When Isabel Hall was 16 years old, she turned her passion for thrifting vintage clothes into a business.
With the help of Etsy, a peer-to-peer e-commerce platform for buying and selling handmade and vintage goods, Isabel created a shop for upcycling items she found at thrift stores. Over time, she shifted her focus to different DIY projects she found on Pinterest until she settled on making hot cocoa gifts. “A lot of people…bought [them as] party favors. About each winter I get a huge corporate order from a business doing holiday gifts,” Isabel says. The junior environmental engineering major started selling these treats in the winter of 2013, which she now says is her most successful seller to date. Last winter, she made about $3,000–triple what she made in her first year.
Although Love and Cocoa (Isabel’s Etsy shop) is fun, her passion project is a youth STEM summer camp she created last year with a fellow UB engineering student. The inspiration for Inspiring Future Engineers of Western New York came from their shared interest in working for themselves and providing their younger siblings with meaningful activities during the summer. “We came up with this idea for a camp where kids would participate in workshops … they would work on two or three projects, and we have a little competition … We make sure that at the end of each week, every kid goes home with a prize or two,” Isabel says. The biggest struggle for them was finding a location due to their lack of funds and nonprofit status. After a series of rejections and with nine kids between the ages of 9-13 signed up, Isabel and her partner were able to secure a classroom space at the Harlem Road Community Center.
With a year of experience under her belt, she now knows how to focus her efforts to reach the next level of success. Isabel said she’s committed even more of her time and money to marketing and seeking nonprofit status this year. She has worked on Inspiring Future Engineers of Western New York with the support of the Buffalo Student Sandbox program.
She is also a recent recipient of the Western New York Prosperity Fellowship, and worked as a student assistant for the Erie Hack competition.