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Entrepreneurs / Small Business  August 13, 2010

‘tween fashion fills the gaps

It was a simple task, to choose a birthday gift for a niece turning seven. Heidi Olinger dashed from one store to anther, looking for something intelligent, fun, and worthy of the precocious girl with an interest in math and science. No one had the right, edifying, you-can-do-anything sort of thing to give this special young lady.

Suddenly Olinger realized there was a tremendous gap in the market.

“It was literally like a lightning strike,” she said. “I knew instinctively what the market was lacking: a product that spoke to the energy and vision a girl has for her life. There was nothing that spoke to how a girl sees the world at that point.”

Olinger, an educator at both the high school and college levels, understands not only all those fine qualities a girl has before she goes through the hurricane of adolescence, that feeling of having the world on a string, but also how a girl can lose herself in her ‘tween years.

“I also remember the challenges of being 10 and 11, of seeing so much more in the world and facing issues of peers and bullying,” she said.

She decided to fill the gap in the market – as well as for girls themselves – with Pretty Brainy, a preteen clothing line for girls 7 to 14. The T-shirts feature biographies of pioneering women, intricate embellishments and at-a-glance math the wearer can read, all meant to empower girls to believe in themselves and their dreams.

Empirical evidence supports her business decision. A national study conducted by Nadya Fouad, a distinguished professor and vocational psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, looked at what steers girls toward or away from science and math during their education. Fouad’s research concluded that although interest is certainly a factor in getting older girls to study and pursue careers in math and science, they need self-confidence in their abilities early in their education.

Personal development front and center

Olinger explains that personal development factored into the clothing design. “We want to help them keep that reality front and center,” she said. “They can do whatever they set their minds and hearts on, and we give them the how-to right there on the shirt.”

Since Pretty Brainy launched in Lyons in 2008, the marketplace has reinforced that her niche is dead on. The most popular item with the girls themselves are the beaded fringe tees, but the complete line also includes 100-percent cotton short and long-sleeved styles, embellished or plain, in classic colors and adult sizes, too. Products are made in the United States, printed with environmentally friendly inks, and available mostly online through prettybrainy.com and hosted trunk shows.

Olinger relocated the company to Fort Collins in February, where she learned about the Colorado HIRE program, and promptly added an intern to her staff.

Then Olinger consulted with Matt Hannifin, owner of the Science Toy Magic shop in Old Town, advising him how to merchandise in ways that appeal to girls as well as boys. Hannifin rearranged his window display to also appeal specifically to girls, adding perfume science, a candy factory and creative cosmetics.

Olinger said Pretty Brainy makes production and merchandising decisions based on social responsibility, respecting people and the planet, and supporting woman-based businesses. “We can stand behind our products,” she said. “They are made from materials mapped from the ground up.”

Sustainability is so crucial to Olinger, the company core ideology mirrors her personal values: Respect others, respect the earth, respect yourself.

It’s an excellent ideology for girls of any age.

It was a simple task, to choose a birthday gift for a niece turning seven. Heidi Olinger dashed from one store to anther, looking for something intelligent, fun, and worthy of the precocious girl with an interest in math and science. No one had the right, edifying, you-can-do-anything sort of thing to give this special young lady.

Suddenly Olinger realized there was a tremendous gap in the market.

“It was literally like a lightning strike,” she said. “I knew instinctively what the market was lacking: a product that spoke to the energy and vision a girl has for her…

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