Covid-19 has caused unprecedented devastation for business owners across the country. But some are not only making it work, they’re using these troubling times as a springboard for innovation, entrepreneurialism and activism.
Below are five bright young women and teenagers who are innovating in the face of the pandemic —and helping people along the way. They’re baking, designing, managing, donating and coming up with ways to brighten the world during these uncertain times.
Adrienne Hedvat, 20, and Brigitte Hedvat, 22, founders of U Envi
In 2019, sisters Adrienne and Brigitte Hedvat were fresh off the launch of their sustainable clothing brand, U Envi.
While attending college full-time in North Carolina, the sisters managed to churn out a collection of garments made from upcycled and donated material. Even their packaging was biodegradable. U Envi sold out of inventory and geared up for their next collection.
Then Covid-19 hit. And protests against racial injustice reached a fever pitch, which hit home for the biracial sisters—their mother is Puerto Rican and their father is Iranian. They were raised in Connecticut but were always encouraged to be proud of their heritage.
Growing up, “we knew that we were not going to be like everyone around us, and our mother would make us feel pride in that,” said Adrienne. “She would tell us to use that to our advantage and shine. ‘Wear whatever you want to school. If it makes you happy, so what?’”
The year 2020 inspired the sisters. No longer in school, they were able to focus on their brand and its message to the world. They launched a successful line of facemasks made from discarded pin bags made for designer shoes. They also donated proceeds to Save the Children, The Black Feminist Project and to reforestation efforts in Puerto Rico.
The pandemic has, in a way, helped the sisters focus their efforts. It has also caused many Americans to embrace their sustainable message.
“There’s a lot of talk about making eco-conscious changes right now,” said Brigitte. “We’re realizing that the lifestyle here is not going to be sufficient.”
Christianna Alexander, age 15, CEO of Sweet Christi’s
Kids typically don’t like to wash their hands. But it’s more important than ever amid Covid-19. It’s also why 15-year-old Christianna Alexander came up with an adorable solution.
“I saw that kids were using adult soap or baby soap. I wanted to make something just for them,” Alexander said.
At age 12, Alexander started making kids’ soap products from scratch out of her Jacksonville, Florida home. Now under the brand Sweet Christi’s, the soaps resemble delectable popsicles and chocolate bars while her bath salts come in play milkshake containers. They’re not edible, but they’re fun to use—and they’re vegan/non-toxic in case kids ever get the wrong idea.
When Covid-19 hit, Alexander’s products became critical.
During the pandemic, she has continued making Sweet Christi’s soaps, sometimes churning out 50 items a day after school to meet demand. She upgraded her shipping process and revamped the packaging to make it even more enticing; her sugar scrubs now come in a play ice cream container, for example.
Alexander is working on going wholesale and hopes to sell her products in stores. She is confident that customers love them.
“Kids usually wash their hands for five seconds, but I hear with my soaps they go for 20,” said Alexander.
Jennifer Fang, 16, founder of nutssosweet
Jennifer Fang said she would have “100 percent not” created her baked goods company nutssosweet if it hadn’t been for Covid-19.
“Definitely, the most positive aspect of Covid-19 is the fact that it has led me to think outside the box,” said Fang.
After moving from China to Austin, Texas three years ago, Fang fell in love with her new home. When Covid-19 hit, she found herself in a city in crisis, with plenty of time stuck inside the house.
“Of the cities that I’ve lived in, this is my favorite so far and I wanted to give back to the community,” she said.
Fang always cooked with her parents, and she has a knack for baking. So, she created the brand Nutssosweet, selling homemade granola, spreads, breads and air-fried donuts that come in gluten-free, vegan and keto. She gives 80 percent of her profits to the Austin Disaster Relief Network.
Fang is keeping the operation small and local for at least the next two years while she finishes high school. She delivers exclusively in Austin and has raised $1,000 for the ADRN. She’s planning on majoring in business and economics, and eventually starting a bigger venture.
“I see myself in the future starting an innovative and speculative business to provide positive changes in the world,” Fang said. “But right now, I understand that this is the most that I can do, and that I can do well.”
Gabby Goodwin, age 13, CEO of Confidence by Gabby Goodwin
For parents of Black girls with natural hair, care options have been severely limited during Covid-19.
Confidence by Gabby Goodwin is a popular line of plant-based products just for them.
“We want girls to love their natural hair,” said Goodwin, 13. “Also, we want their parents to help them in that journey.”
Gabby said that, when she was little, she would always lose her barrettes. She became fixated on creating a line of barrettes that didn’t fall out of her hair. After much nagging, she finally convinced her mother Rozalynn to help her start a business.
For six years, Gabby and Rozalynn had been managing the barrette line out of their South Carolina home (although they are manufactured in China). Later, they released hair care products (made in Atlanta) which are intended to create a more seamless experience for parents and their girls with natural hair.
When Covid-19 hit, Gabby was initially disappointed. She was supposed to sell her products at various canceled trade shows and expos. But eventually, she saw an opportunity.
“Since all the hair salons are closed, we saw that people really needed help,” Gabby said.
Gabby bundled her existing hair care products into one purchase and marketed them as an at-home system. Then, she watched them fly off the (online) shelves.
“We’ve had the best months that we’ve ever had during the six months in the pandemic,” Gabby said. “A small pivot can make the biggest difference.”