Haley Dunigan is trying to balance being a freshman in college and the owner of a booming business.
So far, she’s doing really well.
Dunigan, a Hoschton native and graduate of Flowery Branch High School, is the owner and designer of Chokers and Charms, a jewelry line she started as a junior at Flowery Branch.
“I was looking for something I could wear that wasn’t so stereotypical to everyone else,” she said. “I decided to make a piece and just started at Hobby Lobby. I made something, thought it looked all right, so I posted a picture of it.
“It just blew up from there. People started asking me if they could purchase it.”
Dunigan said the business has been thriving since. She ships pieces all over the country and no longer buys beads from Hobby Lobby — instead, she has mentors at the AmericasMart Atlanta Apparel Market, who help stock her with high-quality materials for the best price.
Her pieces, including bracelets, necklaces, rings and earrings, are designed to be a marriage of antique and modern styles. They are made from high-quality leather, suede and reinforced elastic, with beads and charms of glass, turquoise, lava rock, horn, shark tooth and more. She has multiple lines, including her first freshwater pearl line and a new sorority-themed line, that she hopes to spread to college campuses.
Now a freshman at Georgia College and State University, Dunigan is studying business management. She considered attending Mercer University, where she earned a business-related scholarship for her company, but Georgia College President Steve Dorman made an offer she couldn’t refuse.
“He introduced me to the admissions board and they were convincing me to go to their school,” she said. “He ended it by saying, ‘If you come to our school, we’ll get you into Barnes & Noble.’”
And they did. Dunigan said in her first few weeks at the college, she was able to get some of her pieces stocked at the Milledgeville book store.
“It’s my fourth store I’m in right now — and I have my Etsy shop online,” Dunigan said. “Everyone was so kind. I was so worried about having to fill out all kinds of paperwork, but the president really did everything. It was awesome.”
Dunigan said she gave the store a small quantity of pieces, around 40 or 50.
They sold out in one day.
“I got one email that said, ‘I think we should rethink quantity,’” Dunigan said.
For Dunigan, the hardest part of managing Chokers and Charms has been teaching herself how to be an entrepreneur. Her marketing teacher at Flowery Branch, Carol York, helped her get her feet off the ground.
“My struggle has been the logistics,” she said. “I’m in college now, but I’m living this too. I have to work on wholesale-retail invoices, marginal costs and what my benefit is, and opportunity costs of what I’m doing. It can be a struggle learning that myself from Google.”
But Dunigan said she’s grateful for the opportunity to practice entrepreneurship at such a young age.
“This has changed my life and consumed my passion,” Dunigan said. “The idea of owning my own company is so exciting, and I hope this is something I can pitch to investors when I get out of college. This field is such a risk, but I’ve had this experience in the beginning, and I’ve had a lot of support.”
To shop Chokers and Charms online, go to www.etsy.com/shop/ChokersandCharmsGa.