Meet a Fort Wayne fashion entrepreneur launching a business before she graduates—and helping others

What does fashion mean to you?

To Alexis "Lexi" Heffelfinger of Auburn, clothing and fashion are an opportunity to empower her customers and to make a positive impact on other budding entrepreneurs in Fort Wayne.

“Fashion+Retail+Community+Entrepreneurship+#ShopSmall are all something I am incredibly passionate about,” Heffelfinger says on the website for her brand, Cusp Apparel (@shopcusp), which launched April 17.

Alexis "Lexi" Heffelfinger of Auburn is the Founder of Cusp Apparel.

Starting her own online clothing store is a longtime dream of Heffelfinger’s—and one she didn’t wait until she graduated college to pursue. While studying business administration as a senior at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, she started the planning phases of her business in January 2021.

In the process of creating an affordable and trendy “active lifestyle” shop for women, she’s discovered that launching Cusp Apparel is the perfect way to blend her affinity for fashion with her business knowledge. It’s giving her an outlet to experiment with entrepreneurship and put her skills as a business major to use in a powerful way as she leaves college. It’s also providing her with an immediate job opportunity, as many graduates across the U.S. struggle to secure internships and first jobs during the pandemic’s economic upheaval.

As Heffelfinger began evaluating her options for next steps after graduation, she was inspired by the “entrepreneurial tug,” and with the support of her family and friends, she decided to pursue it.

“(Fashion) was something that I was always interested in, and I decided to take a chance on myself,” she says.

Clothing by Cusp Apparel.

Across the U.S., many student entrepreneurs like Heffelfinger, are making a similar decision. Studies show the pandemic has not quelled young entrepreneurs’ spirits.

Born in Fort Wayne, Heffelfinger lived in Indianapolis briefly as a child before returning to Auburn, where she currently resides about 30 minutes North of the Summit City. She says this is the community she loves and where she intends to stay to grow her business.

“Fort Wayne is such a unique community,” Heffelfinger says. “I liked Indy, but there’s nothing like this area.”

Clothing by Cusp Apparel.

One way Heffelfinger has already seen the benefits of launching a small business in Fort Wayne is in the advice and mentorship she’s received—not only from her professors, but also from area small business owners.

Heffelfinger says that this mentorship was imperative, as she leaned on local professionals and entrepreneurs for advice and assistance in launching her store.

“It was really nice to be able to talk to people who had experienced what I am going through,” she says.

Clothing by Cusp Apparel.

She also drew inspiration from the corporate and local retailers she has worked for as a sales associate and keyholder. These experiences, as an employee and shopper, have helped her identify gaps in the fashion and retail industry she is eager to fill. Often, the high-quality, personal shopping experiences at boutique retailers comes with higher prices, which are less accessible to her college-aged peers. Meanwhile, the lower prices of large, corporate retailers are often accompanied with diminished quality and sustainability.

At Cusp Apparel, Heffelfinger wants to provide both high-quality experiences and affordable items. She is achieving this by keeping her store as an online-only retailer, which will reduce her overhead costs. Though she is focused solely on women’s clothing for now, she sees potential to expand her inventory in the future.

Cusp Apparel's website.

Heffelfinger’s greatest impact, she hopes, will be on her Fort Wayne community and her peers at the University of Saint Francis (USF), hoping to launch creative ventures of their own out of college. She took a tangible step to inspire fellow USF business students by taking part in the team that created an entrepreneurial program called “Pitch Review Night” this spring. During this event, students were invited to present a business idea before a panel of upperclassman and receive feedback. The goal was to encourage students to act on their dreams, and make connections.

“For me, as a young entrepreneur, this is not something I had the opportunity to do,” Heffelfinger says. “It’s something I’m really excited about and, personally, I’m working so hard on it because if this was something I could have done, it would have helped me a lot.”

Alexis "Lexi" Heffelfinger of Auburn is the Founder of Cusp Apparel.

Though USF business students have had ample opportunities to pitch ideas to their professors, Heffelfinger and her team see the benefits of pitching an idea to other students as their peers, who might be more likely to use their services. They hope to foster a safe, creative environment where students don’t need to feel the pressure of being graded on their pitches, too.

Heffelfinger says a lot of students have great ideas for businesses, but just don’t know where to start when it comes to bringing their visions to life.

“Just getting some feedback is a great place to start,” she says. “It could help a student revise and grow their business plan and, hopefully, help them determine their next steps.”

Clothing by Cusp Apparel.

Since launching Cusp Apparel, Heffelfinger has been enjoying the unique journey of opening a business during college. Regardless of where things go from here, she won’t consider it a failure.

“If my story can inspire someone, that’s all that matters,” she says.

More photos from a Cusp Apparel photoshoot

Clothing by Cusp Apparel.

Clothing by Cusp Apparel.

Clothing by Cusp Apparel.

Clothing by Cusp Apparel.

Clothing by Cusp Apparel.

Clothing by Cusp Apparel.
 
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