Entrepreneur cousins start a Disney-inspired small business
Cousins Carrie Happel and Devon Harp came up with the idea for their small business while eating breakfast with their family in a New Jersey diner. They were scrolling through photos on their phones of Disney-inspired T-shirts when the question was posed, “Why couldn’t we do this?”
At first, they asked the question in a joking manner, but the more they thought about it, the more they realized they would like to give it a try.
“(Devon) majored in graphic design, and I just love graphic design, so we both decided to start designing T-shirts and selling them,” recalled Happel, an Illinois State University senior.
The cousins founded Zip-A-Dee Tees two years ago. They started with five designs and have steadily grown their selection to spotlight a number of their favorite Disney movies, characters and memorable features of the entertainment company’s theme parks.
“It’s fun to do because I’m learning so much,” said Happel, a marketing major in the College of Business. “Being able to take that stuff that I learn in the classroom and apply it outside and actually see how it works is really cool. We’re slowly growing. There are a lot of other companies similar to us. It’s hard to (distinguish) yourself. You have to do it with your creativity and the quality of your designs and the quality of the shirts you use.”
Disney is in the business of making dreams come true, and last year, one of the cousins’ wishes came to pass while they were visiting its theme parks in Florida.
“I couldn’t even form words because I was just so shocked,” Happel recalled. “My cousin and I were just in the parks, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone wearing our shirt. It was the coolest thing. It was crazy to see that.”
She went on to describe how seeing someone sporting one of their designs at Disney was a long-term goal for Zip-A-Dee Tees, but they never expected it would happen so soon.
Although they live in different states and juggle the demands of work and school, the cousins talk regularly about new shirt ideas and try to meet up as often as they can.
“We go to Disney (World) quite often. It’s just so much fun going down there,” Happel said. “You don’t have to be a kid. It sounds corny, but I really like the vibes. Everybody’s just so happy and in a good mood. Yeah, it’s crowded. Yeah, it’s hot, but everybody’s just happy to be there. I connect it with family time. My favorite childhood memories are going to Disney because it was when I got to hang out with my whole family.”
The last weekend in February, the cousins and other members of their family gathered in Florida to celebrate Harp’s 30th birthday in style by running a 5K together at Disney World.
“There were three different races that weekend,” Happel said. “There was the 5K. That was on Friday, and then Saturday was the 10K and then Sunday was a half marathon. I only ran the 5K. My cousin ran all three of them. It was crazy crowded. I think around 22,000 people ran the 5K.”
The course wound through Epcot’s World Showcase and included photo opportunities at many iconic Disney locales. Many of the racers dressed in costumes for the event and Devon donned a Snow White costume while her other family members were the Seven Dwarfs.
It was Happel’s first race, but next year, she plans to run the Disney 10K as well and perhaps even the half marathon.
In addition to being a fun, memorable experience, the trip had the added benefit of stirring the cousins’ creative juices as they raced through the park and soaked in the magical sights and sounds of Disney.
Speaking of how she enjoys being able to combine a memorable experience with their business endeavors, the Redbird noted, “It’s nice because we have that vacation, but it’s also fun to talk about the business. It’s not like a chore. We get to talk about our ideas in person and brainstorm. We were at her birthday dinner and we were writing down ideas.”
In true Disney fashion, they have learned the truth of the line in the Disney film Mary Poppins: “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and — snap! — the job’s a game.”