Breaking Grad: Reflecting on Starting my Solo Business During Lockdown as Graduation Nears - Sai Govindaraju '23

I’d like to think of myself as creative, outgoing, and motivated – one word I would not use to describe myself is patient. Like a lot of freshmen in college, I had no idea what I wanted to do when I first came to Pitt. I came in pre-med and ended up as a business student, and when I transferred into CBA at the beginning of my sophomore year, I knew I would be behind other sophomores who were already in CBA. Impatient in nature, I knew that I didn’t want to wait to learn business skills in the classroom and decided to use my quarantine hobby as a tool to develop business acumen on my own.

Before the beginning of my sophomore year, it was peak pandemic time and I had picked up a summer quarantine hobby of tie-dyeing. Morale in the world was low and the stress caused by constant negativity on the news was high. With a big gray cloud over the world, I had figured out a way to bring color back into my life and a nostalgic summertime hobby from my childhood became my solution. Going to Michaels became my escape from reality and I began to tie-dye t-shirts, sweatshirts, and matching sets. My friends started to notice my new tie-dye uniform, with almost a different new piece every day. They started to commission custom-made pieces, and word spread from there.

I loved being able to make custom orders with unique color combos and designs for people that I love. Being an outlet for their self-expression and seeing how happy and confident they were to be wearing the tie-dye motivated me to continue. I was only making items for family and friends when I began to think about what I would do with my tie-dye pastime once I moved back to school. In August 2020, I transformed my tie-dyeing operation into a full-fledged business - and Sai’s Dyes came to life.

The easiest part of the business was figuring out the name, and the hardest part was everything else! With no prior business experience, I was on my own solo venture to learn everything. I started with branding and luckily as someone who loves to play around with creative designs, I took to Canva to make my first draft of the Sai’s Dyes logo. With this logo, I went to the best place to reach other college students like me and created @saisdyes on Instagram. With the college-aged consumer in my mind, I started posting content with styled pieces on different models, and on clothing racks, and I even hijacked my friend’s backyard to take photos of the dyes on a clothing line. With this exposure, I began to reach more students at Pitt as well as other universities across PA.

During the fall semester, my goal was to get the word out about the brand and expand my following on Instagram to increase exposure. I had steady sales to clients across the country and I began planning the next step for the brand. A lot of my consumer base had found the brand from Instagram or from word of mouth and I didn’t know how to break out of this pattern to reach a wider consumer population. On Instagram, I stumbled upon a market based in Philly that was taking applications for their upcoming online market. I took a chance and applied and didn’t think much of it. A month later, I found out I was selected for the market and felt extremely underprepared for their requirements - a biography and professional photography of a brand-new collection of clothing due in 2 weeks! After only creating custom products for individual consumers, this was my first big opportunity and pivot in the business model. In my first year of operating, the business was very fluid, I took every opportunity as it came and was constantly expanding my color options, styles, and products and I let myself be led by clients.

Because of this market, I developed a stronger financial plan, improved my professional communication skills, and learned more about the process and nuances of working with another business. From this opportunity came a newfound confidence with the business and two new collaboration opportunities that year, one at a store in Ardmore, PA and another with Pitt’s very own student-run Pop Art Den. Both opportunities connected me with different pools of clients and partners and were huge for developing my network.

My ongoing partnership with the Pop Art Den had an especially important impact on Sai’s Dyes and its growth at Pitt. One of my favorite opportunities I had through this partnership was an in-person “Tie Dye with Sai” event where students and other members of the Pitt community could come out for a fun, hands-on creative experience to break up their busy schedule. Being able to interact directly with other Pitt students and staff and seeing how excited they were to learn different techniques and take full creative freedom over making their own shirts reminded me of why I started Sai’s Dyes. It wasn’t about the as much about the actual business as much as it was about giving people an outlet for self-expression and encouraging the use of bright colors and fun patterns to do so.

As my chapter at Pitt comes to a close, the essence of what I have learned about owning a small business is the importance of listening and learning and growing and knowing that it's always okay to pivot and start fresh. Your undergrad is the best time to explore your hobbies and passions to discover what motivates you. I encourage everyone to take a chance on themselves and try something new - even if you don’t know anything, it’s always worth it to try, you might surprise yourself.