Feature Story

A Fashionable Opportunity to Change Lives

November 5, 2013 – by Phuong Nguyen ’10

[Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from the latest newsletter produced by Ohio Wesleyan’s Woltemade Center for Economics, Business and Entrepreneurship. Read the full newsletter.]

Kevin Tung Nguyen (with children at left) and Phuong Nguyen ’10 (right) have founded Ivylish, which will contribute a portion of its profits to aid orphans in Vietnam. The children with them are from Go Vap Orphanage, one of the project’s partner orphanages. (Photos courtesy of Phuong Nguyen ’10)

The Woltemade Center is proud to highlight the great work of two of our very own alumni, Phuong Nguyen ’10, a Corns Business Entrepreneurial Scholar, and Kevin Tung Nguyen, who recently have founded their own social enterprise.

Moved by their relationships with orphans in Vietnam, Phuong and Kevin have founded Ivylish, a company that produces premium hand-crafted jewelry made from the horns of water buffaloes, a common livestock throughout Vietnam. Not only does this provide fair and sustainable employment for many artisans, but 10 percent of profits also will be used to fund educational and job training programs in two Vietnamese orphanages.

After graduating from Ohio Wesleyan with a B.A. in Economics Management, Phuong went on to work with McKinsey & Company Singapore for two years, traveling throughout seven countries. She then spent time as an assistant manager at the Singapore International Foundation and often traveled back to Vietnam to start Ivylish. Phuong is now studying for her MBA at the Harvard Business School.

Kevin studied Economics Management at OWU and finished his degree in Financial Entrepreneurship at the University of Arizona. After that, he went on to handle 16 portfolios of more than $6.4 million in assets at Merrill Lynch, managed projects, and engineered launches of three major fashion and education e-commerce sites. He is now also a junior partner at Radius Online Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia.

Phuong has been volunteering with orphaned children since 2005. She has been frustrated by Vietnam’s lack of a concrete support system for children who turn 18 and exit the child care institutions. Most of them go into blue-collar, low-paid jobs even though many are brilliant students. College tuition and fees are nearly impossible to afford.

Her cofounder, Kevin, is also a social entrepreneur at heart. His family has a long history of crafting fine jewelry in Vietnam, and he has done significant humanitarian work for children affected by natural disasters in that country.

The two have combined their passion to help orphans in Vietnam with their business knowledge and experience.

“It’s really amazing how many invaluable lessons I learned while at OWU. It took me much time to internalize, but now I am grateful to be able to apply many tips from Dr. [Alice] Simon’s Consumer Behavior class or Professor [Joan] Manter’s Marketing class in building up Ivylish,” said Phuong, smiling when remembering her time studying economics at OWU and working with the Woltemade Center. She also credits many of her skills to the Corns Entrepreneurship Program.

The Ivylish launch date [was] November 4, 2013, with a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. … Learn more via Facebook at www.facebook.com/ivylishusa or Twitter @ivylishusa.