Student entrepreneur wins award for sustainable clothing company

Contact: Amy Coughenour

Siera Gunnett

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Student entrepreneur Siera Gunnett, founder of the sustainable clothing company SheMakings, recently won the Brian Patrick Thomas Entrepreneurial Spirit Award. This award is given annually to recognize students in Starting Gate, Western Michigan University’s business accelerator, who use their gifts and talents with the spirit of creating opportunities for others by virtue of entrepreneurial endeavors.

Gunnett, a senior from Kalamazoo, Michigan, majoring in entrepreneurship, won the $10,000 award which will be used to grow her business over the next three years. She says, “This award gives SheMakings solid financial standing and the ability to create bigger and better opportunities. It will also put the company in a position to be competitive in the fashion industry.”

About SheMakings

Gunnett started her business in the spring of 2020 after becoming frustrated with the lack of options for truly sustainable apparel. The focus of SheMakings is on sustainability and originality— keeping fabric out of landfills and giving it a new life.

“My passion is protecting the environment and cleaning the oceans, and as a consumer, I kept finding myself and others unable to find an alternative to fast fashion,” Gunnett says. “Even when I did find an alternative, the pieces lacked style and often came at a high price. Not only that, I soon discovered that fashion is one of the largest pollutants in the world today.”

Focusing on style and sustainability at an affordable price point, Gunnett sources apparel items that would otherwise be thrown away, strips them, and then screen prints an original design onto the clothing. This approach saves thousands of pounds of textile waste and tens of thousands of gallons of water per month.

Participating in Starting Gate, the student business accelerator, has helped Gunnett quickly take her business from concept to reality. In a little over two years, SheMakings has grown 300% and is meeting a growing need in the industry. Gunnett is renting business space, has registered as an LLC and is working with a local business to wholesale her products in a retail shop. She says, “Having the Starting Gate group in my corner over the past year has assisted me in so many different ways. The team was always there to give meaningful business advice and helped me find clear solutions to difficulties I faced.”

Siera Gunnett hands a bag to a customer at her SheMakings tent

Gunnett hands a bag to a customer at her SheMakings tent.

Winning the Brian Patrick Thomas Entrepreneurial Spirit Award will enable Gunnett to take the next step in her business. Her business plan calls for marketing initiatives to grow brand awareness and increase revenue, while also expanding product selection and design.

“This award gives me the opportunity to develop the mission of SheMakings as an impactful and progressive force for change,” Gunnett says. “I plan to start eco-friendly events throughout the community and help people find a passion for change and creating a more sustainable future. I’m also planning to open a store, which would be monumental in cementing my brand and its mission.”

About Brian Thomas

Thomas is a Western alumnus of who earned his degree in industrial marketing in 1996. He joined OtterBox in 2003 and was eventually named CEO where he was responsible for leading global expansion efforts. During his tenure, Thomas received the Mid-Market CEO of the Year Award in 2014 from CEO Connection and was named one of the Top 100 CEOs in the country by Chief Executive Magazine. Thomas' passion for entrepreneurial thinking and social entrepreneurship sparked his desire to establish this award to support student entrepreneurs. Thomas is currently the CEO of his own independent consultant business working with startups and entrepreneurs. 

About the Award

Established in 2015, the Brian Patrick Thomas Entrepreneurial Spirit Award is awarded annually to eligible participants in the Starting Gate business accelerator program. The goal of this award is to recognize individuals who not only establish viable businesses but who look beyond themselves to motivate and move teams of people to a common cause with a higher social purpose.

About Starting Gate

Starting Gate is a student business accelerator that gives students rich and valuable resources to develop their startup companies. It is located in downtown Kalamazoo and operated by the Haworth College of Business Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. The accelerator is open to all Western students through a competitive application process in which students must demonstrate a promising idea for a product or service, which can be launched within a short period of time.

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