MALLORY ESTOPINAL AND ZOE GANCH are full-time LSU students in their final year of architecture school. They're completing projects, looking for jobs in industrial product design and, in their spare time, running a jewelry business, ETCH (www.shopetch.com).
The best friends started ETCH on a whim in January 2014. Since then, the business has racked up more than 900 orders, 10,000-plus Instagram followers and a $4,500 prize from the Louisiana Business & Technology Center's Venture Challenge, as well as its Audience Choice award. Last month, they presented ETCH at Southern Design Week's market.
"We take everything we learn in architecture school and apply it to our designs," says Estopinal, a New Orleans native.
ETCH was born when Estopinal used the school's laser cutter to make Ganch a necklace for her birthday. Crafted of basswood, the clean, modern design drew compliments. People wanted to know where they could buy the pieces. Estopinal and Ganch were familiar with Instagram's online shops, where vintage boutiques and other retailers post pictures of their merchandise and followers make purchases using Paypal.
"We said, 'Why don't we do an Instagram and sell these designs?'" Estopinal says. "Turnout was great. ... It really appealed to our target audience and age range."
In April 2014, ETCH was a finalist in LSU's Venture Challenge, "a Shark Tank-type competition," Estopinal says. With their winnings and additional funding from a successful crowdfunding campaign, the duo invested in a laser cutter and website.
After graduation, the pair plans to bring their laser cutter to New York and put together a fall collection while seeking work in the design industry. "We'll hopefully get cool jobs and keep ETCH going in New York, while keeping all the connections here, because Louisiana has been great," Estopinal says.