Legacy Letters

Deer Park, OH

SpringBoard Series: Rachel Mecklenborg, Legacy Letters

Legacy Letters is a T-shirt swapping business with a feel-good end goal: reconnecting sorority sisters while keeping old sorority shirts in the fold—and raising money for charitable causes along the way. SpringBoard is ArtWorks business development program that targets artisans and creative entrepreneurs.

How did you start your business?
I was really active in my sorority, Sigma Kappa, while I was a student at Marietta College. Throughout my time with the sorority, I realized sorority girls are obsessed with sorority T-shirts. By the time I graduated, I had 30–35. These shirts have the sorority letters on them or stand for an event that happened in the Greek community, so, while I had all these T-shirts, I didn’t want just anyone wearing our letters. I started looking around online and saw that a lot of girls were selling their T-shirts online through eBay and Amazon.

I came up with a website where sorority women can donate their T-shirts and active members can buy them. After some market research, I decided 50 percent of each sale would go to the sorority’s foundation, something that both women would cherish.

Right now, we’re just starting with the sorority I belong to with the hopes that we could add another sorority every three months or so.

How did you set up your e-commerce site?
I started to test my idea through Facebook, but it was an epic fail. It was a clunky process, because Facebook just isn’t made for online retail. Eventually, I reached out to a freelance web developer, and he was willing to help me create a WordPress website using different plug-ins to make the posting and transaction processes possible. It’s not our final website, but it’s clean, well-presented and functional.

You just launched a couple weeks ago. What hurdles have you overcome so far?
Nobody’s done this before, and there were a long list of licensing issues, but we’re building the inventory right now as I wait for Sigma Kappa to sign the contract. Right now, technically, I can’t really market the T-shirts that are being collected, but I’ve gotten a good response just by posting T-shirts so far.

But is this just about selling T-shirts?
No, it’s a way for sorority alumni to get reconnected with the sorority in an easy way. Starting this business made me think more about my experience as a sorority member; I realized I wanted to get more involved. I advise a local Sigma Kappa chapter now, and Legacy Letters is a great way to reconnect with other alumni as well as active sorority members.

Where will the donations end up?
Nearly every sorority has a foundation they support by raising money for scholarships or dues or to pay academic expenses. Also, each sorority supports a philanthropy, and the foundation is a way to raise money for that. Sigma Kappa’s philanthropy is the Alzheimer’s Association, for example.

What resources did you take advantage of here in Cincinnati and how did they help?
First, I started going to events at The Brandery, where I learned so much about the start-up hub here in Cincinnati. From there, I did the SpringBoard program, which helped me understand everything I needed to start a business. It was a great community and support system—I still keep in contact with other SpringBoard members.

I also participated in the Queen City Angels boot camp, which offers back-to-back panelists who share information about starting a business and collecting capital for it. We were able to speak with investors at the end, and get their take on our [business] ideas. That’s actually how I figured out I should have a donation model built in to Legacy Letters.

Overall, the start-up and entrepreneur community is really supportive. Everyone I’ve reached out to, whether I’m asking to get coffee or just pick their brain, has been generous with me.

What inspires you?
There’s ups and downs to starting a business, but I try not to look at the big picture too much. Instead, I try to focus on the next step I can take to grow a successful business. It’s easy to become overwhelmed—I have to get a lawyer, an accountant, a logo—but if you know your end goal and take it one step at a time, that makes it a lot easier.

Interview by Robin Donovan