Making her passion count: Chelsea Arday '17 on looking beyond the classroom

On Commencement Day, Chelsea Arday's degree was not the only thing she was excited about completing. She was also particularly excited about her dress, made all by herself. The dress, like her certificate, bore evidence of yet another journey she had perfected. 

“Making my dress, for such a special day for a lot of people, was a great way to let people know that they could trust me with their look and also my way of sharing something I’m passionate about,” said Chelsea. “From an early age I loved to sew. I would visit my dressmaker, asking for pieces of fabric to make clothes for my dolls. By junior high school, I had started experimenting with designs for people, and between YouTube, and my seamstress' shop, I learned how to sew.”

Chelsea’s journey as a dressmaker was, at best, unconventional. When Chelsea got admitted into Ashesi, she figured she would have to put her passion on hold, while navigating Ashesi’s rigorous curriculum. However, between two classes in her junior and senior years, she realized she could explore her passion as a business.

“In both my Branding and Marketing classes, I worked with teams to model a brand around a fashion line,” she explained. “This helped me learn a lot about building a brand. Also, initially, I had hesitated about starting a business, as I had an overblown sense of how much capital I needed to start. After learning about lean startups in my Entrepreneurship class, I got more confident about taking the step with limited resources.”

So in her final year, Chelsea converted part of her room to a makeshift shop, and in her free time, she would make cutouts of dresses her friends had requested she make for them, and spend the weekends sewing off campus.

 

“Any free time I had, I would sew,” she explained. “Ahead of my final semester in Ashesi, a couple of people asked me to sew stuff they'd seen me wear for them and i took up that challenge. Even though it was difficult combining school work with sewing, I started growing a small client base.”

Slowly, by her final year, she started Essence by Chelsea Arday, a fashion line for women’s clothing.

“I've always wanted to start my own clothing line,” Chelsea shared. “The name came about quite randomly while chatting with a friend. But after carefully considering the name I'd chosen, I realised that Essence speaks volumes about the worth of a person: your character, fears, beliefs and values. So through Essence by Chelsea Arday, my goal is to help young women project themselves through what they wear.”

Today, Chelsea is growing the brand steadily. Out of her bedroom-turned-workshop, she services a steady stream of clients. She's excited about gradually expanding her brand into a household name eventually. In the meantime, she's focused on becoming a better dressmaker and entrepreneur.