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Melanin founders
April 10, 2024

Designed with Love: Wearables by Student Start-up Melanin

When it comes to entrepreneurship, you’ll hear plenty about the right people being in the right place at the right time. But that’s just a starting point. What really counts? Imagination. Partnership. Persistence. Plus a dose of love for humanity. That’s what drives the founders of Melanin (Melaninz Closet LLC), a business founded two years ago by Nick Willis ’24, Gary Jones ’23 and Kris Thomas ’24.

“Gary and I were assigned together as partners for a group project where we had to come up with a fictitious brand and ways to promote it,” says Nick, a communication major who manages the company’s social media, paid marketing and influencer relationships. “When brainstorming, we both felt compelled to turn this into a real thing. We came up with Melanin, and the rest is history.”

Kris came on board to run sales/PR, and the concept found focus. “We were three Berry College students that started our business to spread love and inclusion through homemade wearables,” explains Gary, a communication major turned commercial insurance broker at Gallagher in Rome, Georgia. “Melanin is the pigment that gives human skin, hair and eyes their color. It’s in all of us. In a world so divided, melanin is our common ground.”

In 2023, the team competed for prize money in Berry’s annual PITCH, a competition modeled on “Shark Tank.” They won second place ($5,000) and audience favorite ($1,000).

“The PITCH is where ideas take flight, weaving together innovation, passion and a dash of thrill into a symphony of possibilities,” notes Bobby Smith, director of Berry’s Center for Student Enterprises and Entrepreneurship.

Melanin soared. “We were able to put more money into better photoshoots, restock in full and pay for venues like Ponce City Market [in Atlanta],” says Nick. “We were able to refine our production, improve our overall social media presence and double our following and sales.”

Gary, who handles operations, adds that they’re now outsourcing manufacturing overseas: “Originally, we used a heat press to make our wearables. Manufacturing gave us so much time back. Now, we’re able to spend more time planning for events, photoshoots, marketing, taxes and all the other business things. Manufacturing also allowed us to improve the quality of the clothing.”

Applying lessons learned, Melanin will vie for prize money in this year’s PITCH. After that? The partners will keep growing the business while pursuing careers, with Gary continuing in the insurance field and Nick and Kris considering MBA degrees.

Kris — a marketing and management major who has a summer internship with the New York Mets — offers this advice to student entrepreneurs: “I would suggest revolving the idea around something meaningful to them and to be different. Even if people don’t understand what you are trying to do at first, it doesn’t mean you need to change your idea or even stop. Keep doing what is important to you, and eventually it can change other people’s perspectives.”

This year's PITCH will take place on Tuesday, April 16 (6:30–8:30 p.m.) in the Krannert Center.

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