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Wofford student launches 'Swell' brand of sunglasses

By Jenny Arnold
For the Herald-Journal
Saturday, January 25, 2014


For an 18-year-old college freshman, Mitchell Saum has swell business sense.

The Wofford College student, a native of Pawleys Island, has started Swell Bamboo Sunglasses, a company that sells lightweight, durable bamboo sunglasses perfect for those who love the ocean and water sports.

"I love the beach, and it's a common occurrence to see people lose their sunglasses in the ocean," Saum said. "I think a lot of people can relate to that."

People pay a lot of money for quality sunglasses, which typically sink when they hit the water. Swell glasses, because they're bamboo, float.

While still a high school senior, Saum contacted manufacturing companies in China and received a prototype for his idea in the mail. When he opened the package, the glasses were smashed. But even with the damaged pair, Saum was able to convince his dad, Allen Saum, to put up $2,000 so he could place his first order. He sold his first 100 pairs to friends.

During Wofford freshmen orientation last summer, Saum approached Jeremy Boeh, director of The Space in the Mungo Center, which prepares Wofford students for the real world through entrepreneurship and professional readiness programs.

"He said, 'Hey, do you do businesses?'" Boeh said. "I thought he had a great product, and we saw the need to be there and help."

Boeh has been assisting Saum, who comes to The Space two to three times a week. Saum has been marketing Swell glasses, which retail for $80 a pair, on Instagram, where he has 36,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter. After selling the first 100 pairs, Saum placed another order for 1,000, and his mother, Ellen Saum, has been shipping the glasses to customers from the family's home.

The greatest thing about assisting young entrepreneurs like Saum is that they're willing to take a chance, Boeh said.

"They don't know everything, but they're willing to try," Boeh said. "That's what makes an entrepreneur. They may make errors and they're willing to learn from them."

Right now, The Space is assisting 57 student-driven projects, including 16 for-profit businesses like Swell. One student is working on starting a vegan cupcake food truck, while another is developing a condiment sauce. Social media marketing and video game development also are projects in the works by students.

"From a T-shirt to vegan cupcakes and anything you can think of in between - it's happening here in Spartanburg at Wofford," Boeh said.

Next up for Swell is the launch of the company's website, www.swellshades.com. New products also are in development - different models of the shades. Hats and stickers promoting the business also will be available.

Saum started college undecided on a major. Because of his business venture, he's now majoring in Chinese after his experience trying to talk with sales people in China for his company. He's also considering a double major in business.

"Maybe I won't sell sunglasses the rest of my life, but I'll be doing something in business," Saum said. "International business is what I'm interested in."