By Cassandra McKenna
Every product that Susan Vanriel-Smith offers stems from daily life with her children.
“My biggest inspirations were my first two sons,” she shared. “I was first introduced to the world of autism through my oldest—they are both on the spectrum at completely different levels.”
Vanriel-Smith’s second son has helped her realize how different people are and how important it is to accept those differences. Her son, who is non-verbal and only communicates when given cues and with a talking device, motivates her daily.
The products offered by Gifted One Princes are genuinely from the heart. “I live in this world and I have a lot of experience,” she shared. “There are other companies like mine, but I feel like I take it up a notch. I saw a way that I can help others to get through some tough times.”
Vanriel-Smith runs the exclusively online store—that offers apparel, accessories and other products that feature messages related to autism and other disabilities—with a little help from her family and some outside resources. She hopes to eventually expand to vending at pop-up markets.
Gifted One Princes just recently launched in July. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, they did experience some setbacks.
“There are a lot of people unemployed at the moment and though they may want to support you and make a purchase, they can’t because they are not in a position to do so,” Susan explained.
Because she knows that feeling well but is limited financially because of the pandemic, she tries to find creative ways to support other small businesses, like sharing through social media.
Pre-COVID, Vanriel-Smith and her family participated in many Walks for Autism, including at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. While walking may be on hold for now, she’s continued to support the cause by making donations and spreading awareness. She also donates a percentage of the business’s earning bi-annually to support autism research. Eventually, she’d like to donate to local schools that hold special needs programs.
“I am inspired by everyone who works with special needs," she shared. "I have worked with a lot of people over the years and have a profound respect and love for them. It takes special people with hearts of gold to work with the special needs population. It takes a very different kind of person. It isn’t easy, but they can make it look that way.”
Gifted One Princes is truly a family-operated business. Vanriel-Smith handles the day-to-day operations, her husband assists with technical aspects, her sons model products and her oldest son helps with packaging up orders.
Vanriel-Smith has been able to connect with many different people while wearing her Stolen Hearts t-shirt. “I often get stopped and questioned about it,” she shared. “It feels good to listen or offer some advice to that person about what may work for me that they can try. It opens room for conversation without being judged. It is letting others know they are not alone.”
While she works with various artists and printers to bring her creative ideas to life, Vanriel-Smith comes up with the designs for all of the products and each one represents some part of her life. Her children inspired the logo for Gifted One Princes, with the three crowns representing her three children.
“We know how to laugh and it’s the one thing I cherish the most. It doesn’t matter what we are facing. We are able to hold each other up, lean on each other’s strength and get through it. The one thing that we lean on the most is prayer.”
One of their most popular items is the Be Kind t-shirt (https://giftedoneprinces.com/collections/apparel/products/be-kind). Vanriel-Smith’s oldest son experienced bullying in middle school which inspired the message to show love, be kind and be understanding.
The Loud and Clear t-shirt (https://giftedoneprinces.com/collections/apparel/products/loud-and-clear) was inspired by her oldest son who has always struggled with eye contact. “It is one of the hardest things for him to do and he is very insecure about it,” she shared. “It can take away from his self-confidence.”
The message on the Loud and Clear t-shirt says I may not look at you when you speak but I can hear you clearly. Messages like these help to bring awareness to autism and other disabilities, which is something that Susan plans to continue as the business expands.
“I hope to one day be a motivational speaker for the cause,” she shared.
Vanriel-Smith is originally from rural Jamaica, where resources are lacking for people with disabilities. “I would love to be able to bring more awareness to the island, help to open facilities, and offer therapies and schooling to help children and young adults. There is so much I see in the future for us. We have big dreams and goals.”
She hopes that people from all over the world will become familiar with the name Gifted One Princes.
“My hope is to expand. I hope our products reach the homes of many people all over the world. We are currently shipping to Canada, but soon this will be worldwide.”
Gifted One Princes offers quality products made from fabrics and prints that can hold up after many washes, and Vanriel-Smith pays attention to detail, quickly addressing any issues that might arise.
“Quality means a lot to me,” she shared. “I want my customers to feel the love I have for my business. I meet the expectations of the customers. I ensure that they will get what they pay for.”
She also translates this to her packaging, putting personal touches on each one, with the goal of ensuring each customer is happy.
“I think great customer service is exceeding expectations,” she shared. “A great attitude and being knowledgeable about your business and products is also a plus. Customer satisfaction is one of the most important priorities.”
