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Caribbean vacations have become my little treat. Last year, I traveled solo to St. Martin and visited Jamaica three times. Right now, I’m planning a trip to St. Lucia. As my plane circles over the tropical rain forest, turquoise sea, and white sand, I often pinch myself: It wasn’t so long ago that I had no home, no job, and no direction.
Back in 2004, I was studying human development at Auburn University when a series of financial setbacks forced me to leave school and move back to my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. Things got tough. Unable to afford rent, I slept on friends’ couches and even moved back in with Mom for a while, drifting between jobs bartending and waitressing.
I did some deep thinking and realized that I wanted to start a business where I could be my own boss. Retail was an obvious choice. I had already begun creating apparel for my college friends in Black and Latino fraternities and sororities at Auburn. My designs — which eschewed Greek letters and shields for graphics with insider references to a particular sorority or fraternity — were popular, and it seemed as though there might be a real opportunity to expand.