From bow ties to tennis shoes, young entrepreneurs are making their mark on the world. Fueled by creativity, desire and ambition, these young folks are not only inspiring, they are showing us how it should be done. Thabiti Stephens is a case study. At 20, Stephens, owner of Steps by Stephens, is one of the youngest business owners in the athletic shoe industry.
Carlee McCullough: Tell us about yourself.
Thabiti Stephens: My name is Thabiti Stephens and I am from Atlanta, Ga. I am a Business Marketing major and a rising junior at Morehouse College. I am the founder and CEO of Steps by Stephens.
CM: What motivated you to get into the athletic shoe industry?
TS: About a week after I graduated from high school, I realized and felt that I spent too much of my money on shoes. So I decided that I was going to start a shoe company. This way I would eventually save money and still satisfy my craving for shoes.
CM: How did you enter the industry?
TS: Once I decided that I wanted to start a shoe company I started doing all the research needed to begin the process. I wrote a business plan and reviewed it multiple times. I reviewed hundreds of manufacturers and maintained frequent contact with them. It was hard finding one that was willing to work with a company that wasn't established and couldn't meet their order sizes. I started thinking of ideas for shoes, packaging, marketing and materials. It took 1 1/2 years of groundwork before Steps by Stephens was officially registered with the state.
CM: Tell us about Steps by Stephens?
TS: Steps by Stephens is a shoe company based in Atlanta. We provide shoes for both men and women. We produce a high quality casual shoe made from canvas and leather.
CM: I understand that your company is unique in that a portion of sales go to charity. Can you explain how that works?
TS: Yes for every pair of shoes that we sell we provide meals to children in need. We provide the equivalent of three meals of non-perishable goods to children who usually wouldn't receive their daily meals. We are able to do this through our collaborations with Communities in Schools.
CM: Where did your philanthropic nature come from?
TS: I think growing up in a part of Atlanta were I could see the dramatic differences in social classes had an impact. I had friends that had Bentleys and lived in mansions. Then I had friends whose families never had a car. I saw that people who are in bad situations at a young age tend to grow up but still live in the same situation as their parents. Also in class I always saw figures such as the Rockefellers and the Carnegies always gave back to the community. I have since wanted to do the same. They say great people do great things. If I want to be great, then giving back is a good start.
CM: As a full time student, how do you balance school and the demands of the business?
TS: It is tough at times maintaining over a 3.0 GPA. I feel that I still have a good school and social life while still accomplishing business. I pride myself on making the most of my days. My vice president, Malcolm Conner, who is also my college roommate, helps me manage, handle and run the day-to-day business operations.
My school schedule requires I wake up at 7:30 for my 8 a.m. class. Seeing that my classes last an hour, I sometimes have hour gaps between classes. During these gaps I return all calls, send emails, fax and take care of anything that I need to handle during market hours. Everything that doesn't get done during this time I complete after class at 3. Once I handle all my business then I proceed to my homework and dinner. I try to be in bed by 11:30.
CM: What's the next step for you? What's next for your company?
TS: The next step for me is school in the fall. Hopefully I can make some youth entrepreneur list, which has always been a goal of mine. For Steps By Stephens, we will be releasing a red shoe in the fall and two more colors before the spring.
CM: Any closing remarks?
TS: Steps by Stephens products are available for sale at www.stepsbystephens.com.