In 2012, Sharon Bui was a college student passionate about her sorority, Chi Omega. One thing she didn’t love about Greek life? The ill-fitting, pricey clothing. So, she and friend Kate Steadman decided to change that.
At 19 years old, they created Frill Clothing. The self-described “one-stop sorority shop” helps ladies dress for every community occasion. Frill offers a variety of sizes, prices for every budget, and a biggie – no matching chapters, guaranteed. Shoppers can pick a style or design their own from scratch, and all garments are made in America.
The business has since expanded to include bridal party wear, and now boasts nine employees. Next up? You can watch Sharon and Kate pitch the Sharks on ABC’s Shark Tank tonight!
“When you’re an entrepreneur your business is your baby, and you will do anything and everything you can to make sure it succeeds.”
How did Frill Clothing come about?
I was a sorority girl in college, and I was tired of buying expensive and unflattering clothing. I wanted stylish options for my sisters to choose from.
To fix this problem, Kate and I created Frill Clothing, which offers matching or mix-and-matching options for sororities across the United States, Canada and Australia.
How did you develop the business?
I was 19 when we started the company. We would hand-stitch the clothing ourselves, but, thankfully, most of the time we had a seamstress. The sorority girls would pay up front, and we used that money to develop the line.
What responsibilities do you have at Frill?
I am responsible for our social media, marketing, advertising, partnering, interacting and selling to sorority girls.
When you own a business, you don’t do one thing -- you do everything. I answer emails, create new products, help design, fulfill orders, manage employees and act as the face of the company.
But, it’s amazing to me I get to wake up every day and go to my own office and do what I love; I never envisioned this when I was planning my after-college goals! I feel incredibly lucky that I get to have a job that coincides with what I studied in school and has something to do with Chi Omega, which I am so passionate about.
What challenges keep you awake at night?
As a business owner you worry about a lot of things. When you worry that means you want to be successful. That’s what makes a good entrepreneur — worrying about being successful.
So, I’m mindful of moving the business ahead and making sure I don’t forget the important things. Now that Kate and I don’t work out of our college dorm rooms or parent’s homes it’s easier to rest a bit because we leave the office at 5 p.m. and can leave most of our worries there.
Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
During college this was difficult. It was hard to dedicate a lot of time to a booming business, balance 18 hours of school and have a social life.
When you’re an entrepreneur your business is your baby, and you will do anything and everything you can to make sure it succeeds. So, for me, that meant making sacrifices. I didn’t always go out on Friday nights like my friends, but I made sure I did every now and then.
I’ve learned to make sure my work and my social life get an equal amount of attention. They’re both important.
Was there ever a moment in your career where you’ve thought, “I made it!”?
There are a few times I can say I definitely felt that way. The first time was when my sorority wore my clothing for the first time. The reassurance of 120 friends supporting me made me feel like a real winner. The second time was when Forbes magazine called me to do a student entrepreneur spread. Although it didn’t get published, it made me feel like, “I made it!”
Of course, the most I ever felt this way was when we filmed for Shark Tank. Best moment of my life; I will probably always say it’s bigger than my wedding day!
How did you make the decision to pitch your idea for Shark Tank? What was that process like?
The October before I graduated I promised myself, “I am going on Shark Tank.” I made it my mission to 1. graduate, and 2. apply for Shark Tank right afterward.
In January 2014, instead of going to the open casting call in Atlanta where you only pitch your idea for one minute, we paid my videographer friend to make our 10-minute audition video. During that video, we had to answer 22 questions about our business and ourselves. We sent in the video and the application packet, crossed our fingers, and never looked back.
I got a call in early February — the video ended up not working when it got to casting! The person on the phone asked me to quickly upload it to YouTube.
Fortunately, the casting department loved the video and they loved us. The next step was turning in our product for a quality check. The step after that was turning in a packet that asked a bunch of financial questions. I’m pretty sure there was, yet, another packet after that. (Everything has been a blur since stepping on the Sony stage with Mark Cuban staring deep into my soul).
After that round, we were assigned designated producers to get to know us and help us develop our pitch. After that, we filmed at Sony Studios in Culver City, Calif. on June 24, 2014. Nearly nine months later, you can see us on Shark Tank at 9 p.m. EST on March 6 — that's tonight!
What one piece of advice do you wish you could tell a 21-year-old version of yourself?
Don’t worry about the little stuff, saying “no” is OK, and dream big. God has huge plans for you!
What’s next for Frill Clothing?
Hopefully Frill becomes a one-stop sorority recruitment shop! I plan on launching sharonbui.com in order to speak at more schools and events, and to mentor more start-up companies. In the far-future I’d like to be an entrepreneurship or fashion merchandising professor at my alma mater, N.C. State! Go Pack!