As a student at the prominent Henry W. Grady High School in Atlanta, Thabiti Stephens had some friends who came to class in fancy cars while for others, school lunch was the day’s only real meal. That wealth inequality bothered Stephens at a young age and stuck with him once he entered Morehouse College, where he is currently majoring in business marketing. “I knew that I wanted to start a company that focused on giving back.”
Today, the college junior is the CEO of Steps by Stephens L.L.C., an affordable shoe company that produces unisex leather and canvas shoes. “We design, manufacture, and retail our shoes—the whole nine yards. We oversee every step,” Stephens says.
Stephens first came up with the idea in 2010, a week after high school ended. He spent much of that summer mapping out the business, designing the shoes, and researching manufacturing options. Stephens incorporated the business in late 2011 and began selling shoes six months later. He came up with $25,000 in startup funding, which was gleaned from his own savings and that of his new business partner and college roommate, Malcolm Conner, 20.
They used the startup capital to produce, market, and distribute their footwear, carrying an initial inventory of 2,500 shoes. The company sold an average of 55 pairs a month, or 330 total, the second half of 2012, generating about $20,000 in revenues. “In the first two months of 2013, we were averaging 108.5 sales a month, (selling from the initial 2,500 inventory) resulting in a little more than $13,000 in revenues,” Stephens says. To date, the company has donated $4,000 to local homeless shelters.
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