She also puts a priority on resolving issues in a positive manner and working towards gaining customer loyalty.
I know all of this to be true because I recently purchased some items and was very impressed. My favorite item was their canvas bag. Customer service was excellent and shipping was fast—I placed an order on Sunday and my package arrived by that Tuesday morning!
Gifted One Princes hopes to add more products to their site and are currently working on homemade organic natural skincare and hair products. “We have been working on this for months now, perfecting our formulas and getting everything right before we add the line to the business,” shared Vanriel-Smith.
Despite some setbacks, Vanriel-Smith continues to push forward. Even though they have faced some challenges and hard times, her children continue to give her strength, hope and motivation.
“We know how to laugh and it’s the one thing I cherish the most,” she shared. “It doesn’t matter what we are facing. We are able to hold each other up, lean on each other’s strength and get through it. The one thing that we lean on the most is prayer. We pray together.”
At a time when the world could use more understanding and kindness, it is wonderful to see a business that finds different ways to encourage others while also spreading awareness about autism and special needs.
Visit Gifted One Princes at https://giftedoneprinces.com/ or on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Gifted-One-Princes-LLC-111514053964176) or Instagram (https://giftedoneprinces.com/).
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By Cassandra McKenna
We Shine Apparel and Accessories (We Shine) is an online store run by two young entrepreneurs, Bryson and Justin, with a little help from their parents and some outside resources. The store offers clothing and other products that feature uplifting and encouraging messages with the hope of inspiring others to believe the good things about themselves and to help promote kindness and positivity. In the immediate future, the young duo plans on expanding their business to offer canvas wall art, long sleeve shirts, sweatshirts and more accessories.
While they have been generating ideas for their business since 2016, the boys first formally named, promoted and launched We Shine in November 2019 while preparing to participate in an upcoming Kids Pop-Up Market in their community.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, they did experience some setbacks.
Their plans to attend every weekend craft fair and sales event within a one-hundred-mile radius had to be put on hold along with their pending offers from local coffee shops and stores to showcase their items and expand their market.
In lieu of not being able to physically attend sales opportunities, their mother Jaclyn began to learn more about social media group sales. “It’s been quite the learning curve,” she shared, “but we are trying our best to let the world know what they are offering and why it matters!”
We Shine truly is a family business.
“As Co-CEOs, both Bryson and Justin are heavily involved in creative designs and operations,” Jaclyn shared. “They both have shirt designs that they alone created. Bryson often wakes up with ideas for new designs and Justin always wakes up asking about orders to fill for the day. He is the taskmaster that ensures orders are prepared and shipped out swiftly. Mom is essentially a COO, keeping operations and fulfillment running smoothly, and Dad has been the primary investor and constant source of support and inspiration.”
When Bryson was seven years old and Justin was three, the boys came up with the idea for their business while they were out shopping for new clothes for the upcoming school year. Shortly into their shopping experience, Bryson quickly noticed that none of the shirts represented who they were. Most of the commercial inventory featured messages such as “lazy but brilliant” and other statements like “addicted to video games” and “talk to the hand”. He had no interest in wearing apparel that did not represent who he was and even said that “Mom wouldn’t buy these anyway.”
The boys were mobilized by the fact that there is a gap that exists within children’s apparel to uplift and encourage, which ultimately inspired them to move forward with their idea.
He was right. The boys were raised in a home where they were taught to encourage and uplift others—so their mom challenged them with one simple question: “What are you going to do about it?” Bryson thought about the question and decided they should make their own shirts that say what they want them to say. The boys discussed the idea and Justin enthusiastically agreed that it was a great idea.
According to Jaclyn, the boys were mobilized by the fact that there is a gap that exists within children’s apparel to uplift and encourage, which ultimately inspired them to move forward with their idea. From that day forward, Bryson and Justin began calling for family meetings where they would work together to compile positive phrases that they used at home on a daily basis. They did this with the hopes that one day they would be able to share these uplifting messages with the world.
“Over the last three years, we built a list of approximately 70 phrases and words that are design possibilities,” Jaclyn shared. “Bryson and Justin believed that the affirmations we utilize every day would be helpful for people outside of our home to use. So, they focused on building a list with positive and encouraging messages that would help people feel good about themselves.”
