Meredith Miller started the t-shirt brand Celiac Cutie to bring about fun, laughter, and empowerment to those affected by an autoimmune disease as well as other challenges. A portion of all t-shirt sales goes back to the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, where she personally found help after her diagnosis.
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
When I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, I felt really alone. I didn’t know anyone who had gone through it, and my health was very poor by the time I was diagnosed. I wanted to find a way to make people smile and feel like they were part of a community, all while having a way to raise awareness and support research. I found through my first t-shirts that if you made someone laugh, you open the door to connecting with them or having a conversation.
Tell us about your business.
Celiac Cutie is an apparel company all about empowerment and fun. We have graphic tees that are super soft and fashionable, with sayings like “Dear Gluten, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” or “Stronger Than You Know.” We’re expanding this year to include some other items as well that I’m super excited about.
Are you currently running any promos/contests/giveaways that you would like our readers to know about?
We’ve started a giveaway this month! Our Instagram followers have the opportunity to nominate someone that inspires or empowers them, and not only will that person (the winner) be sent some great Celiac Cutie gear, but they will get a couple of surprises as well. It’s a contest about paying it forward.
In addition, we’ll be offering an exciting discount on our new line, which is scheduled to come out in the next few weeks!
I can truly say that the greatest accomplishment as a company is to hear the feedback from our customers that we made a difference in their journey. Knowing that a customer feels stronger or proud of themselves when they are wearing Celiac Cutie is the best possible reward.
Where is your business based?
Sunny Orlando, Florida! : )
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
Initially, I did a lot of research on any similar businesses in the marketplace. I tested sayings and products with anyone and everyone I knew! I started a social media account and established myself as a legal entity. Then set up a website and signed up for a big in-person expo! The first year was all about proving the concept for me.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
I would say a mix of social media and in-person opportunities. Social media is so powerful, and you can grow exponentially, reaching people all over the world. But there’s also something great about people being able to share their stories with you face-to-face and connecting in-person. It also gives them the opportunity to touch and feel your products and to get excited about who you are as a brand, because they’re meeting you in real life.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
Definitely finding ways to grow as a company, and not doubting myself. It’s hard when you’re starting something new to know what steps are the right steps. There are a lot of books and podcasts and articles that are super helpful, but at the end of the day, your company and your journey is going to be unique to you. I have days that I completely doubt everything I’ve done and stress that I’m not making a difference or I’m not profitable enough to sustain growth. If you focus on that, it can eat you up!
How did you overcome these challenges?
I’ve learned that taking some risks are not just ok; they’re necessary! You can try a strategy and invest in something as a way to grow your business. And if it doesn’t work, you can stop! I have really learned that even following steps that “experts” tell you to follow won’t always work for you, so it’s ok to take a risk and consider it learning that it doesn’t work, not failure.
I have started things in the past and “dipped my toe” into them, thinking when they didn’t work that they just weren’t meant to be. I’m learning now that I couldn’t be more wrong. It’s because you don’t make waves with a toe; you have to be willing to completely jump in and not look back.
As for the self-doubt, surround yourself with people who will support you unconditionally and remind you that great things take hard work and time. Listen to stories of people who you admire and pay attention to the early years (no one is an overnight success), and focus on what you have accomplished. If all else fails, shut your brain off from all that negative talk and go have fun. The work will be there tomorrow!
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
I’m really thankful for the support team that I have in family and friends, as well as my faith in God. All of those forces are there to encourage and support me if I let them (and not try to take on the world by myself).
I also try to remind myself that I’m really proud of what I’m doing and really excited to have the opportunity to do it. I don’t want to waste that because I’m overthinking how much work I have to do, how much inventory we need, how we’ll grow next year. All of those things are really important (and you need to know them as a business owner), but they’re not the only things.
Take time to remember why you started, to celebrate your successes, and to dream big for your future!
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
At Celiac Cutie, we focus on three things:
- Raising awareness
- Staying fashion forward
- Supporting research
We do all three of those things by having a whole lot of fun and getting people to smile.
I have always loved the fashion world, but it is not known for being over-the-top fun. Just take a look at the top fashion blogs or Instagram accounts, and you will see that to a lot of people being “fashionable” is being cool and out of reach.
I just don’t believe that—I believe fashion is about knowing who you are, dressing in a way that makes you feel great, and walking down the street like you own it! And that should be fun! We use real people (not models) in all our pictures, laughing and enjoying life—all while looking awesome!
And on top of that, we get to move with a mission of raising awareness for people who deal with autoimmune diseases or allergies. It’s in our name, so it’s impossible not to! And we’re so very proud to donate a portion of the proceeds to the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University. I think those things really establish us not as a “t-shirt company” but as a movement!
What is the best advice you have received recently?
It’s wasn’t necessarily new advice, but it came at a time when I was really struggling personally. Someone told me to remember how happy this makes me and why I started. Celiac Cutie was doing great, but because of my personal situation and dealing with a tragedy, I was questioning everything!
This person spoke directly to my heart and reminded me of why I started, of how far I’ve come, and of the joy I have experienced on this journey. Sometimes in life when one thing goes wrong, you can feel like everything is going wrong, but that’s simply not true. Always remember why you started, how you felt when you had those first small victories, and the joy in the journey.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
It’s ok to doubt yourself, it’s not ok to let that paralyze you. You will make mistakes, but you will also do things that are so great that you surprise yourself. They’re both important ways to grow.
Be open to advice, read everything you can, accept help, but know that your journey is going to be unique to you so you’ll have to take risks and go for it over and over and over. There’s no one playbook that is going to solve all your problems. You will actually have to solve your problems! : )
Also, it’s easy to worry about money straight out of the gates, and you should absolutely be fiscally responsible, but building a business takes time and resources, which means every time you make money, you’re reinvesting. That’s ok! Don’t panic; it’s part of the process.
What are your favorite business tools/resources and why?
I’m big on Shopify, because they are great to work with and make websites, e-commerce, and point of sale machines so easy!
I also really like Audible, which isn’t a business resource per se, but it helps me maximize time when I’m driving or flying to hear a great new book I wouldn’t otherwise have time to sit and digest.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
I just finished a book a friend gave me and it was called The Million Dollar Morning. It’s actually more for individuals in the real estate space, but it had such great tips on the importance of starting your morning well to better manage your day. I really enjoyed the breakdown of simple steps to own your morning in a way that propels you forward.
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
I am really focused on learning how to introduce new products. We’ve centered around t-shirts for a long time, but now we’re expanding into creating athletic wear, for example. I’m reading a lot and asking for input on how to share that with our customers as well as how to attract new customers that may be introduced to those products first.
Our community has been asking for more products, and these new items align with our goals of having fun and making our customers feel strong and empowered while still raising awareness. But it’s a change, so I’m conscientious of staying true to what our customers loved and supported about our t-shirts initially and being responsive to feedback we may hear as we introduce it.
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
One of my goals for the next few months is to better communicate with our existing customers. When you are a new entrepreneur you tend to try to do everything yourself until you realize you are drowning. Consistent contact with our community is really important to me, and I’ve been needing help in that area for some time.
One of the reasons I struggle is because in the beginning, we had a smaller customer base, so I could connect with everyone personally. Now that we’re bigger, I want to provide that contact but also make sure it’s authentic and genuine, even if I can no longer personally respond to everyone myself.
It’s hard for me to let go, but I am working towards taking that step for some of our communications, because I know that I can hinder our growth if I don’t accept help when and where I need it.
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