Magie Le is making her way through senior year one stitch at a time.
The fourth-year international development studies student said she began a creative side project to prevent herself from stressing too much about life after graduation. Since the start of fall quarter, Le said she has made more than 50 hand-embroidered crewnecks featuring original designs of her favorite television characters. Without any previous embroidery experience, Le said she taught herself the basics by watching TikTok embroidery videos last summer.
“Quarantine was the best time because I had so much free time to do whatever, and all the materials were not as expensive as other hobbies,” Le said. “I had a bunch of sweatshirts lying around so I started embroidering (my designs) on that, and that’s where everything started.”
As Le posted her progress videos on TikTok, she said she received support from her viewers because of their shared interest in her work. This encouragement inspired Le to create her own designs, drawing inspiration from her favorite cartoons and anime. She said she began to include characters from shows such as “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Avatar: The Last Airbender” in her work after realizing the official merchandise for these programs was not as visually dynamic as it could be.
“I always saw a lot of anime merch from stores like Hot Topic, but they were never anything that appealed to me,” Le said. “The designs were not ones that I was really interested in … so just kind of tracing the designs and putting it into like a collab with a Nike swoosh or something like that I think added a bit of pop.”
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As Le continued to post her original designs on TikTok, she said she felt a sense of connection develop between herself and her audience as they bonded over these TV shows. A TikTok video where Le showcased her signature design – the Naruto character Itachi Uchiha inside the trademark Nike swoosh – garnered more than 20,000 views in one day.
Le said her family was involved in her process while she was living at home during the pandemic. Le’s mother Mai Chung said the support from Le’s TikTok followers encouraged her daughter to monetize her crewnecks. Along with Le’s father, Le said Chung helped her plan and execute the transition of her interest to a business.
“It was just growing and growing and growing,” Chung said. “People kept asking her to make the crewneck shirt to order, and she was kind of overwhelmed.”
Before making the crewnecks available for purchase, Chung said Le created a sample to time how long it took to create one, finding that a crewneck took between 10 and 15 hours to complete. After calculating a selling point based on material costs and the time that goes into making a crewneck, Le then decided to announce product drops on her embroidery TikTok and Instagram pages. Chung said she encouraged Le as she developed her business despite how daunting the process seemed initially.
“Sometimes a hobby can turn into a business one day,” Chung said. “It’s a lot of work to do, but it helped her to build her confidence.”
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As she began promoting her products, Le said she drew on marketing experience she gained while working for UCLA Housing as well as off-campus internships to engage her audiences while organizing product drops. Le said communicating with all of her customers via social media was a key aspect of ensuring her audience stayed excited throughout the purchasing process.
In addition to her parents, Le also discussed her business with fourth-year computer science student Stephanie Doan, who Le met through a professional business fraternity. Doan said she realized how powerful TikTok can be for audience engagement through watching Le’s experience. Doan said Le’s experience running a small business during quarantine was an enticing talking point for Le to bring up in interviews for post graduation jobs.
“Businesses can grow really quickly (on TikTok),” Doan said. “The way that she conducted all of her public relations – like organizing the drop and using Instagram as another medium for that – was very organized.”
Despite the popularity of the Itachi crewneck, Le said she will be slowing down her rate of production as she graduates from college and begins working full time. Although she plans to only do a few orders at a time as opposed to major product drops, Le said she appreciates how her business served as a creative outlet while she was off campus during remote learning.
“During the pandemic, that (creative) side of me had to be like momentarily shut down because of everything happening,” Le said. “This was a new way for me to still maintain my creativity and be artistic.”