Stitching A New Future
Payton McGriff ’17 founds S H E| Style Her Empowered with earnings from pitch competitions
As a senior at the University of Idaho in 2016-17, I enrolled in my first entrepreneurship course. I did not consider myself the "entrepreneurial type" and saw this class as an opportunity to explore ideas I might pursue later in my marketing career.
Little did I know, I would soon be traveling to Togo, Africa, winning the “triple crown” of entrepreneurship competitions in the Northwest and turning down what had been my dream job — all within three months.
My business concept for the entrepreneurship course was to help girls in developing countries get an education by providing school uniforms. I talked to Lori Wahl in U of I’s Apparel, Textiles and Design Department in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and was quickly hit with some jarring feedback: simply giving girls school uniforms was not empowering them at all but leaving them more reliant on foreign aid. Determined to create a positive impact with a thoughtful business approach, I created a model where girls learn to sew their uniforms, giving them short-term relief from the financial barrier of uniforms while providing the long-term skills to empower them.
Then I met Romuald Afatchao with U of I’s Martin Institute. Originally from Togo, Afatchao has led service-learning trips to the West African nation for several years. He offered me the opportunity to do in-country research on a spring break trip. I spent every day in Togo learning firsthand the needs of these young girls.
I knew Togo was the perfect location to pilot my idea. I spent spring 2017 attending business pitch competitions around the Northwest. I won the Idaho Entrepreneur Challenge in Boise, the Northwest Entrepreneur Challenge in Spokane and the Idaho Pitch Competition in Moscow, raising nearly $35,000 to launch my company in July 2017.
Two weeks before graduating I was offered my dream job in marketing analytics. What happened next still surprises me: I turned down the job to pursue my company: S H E | Style Her Empowered.
Within two months, three more alumni of the College of Business and Economics joined S H E. Allison Mattson, Dylan Raymond and Christine Gillaspie helped me open our office in Togo and raise enough money to welcome 65 girls into the program.
Today, when a donor gives $150, a girl in Togo receives a new school uniform, a full-tuition scholarship for a year, free health care, a library card and year-round mentoring, skills training and personal development programs at S H E – Togo.
We now have our sights set on opening a girls’ school in the town of Notse. We’ve launched a fundraising campaign in the U.S. and are gaining partnerships with businesses as far away as New Zealand to raise the necessary capital.
My experience is a wonderful example of the collaborative potential available at the University of Idaho. The U of I community continues to support us along this journey, and we could not be more proud to be Vandals.
Article by Payton McGriff.
Published in the fall 2018 issue of Here We Have Idaho.