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Case of success for UCLan graduate

17 July 2014

Press Office

Entrepreneurial Sarah Howard graduates with a First and has Urban Outfitters stocking her creations

Sarah Howard who graduated from UCLan with a First Class Honours degree and has set up her own business.

An entrepreneurial graduate who set up her own business while studying for a degree at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) has cause for a double celebration this week.

Not only has Sarah Howard graduated from UCLan with a First Class Honours degree in Business Studies, but clothing giant Urban Outfitters is stocking the handmade iPhone cases she creates in her spare time.

The national retailer has ordered more than 650 of the customised cases which will be sold through its website.

Sarah, who is from Southport, originally started customising and selling iPhone cases under the name cutekawaii as a way of keeping out of her overdraft while studying.

“I contacted bloggers and asked them to review my cases, and I sent free products to celebrities including Amanda Hendrick, who is a well-known Scottish model. She started posting about cutekawaii on her blog and social media accounts.”

After being inspired by her sandwich year working for Blackburn-based toy distributor The In Thing, the 22-year-old decided to focus on the business more seriously.

Sarah said: “Customising phone cases started out as a hobby but my work placement gave me a real kick-start to make cutekawaii a success.

As part of my course at UCLan I’d studied modules on business enterprise projects and setting up a business, which taught me what I needed to know to get started. I learnt about marketing too so I knew how to identify my target buyers and promote my products to the right people.

“I contacted bloggers and asked them to review my cases, and I sent free products to celebrities including Amanda Hendrick, who is a well-known Scottish model. She started posting about cutekawaii on her blog and social media accounts.”

“Business is seen as being quite corporate but I’m doing something creative with my degree, which is exactly what I’ve always wanted to do.”

Sarah built up an online following and one customer, a receptionist at Urban Outfitters’ UK headquarters, showed the products to the chain’s buyers.

As a result, Urban Outfitters contacted Sarah and ordered 40 cases in four designs, followed by an additional 85 cases due to demand. The retailer has now placed an order for 540 more cases which will be available from August 2014.

Sarah said: “I can’t believe how the business has taken off or that I’ve graduated with first class honours. It feels really good, especially as it was difficult balancing the business with my studies at times.

“Originally, I wasn’t sure about coming to University but when I heard that UCLan offered sandwich courses I liked the idea of getting some experience while learning. It turned out to be the right decision as without the course and my work placement I wouldn’t have had the knowledge to set up cutekawaii.”

Sarah is now in discussions with Topshop about a distribution partnership and has turned down a graduate scheme to concentrate on cutekawaii full time.

She said: “This isn’t something I feel I could leave and come back to as there’s such momentum surrounding cutekawaii at the moment. I’m going to spend a year focusing on making it a success.

“Business is seen as being quite corporate but I’m doing something creative with my degree, which is exactly what I’ve always wanted to do.”

Sarah was one of a record-breaking 4,600 students who graduated in front of family and friends at Preston’s Guild Hall this week.