Are you a compulsive fashionista shopping on serious budget? Or a healthy eater who wishes you could know for sure your produce is pesticide free? Do you wish some ambitious person would solve all your problems for you? You may be in luck — eventually. LITE Memphis is growing a crop of problem-solving young entrepreneurs and there’s an even bigger problem they’re looking to fix: Memphis' persistent racial wealth gap, discussed more thoroughly in this week's Memphis Flyer cover story, "Coin Flip: Wealth, Poverty and Race in Memphis — Myths and Misconceptions."It’s a sleepy Sunday afternoon in the University of Memphis area. The busiest place seems to be the Highland Street Goodwill where there’s a 75-percent-off, special tag sale.
Q&A with LITE innovation fellow Talia Owens
Memphis Flyer: Before we talk about your business, tell me a little about you?
- Talia Owens, LITE fellow and sophomore at DePaul University
Talia Owens: I was born and raised in Memphis in the Cordova area but went to White Station High School all four years through the optional program. Before I did LITE or was even interested or introduced to the whole world of entrepreneurship, I was active in sports. I did gymnastics and cheer and tae kwon do. I also did theater in high school. So, in high school I was thinking I wanted to be an actress but that wasn't the best plan of action.
I got into theater as a hobby but, obviously, I thought this was nothing I could do long-term. So, I started thinking about other fields. So, I had a law internship. I thought maybe I wanted to be an attorney. But then I got the law internship and I realized it wasn't for me. So, I kept struggling with what I wanted to do. I thought about (public relations) and advertising. And, then, I took a coding class at White Station and I fell in love with coding. So, my life changed again.
Are you doing coding in college?
So, now I'm at DePaul University in Chicago. I'm studying interactive and social media and computer science — app development, web development, that kind of thing.
So related stuff.
Yeah. And I don't want to just be a person who works a job and have a 9-to-5. I want to create jobs. So, that's what led me to my project, now. It's this round-about way of me thinking I wanted to do one thing and then another.
How do you mean?
In high school I changed my mind five different times during the four years about what I want to do. And I learned it's okay to not know what you want to do. I still don't know what I want to do. I'm pursuing this business. It's a fashion and ecommerce brand but I'm in school for coding and web development. They go hand-in-hand but I'm kind of riding a wave of uncertainty. I can live with that. That's me right now.
And now you’re in college and not in Memphis but still working with LITE.
I go to DePaul University. And I was at a DePaul University cheerleader this year. Which is cool because I hadn't cheered since middle school. I didn't think I was going to make the team, and I did and I was, like, “Wow, that's interesting!” That wound up becoming a big part of my life because I recently wound up having a big injury with cheer. It's kind of affected a lot of what I've been doing lately and my school work. I'm still trucking along. I'm not going to let a spine injury get me down.
Spine injury? Ouch.
No, I'm fine now. We didn't know what was wrong. I started having really bad back problems at practice. I’m a flyer so I was flying and tumbling. During this game I'm running on the floor and everything is televised and I'm running on the court and all of a sudden everything in my lower left side from the hip down goes numb. I can't feel my leg. I know something's wrong but we have to go. So I go to the trainers and they think it’s probably just a pinched nerve or something. So, I go to the doctor I'm thinking everything is fine. I'm in pain but I'm still practicing because it's nationals season. And I go to the doctor and they're like, “You're out for the season. And maybe even the next season.” And I'm like, “What?” And they're like, “Yeah, you fractured your spine.” I'm like, “Oh, okay.” So, it's been a long process going through recovery. It did affect my school work and business stuff for a month and kind of slowed me down a little bit because the pain was a little unbearable. But I'm definitely fine now. Life throws a lot of crazy things at you.
But now you’re about to launch Laude, your company.
We've been through a lot of different trials. But we are launching. I'm making the site live next weekend on Sunday which I'm really excited about. I can tell you a little more about the brand and how it came to fruition and how I thought of this idea.
That would be great, please do.
So, obviously I went through the LITE program and they were offering us an opportunity to create a business and get grants in order to help us form the business. I’ve always been a little bit interested in the world of fashion, especially luxury fashion. Also, I wanted to do something that had a tech side to it.
That makes sense.
So, I'm in a sorority here at DePaul. And how my idea came to fruition is I had a sister who basically spent all her rent money that her parents gave her for a bag. She comes in one day and she's showing off his bag and I'm like, “How did you go buy a $3,000 bag?” And she's like, “I used part of my rent money and my parents are really really mad. They're sending me more rent money, but I had to get this bag.” And I said, “Well, that's dumb. Like, you have to live somewhere, you know?” And she was like, “Yeah, I know. But I had all the money in front of me and I just wanted the bag and I've never had all the money together like that before. So, I just kind of did it.” So, I started thinking about how, for a lot of girls, especially in college, want really nice luxury and designer things, but are on a college budget. How can they get what they want without breaking the bank or spending all their rent money? So I came up with Laude, which is a luxury ecommerce platform that allows people to buy, sell, and hold luxury fashion.
What does that mean, exactly?
What we do is we get all of our handbags from department stores and different wholesalers and we take our handbags and we mark them down lower than retail price and we allow our customers to have us hold their bag for a small holding fee as they work to pay it off for the next 4-to-6 months. What this does is it teaches people you can have nice things with a tight budget if you know how to budget your funds. We also allow people to trade in old, luxury fashion items for credit to go toward new ones. Because so many people have bags just sitting on the shelf that they don't use. These bags are still valuable they just don't use them anymore. So, we let them turn that in on credit toward new handbags. So, we can hold those handbags for someone who might want them.
So that's the gist of my business and where it came from.