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Teen girls earn their way to nation's capitol

Displaying a few of their specially designed sail and hang glider tote bags are Girls with a Dream entrepreneurs, left to right, Alison Mason, Desiree Champagne, Ella Ban and Ella Fainaru-Wada.

John Jackson/ Argus-Courier Staff
Published: Monday, December 10, 2012 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 4:10 p.m.

In the midst of a still floundering economy, there are small business success stories in Petaluma. One of the smallest, and most successful, is Girls with a Dream, a home-operated company created by four enterprising Kenilworth Junior High School girls.

The “dream” is to raise enough money for all four to go on the school's annual field trip to Washington, D.C.

The girls — Alison Mason, Desiree Champagne-Terrell, Ella Ban and Ella Fainaru-Wada — initially thought along traditional lines like bake and cookie sales, but the concept quickly grew into what is a thriving multi-product business. Along the way, the girls, all 13 years old, have had to deal with business basics — everything from concept to design, to production, to delivery and other important steps like marketing, pricing, and, of course, taxes.

The products offered by Girls with a Dream vary greatly. They are chosen at regular meetings of the board of directors (the entire team), with choices based on what the businesswomen can make simply, what they can sell and what materials are available.

Current offerings in their holiday catalogue are striped and frosted votive holders, lavender sachets, chocolate chip cookies and doggy love treats.

Their most popular offerings are hand-designed bags and totes made from retired San Francisco bay sails and used hang glider sails. The unique tote bags come in a wide variety of colors.

Champagne-Terrell said the most difficult part of the business is the actual production. “Finding time to get together to make things is difficult,” she explained.

Fainaru-Wada said each of the partners contributed. “We have the work divvied up,” she said. “For example, Ella (Ban) makes the cookies. She makes the best cookies.”

Everyone has contributed to the product ideas.

Mason's father saw the sachets online and gave his daughter the idea they were something the girls could create.

Fainaru-Wada kept seeing the bags and totes and was convinced the girls could make and sell them for much less than what she was seeing in stores. Working with her mother, she figured out how much it would cost for materials and how much they would have to make the bags for to make a profit. The result is one-of-a-kind bags at prices that rival Black Friday bargains.

The girls said marketing hasn't been a problem. Although they have a website, www.girlswithadream.com, the majority of their orders have come from showing their products and their catalogue to friends, teachers and others at their school.

“We got a lot of orders from teachers,” Champagne-Terrell noted.

“We also sold them at the farmers market and that helped out a lot,” Mason added.

While the business is going well, the girls haven't yet met their goal of raising enough money to send all four of them to Washington, D.C.

“We each have to raise different amounts,” explained Mason.

“We're getting there,” added Fainaru-Wada.

The success of their enterprise has allowed the girls to think about helping others, and they are now donating 10 percent of their profits to the Valley of the Moon Children's Foundation to help abused children.

All agree their planning/production meetings are as much fun as business.

“We eventually get down to work,” Ban said. “Ella (Fainaru-Wada) helps keep us on track.”

Running their business is, of necessity, a part-time effort for the partners.They agree school comes first and they are also involved in sports. Mason and Champagne-Terrell are both on the Kenilworth volleyball team and Champagne-Terrell also plays softball.

The girls agree that once they reach their goal, the business will continue.

“It is such a great experience, why would we want to stop? asked Champagne-Terrell. “We're working with friends we'd be hanging out with anyway.”

(Contact John Jackson at johnie.jackson@arguscourier.com.)

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