May 12, 2023 - News

A Utah community college project becomes a viral fashion sensation

A Chelsea Reece dress modeled in Manhattan. Image via Chelsea Reece.

Satin billows over a dream in suburban Utah, where a community college project transformed into a fashion business worth hundreds of thousands of dollars — overnight.

Driving the news: Provo dressmaker Teresa Jack is scrambling to fill orders for a party dress she designed last year and planned to create a business plan as part of an entrepreneurship class this spring at Salt Lake Community College.

  • Instead, her videos of the dresses went viral on TikTok, and her assignment is becoming a lucrative career.

Two simple features made the knee-length dress stand out, Jack told Axios:

  • A stretchy "shield" allows the wearer to spin the skirt to a full circle without showing their underwear;
  • Its full-size pockets are hidden in the folds of satin — a rarity in women's formalwear — and they're sewn for even weight distribution to avoid tugging at the waist.

Catch up quick: Jack posted about the dress on TikTok in late January to seek potential customers for a focus group — her first assignment in SLCC's "Everyday Entrepreneurship" program.

  • Thousands saw the video and many tried to order the dress, but Jack didn't have the capital to start manufacturing; it seemed she'd launched her business without meaning to.
  • "Three days after we started class, she called in tears: 'I need $1,500 to order some dresses,'" her teacher Jon Beutler told Axios.

Of note: Jack almost didn't sign up for SLCC's course because she didn't have enough cash to pay the $600 tuition and order a sample of the dress. Beutler secured a last-minute scholarship to enroll.

What happened: After a quick scan of fundraising options — "Credit cards? Do you have any savings? A rich uncle?" Beutler asked — Jack opened for pre-orders.

  • She posted another video of her friend twirling in the three-sizes-too-big sample dress at the Utah State Capitol, linked an order form on her profile and went to bed.
  • She awoke to find more than a million views on the video and hundreds of orders, pre-paid in full.

The intrigue: Jack credits TikTok's algorithm for the unexpected exposure, most of which came from users who don't follow her.

  • To keep the buzz alive, Jack flew to her family's home in New York City for spring break, posted a Craigslist ad for dancers and paid them $35 an hour to throw on sample dresses and pirouette around Manhattan for short videos that also have hundreds of thousands of views.
  • TikTok is an underrated business tool, Jack says — if you know how to use it. She said she "learned the language of TikTok" from a past job with a startup and has long been interested in marketing dynamics on social media.

The big picture: That fused with her decades of experience sewing and designing clothes as a cosplaying theater kid to bring about Chelsea Reece — the business name Jack finally settled on weeks after it accidentally launched.

  • "I can't be sure about much in life, but I am sure that this is exactly what I was put on earth to do," she said. "It's the accumulation of all of my skills and all of my dreams in my life."

Details: The dresses cost $250 and are sold in about 10 different colors.

  • You can also buy matching dog bows and leashes.

The latest: Chelsea Reece has amassed about $200,000 in revenue, Jack said, and fans are following along with her business education.

What's next: The first orders are arriving next week at a Lindon warehouse Beutler helped Jack rent, and Jack expects to introduce new styles in the next month or so.

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