Whenever Jaclyn talks about her sons and the accomplishments they’ve made at such a young age, you can tell how proud she is. “Any time a five year-old and a ten year-old—their ages when they made the decision to move forward with We Shine—feel compelled to put themselves out there solely for the purpose of making the world a nicer place, you know that there is something special happening.”
The boys happily invest a lot of their free time into their business They work together to come up with designs, often engaging with design support and offering critiques and suggestions on iterations of their visions. Bryson checks the We Shine email throughout the day to monitor inquiries or incoming customer communications. He personally answers 75% of the email traffic himself, always responsibly cc’ing his mom on the exchanges.
Justin happily owns order fulfillment. Every day, without fail, he wants to know what orders came in overnight, what orders are outstanding (and why), and leads the charge for weighing outgoing shipments, printing packing slips and shipping labels. He is also the lead salesman. His insistence to share information about their business with anyone who will listen has garnered a lot of business over the last few months!
The pair also include personalized notes of appreciation with each order.
“The boys are grateful for every order and every person who supports their business. They write thank you notes—using their absolute neatest handwriting—to express their appreciation for everyone who chooses to spread love and positivity.”
Originally starting out as a way to inspire kids through positive messages, their business has grown into so much more. Wise beyond their years, they also acknowledged that adults need encouragement too, so they insisted on expanding their items to meet this need. According to Jaclyn, their hearts are what make We Shine unique.
Their most popular items? the Amazing Bracelet (click here), The ABCs of Me Journal (click here), and the "Smart, Kind, Strong, Awesome" t-shirt (click here) top the list.
We Shine focuses on long-lasting and high-quality products. “It was really important to all of us to put high quality messages on high quality materials,” Jaclyn explained. “We didn’t want to dilute the brand by choosing the cheapest shirts available and sacrificing the integrity and confidence that We Shine represents.”
The shirts are long-lasting and are made with very high-quality fibers, which is why they are so soft and comfortable. Many customers also express how much they love the bracelets due to their durability. Jaclyn described the experience that customers have with the business as being genuine, positive and heartfelt.
I know all of this to be true because I recently purchased a few items through their site including a t-shirt that featured the phrase “Be the Nice Kid,” which has a comfortable fit and feel. I also purchased a journal and a bracelet off of their site and I was very happy with the quality of each item and the excellent customer service. I especially loved the personalized handwritten note from the boys that was included with my purchase.
Jaclyn discussed the some of the ways in which their business offers great customer service. “Communication is key,” she said. She emphasized the importance of keeping customers informed of order updates or delays.
The boys are also actively involved with social media, creating their own posts about We Shine and interacting with customers on those platforms. Jaclyn discussed the importance of paying attention to detail as she talked about how their entire team strives to make sure that things are done properly or are promptly corrected when required.
We Shine is rooted in their community by using local vendors and suppliers, as opposed to using less expensive online options, and they partnered with various support systems during their launch and growth process.
Jaclyn mentioned the importance of patronizing other local businesses—two organizations in particular have really stepped up to assist them, Big Thunk in West Hartford and Budget Printers in Hartford. “We sincerely appreciate everyone on our team and have made great strides with everyone’s support,” she shared.
Sometimes, the We Shine team seeks professional graphic design guidance to lend creative perspective to the typography designs, but at other times Bryson and Justin have a clear vision for a design that they want to execute. The boys are actively working on gaining skills that will help them continue to build onto their business in the future.
“Bryson is currently enrolled in a graphic design course, so that he can learn the art of taking ideas and making them aesthetically pleasing images,” shared Jaclyn. “Justin hopes to also learn that skillset eventually and, by then, the two boys will be unstoppable.”
“As their parents, we hope that the pride and sense of self that they are cultivating lasts a lifetime,” she added. “We also want them to see how impactful their efforts to improve the world can be! They are so proud of themselves and truly believe that they are uplifting people and inspiring others to be better and do better. They want to help people and they also want to be successful businessmen.”
The boys hope that they will be the catalyst for a shift in how people treat each other and how they regard themselves.
“They often vocalize that they want to make the world a nicer place because people can be really harsh,” shared Jaclyn. “Who can argue with that? And who wouldn’t support two little boys in wanting to change the world from where they sit? We keep going, because telling them they can’t do it is not an option.”
At a time when kindness and positivity is most needed, it is refreshing to see children leading the way in reminding all of us to encourage and lift each other up, and to be a light in the world that continues to shine.
Visit We Shine online at www.weshine.shop or on their social media pages on Facebook and Instagram.
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