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ODU Fashion Student Selected for National Conference in Detroit

By Noell Saunders

Elyse Penn, an Old Dominion University student who is double majoring in fashion merchandising and digital marketing, is setting the gears in motion to become a top designer of women's clothing.

This year, Penn was selected along with 21 other female students from across the country to attend the 2018 Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) National Conference and Business Fair for a business pitch competition in Detroit.

Penn, an Atlanta native, started her clothing company, Elyse Arvella, in 2015. The fashion label aims to be an affordable luxury clothing line for teenage girls and women. The company sells items including jackets, jeans, skirts, dresses and pants.

Penn said ODU's Strome Entrepreneurial Center helped her find invaluable resources for her business venture and make the connections so she could attend the conference.

"I apply to everything on campus," she said. "I was surprised that I got this opportunity. The Strome Entrepreneurial Center has connected me with so many people and is a big help."

Nancy Grden, executive director of ODU's Strome Entrepreneurial Center, said Penn's desire to succeed has taken her far.

"Elyse is a very self-motivated entrepreneur and designer," Grden said. "While her company, Elyse Arvella, is included at ODU's student entrepreneur store, THE Monarch Way, the experience and contacts she received at WBENC are invaluable for her growth."

The Women's Business Enterprise National Council National Conference and Business Fair is the largest conference of its kind for women business owners in the United States. The event is attended by businesswomen; senior executives and procurement representatives from Fortune 500 companies and the U.S. government, and partner organizations whose missions align with WBENC's vision of expanding women's business opportunities in the marketplace.

At the conference, Penn connected with investors and company officials from retail giants such as Macy's and JCPenney. Her networking put her in line for her latest venture, a partnership with a clothing boutique, Hello Holiday, in Nebraska.

"It's exciting. It's my first major collaboration with a company," Penn said.

At ODU, Penn is involved in a variety of entrepreneurial endeavors, including serving as the executive of communications for the ODU Entrepreneurial Club. But Penn's abilities don't stop there.

She also has a knack for photography. She takes her own photos for her business' website. She was also an intern with the University's Photography Department. Before arriving at ODU, Penn attended free sewing and photography classes in Atlanta and participated in Atlanta International Fashion Week. She said she knew early on that she was destined for a career in fashion.

"I would make bracelets for my church and attend little events around town," Penn said. "My fashion classes at ODU really helped me decide that fashion was going to be my future."

Penn's next step will be targeting major department stores for her brand. After she receives her bachelor's degree in two years, she wants to pursue a master's at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), a top institution for fashion, film and photography.

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