A Design Thinker Reinvents Jewelry
Isabelle Hodge ‘20
UIF Fellow & Founder of Shesabelle Chandeliears
Isabelle Hodge ‘20 has always been intrigued by the idea of having her own business. In high school Isabelle opened an Etsy store where she sold a new type of earring that transforms any regular stud earring into a stunning dangle earring. Isabelle drew inspiration from a pain point her mom often faced: a metal allergy that limited her to a few hypoallergenic pairs of stud earrings.
When Isabelle arrived at Smith her passion for innovation led her to embark on an entrepreneurial journey that started at the Annual Grinspoon Entrepreneurship Conference, where she pitched Shesabelle Chandeliears during the conference’s Shark Tank event and won first place. This victory inspired her to participate in Conway’s annual Elevator Pitch Contest, the Smith Prize in Entrepreneurship and the 2017 Draper Competition, which opened her eyes to the breath of entrepreneurial resources at Smith.
“I realized that college is for doing the things you weren’t able to do in high school, including starting a business, which I didn’t have the resources for in high school.”
With that realization in mind, Isabelle enrolled in the entrepreneurship course as well as a SolidWorks class during her first J-term at Smith to help her become a better entrepreneur and jewelry designer.
Isabelle was accepted into Valley Venture Mentors’ pilot Collegiate Accelerator program, which provides students with the time and space, as well as the tools and the mentorship to bring their business ideas to life. Students met daily for three months to develop their ideas during business model canvas workshops, breakout groups, and weekly presentations. “It was an intense few months, but I learned a lot about my idea and about myself,” Isabelle reflects.
One of Isabelle’s weekly customer discovery tasks included making phone calls to members of her target audience. Isabelle focused her market research on younger girls who would enjoy the playfulness of the product in addition to people who have recently gotten their ears pierced. “When you get your ears pierced you can’t switch out your earrings so I was looking into the possibility of trading in your backer for Shesabelle Chandeliears to change it up without disrupting the healing process,” she explains. Although these phone calls pushed Isabelle out of her comfort zone, they helped her better understand her customers’ needs and pain points.
When Isabelle returned to campus as a sophomore, she decided to put the venture on the back-burner for the year. “During the accelerator I realized Shesabelle Chandeliears would take more time and money than I have right now and I kind of wanted to build myself before building the business,” she reflects. Instead, Isabelle decided to pursue another passion of hers: design thinking. “As you can tell by Shesabelle I like making things so I enrolled in the semester long design thinking course,” she says. During the course, Isabelle learned that
“design thinking is all about empathizing with people and their problems and then finding innovative solutions that have the person and their experience at the core of the design.”
Having quickly mastered tools like the 3D printer and the laser cutter at the Design Thinking Initiative’s maker space, Isabelle became a Design Partner, helping other students use design thinking tools. This year, Isabelle was also selected as one of Smith’s University Innovation Fellows (UIF) - a student program of over 700 fellows run by the d.school at Stanford. Through UIF, Isabelle promotes innovation, design thinking and entrepreneurship on campus. Throughout her involvement with the Design Thinking Initiative, Isabelle recognized similarities between design thinking and entrepreneurship practices. Although both are problem solving processes, entrepreneurs often start the process with the product idea and think of the customer second, while designers start with the users and derive a solution based based on their pain points. “Some of the problems I started running into with Shesabelle were because I saw it as a good idea without really keeping in mind that it is solving an actual problem that people have,” Isabelle reflects.
During the summer of 2018, Isabelle had the opportunity to put her entrepreneurial and design tools into practice during an internship with a Smith alumna in San Diego. Vivian Sayward ‘88, who started her own sportswear company Vivacity Sportswear in 2011, reached out to the Design Thinking Initiative to recruit current Smithies for an entrepreneurial summer experience at her company.
“She wanted to find sustainable solutions for textile waste and I was really interested in being part of the project,” Isabelle says. “It was a great experience working with an alumna and it was interesting to see what life after Smith could be like.”
Isabelle Hodge ‘20 is a Computer Science and Sociology major from Texas and California. She is not only passionate about entrepreneurship and design thinking, but also knows her way around a camera. As a Design Partner, Isabelle puts her love for filmmaking into action by creating promotional videos for the Design Thinking Initiative. This year, Isabelle will re-enter the Draper Competition and further explore her interest in pursuing a startup idea with a social impact.
Connect with Isabelle on LinkedIn