorts as well as Greek apparel and North Carolina A&T merchandise, all while continuing to design and make every piece herself. The business was so successful last year that Houston was able to donate nearly $500 in profits to the #StandWithBennett campaign.
Using the $10,000 grant from Victoria Secret, Houston has expanded her clothing line’s range of options and sizes, now offering merchandise ranging from XS to 4XL.
“I wanted everyone to be able to wear my apparel and feel beautiful,” she said.
She also updated her website and rebranded her business, changing the name from A Golden Art to Zage Apparel.
The PINK GRL PWR Project, which launched this year, was initiated to promote female entrepreneurial empowerment. Houston applied to the contest after her mother’s friend saw an ad on Facebook and sent her a link. The application asked the girls to name three female heroes, explain how their business has helped women grow or has helped them grow in a two-minute video.
The winners of the contest were not only rewarded with a $10,000 grant, but also with a three-day mentoring retreat in Sedona, Arizona, where they learned about balancing mental and physical health and running a business.