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The Business of Breast Cancer Awareness

5/14/2009 --

Ross BBA doesn't stop working just because it's summer.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Samantha Kelman, BBA '10, didn't intend to start a business when she entered a three-day walk for breast cancer while still in high school. But in her quest to raise the $2,100 entry fee, Kelman transformed from fundraiser into entrepreneur when she printed plain white and navy t-shirts with the slogan "Save Our Women." She charged $10 apiece, sold out immediately, and hasn't stopped since.

Kelman was just 10 years old when she lost her grandmother to breast cancer, and raising awareness about the disease has been a personal cause since then. The success of her Save Our Women t-shirt line motivated her to take the next logical step: By launching an apparel line she could better contribute to the cause. She entered the Ross BBA Program and quickly discovered that growing a business while maintaining good grades (not to mention a social life) would be a challenge.

"Managing the stress levels Ross can provide you with is good practice for the business world," she explains. "I wasn't setting the curves in OMS [Operations and Management Science], but I was learning how to balance school and my business, which was crucial."

Today, Save Our Women offers gear for men, women, and children, including yoga apparel and accessories. Kelman (pictured in Save Our Women gear at the Ross School's Och Fitness Center) estimates the business has sold about 8,000 products in boutiques across the U.S. and Canada, as well as through its website, saveourwomenstore.com, and individual house parties. All proceeds (after operating costs), estimated at $100,000 to date, go to such causes as the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, Canadian Cancer Foundation, and the American Cancer Society.

Now a corporate partner with Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Save Our Women has donated about $60,000 to the organization and has committed an additional $3 minimum per sale.

To get the word out about her merchandise, Kelman targets her peers through social media and other viral marketing tools. "I market using a Facebook group, so I can send out emails and messages if there's a related event going on in Ann Arbor or on another campus," she says.

Save Our Women house parties are a new way of getting the word out about the products. Individuals host people at their homes to raise awareness or fundraise for a particular event. Save Our Women also employs student representatives across the U.S. and Canada on college, high school, and middle school campuses to rally for the cause and sell merchandise.

Kelman is set to graduate with her BBA degree next spring, and says she doesn't know if Save Our Women will be her sole venture after Ross. She hopes to grow the business enough to draw a salary in the near future.

"People always ask me if I want to do Save Our Women forever," says Kelman. "I don't know. It depends on where it goes. If I could make it big doing this, I'd be happy."

What's certain is Kelman's passion for breast cancer awareness. "The easiest part of all this is keeping the motivation to keep pushing forward," she says. "If you're really passionate about something, it doesn't seem like work. At Ross I've learned how to conduct business professionally. But the entrepreneurial spirit is something you have intuitively."

—Leah Sipher-Mann



For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat, (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847, bernied@umich.edu