From baby shower gifts to a booming business, SewPretty Designs has grown from a hobby into a successful small business. Owner Shena Allen was inspired by the personalized and monogrammed gifts she received at the baby shower for her daughter Nyla in 2017. Shena started making gifts for friends and neighbors to give them the personalized ‘wow factor’ that she received. Her side-hustle took off, and she officially started full-time in 2018 and applied for her business license in 2020.

SewPretty Designs credits word of mouth in the Chattanooga community for her early success. Her customers seek her out for the t-shirt and embroidery designs she offers as much as for her custom work. SewPretty Designs became a licensed manufacturer of Shena’s sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, in 2021 and is making custom products for chapters across Tennessee. With more resources, Shena hopes to add on other Greek vendors and organizations as clients, too.

Shena was investing all her early profit back into the business but with her business’s growth overtaking her capacity, she needed more funds so she could stock more inventory and purchase a more powerful embroidery equipment. After thorough research, Shena found that she needed a standalone commercial embroidery machine that would speed up production and allow her to customize a wider range of products. The commercial embroidery machine is critical to SewPretty Design’s niche of custom items as embroidery lasts longer than vinyl on the t-shirts, blankets, hoodies and other items.

After receiving no response from the banks Shena contacted, she found Pathway Lending through an online search. “I saw that Pathway was for women and minority businesses in Tennessee, and I thought this is me, and when I received a response right away, I thought ‘this could be it.” SewPretty Designs received a microloan along with access to Pathway’s business advisory services.

“I’ve heard that if you haven’t been in business for more than two years, banks usually don’t like to lend to you and that was discouraging. To me the first two years are most critical and not being able to get funding is how businesses end up not moving forward. Because of funding from Pathway, we’re able to grow faster now and keep up with the demand.”

Pathway Lending pairs microloan lending clients with its Business Advisory Services team for individual coaching that helps clients navigate the loan application process before the loan and grow and manage their businesses after the loan. Shena connected with Pathway’s Business Advisor of Marketing to start framing out a new website to support online sales of her products. This kind of support – the combination of capital and capacity-building – Pathway knows is catalytic to the advancement of businesses and communities.

Small business owners find success when they’re supported by a community. For Shena, her network of support includes her husband, her sorority, other entrepreneurs, and her team at Pathway Lending.

“Having a cheerleader and someone in my corner has really impacted my success. My business is something I’m passionate about, so just having people who are supportive has been very helpful. Being in business by yourself can be frustrating because it’s all on you, so having a network is critical.”

Before the loan from Pathway Lending, Shena was hesitant to market her business and services for fear she wouldn’t be able to turn around orders in a timely manner.  Now with pop-up shops, a new website, and more inventory on the horizon, SewPretty Designs is bursting at the seams with new opportunities.

“One thing I say is don’t give up. Don’t compare yourself to others because you don’t see what it takes on the back end. So stay focused on what your dream is and keep doing the work and it will pay off for you.”