July 19, 2019

This 12-year-old’s bow-tie business is helping rescue cats and dogs get adopted

Meet 5 young social entrepreneurs whose artisan enterprises are helping to support the causes they care about.

Darius Brown is only 12, but he launched a bow-tie business for people and their pets. He also donates bow ties to help rescue dogs look their best—and get adopted. Photo by Kirstin Sinclair/Getty Images

Each week, The Renewal Project shares three stories from around the country that highlight the innovative solutions people are creating in their communities. This week, meet five young social entrepreneurs who are out to change the world, starting in their own neighborhoods. What are the innovative ideas in your hometown? Tell us at info@therenewalproject.com.

Dapper dogs: Twelve-year-old Darius Brown loves wearing bow ties. When he was 2, Darius was diagnosed with speech and comprehension delays, but as he grew older, he found a passion for making and wearing bow ties, which gave him a confidence boost. Now he’s combining his love of bow ties into a bespoke business that supports a cause he’s passionate about: helping animals.

Beaux and Paws provides both owners and their pets with bow ties. Darius used his business to help animals in need once he realized the devastating outcome that many of them faced after hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017—if displaced dogs and cats were not adopted, they would be euthanized. Darius told TODAY in an interview, “It helps the dog look noticeable, very attractive. It helps them find a forever, loving home… I love everything about dogs and cats.”

Since 2017, Darius has donated hundreds of bow ties to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and when people order his bow ties online, a portion of the money is used to buy more fabric for the bow ties that he donates.

Scent of success: The three enterprising Gill brothers—Collin, Ryan and Austin—did what many people dream of doing: They started a business. The only difference between them and other entrepreneurs is they are ages 13, 11, and 8, respectively. For extra pocket money, the boys started making scented candles in their Indian Head, Maryland home. The venture took off and is now called Frères Branchiaux. The brand is sold in 36 different stores.

From the start, the brothers decided they would be social entrepreneurs. The Gills give 10 percent of their profits to homeless shelters in the Washington, D.C., area. That amount averages to about $500 a month. “Every time I saw a homeless person, I was always asking Mom if we could give money to them, and this was a way to do it,” Ryan Gill told the The Washington Post.

A busy bee: Mikaila Ulmer was only four years old when her parents encouraged her to participate in a local children’s business competition in her Austin, Texas, hometown. Mikaila got her inspiration from one unlikely source, and one more familiar: a bee sting and a cookbook from her Great Granny Helen. “I didn’t enjoy the bee stings at all. They scared me. But then something strange happened. I became fascinated with bees,” she wrote on her website. “So then I thought, what if I make something that helps honeybees and uses my Great Granny Helen’s recipe?”

Mikaila used her granny’s special recipe for Flaxseed Lemonade and launched Me & the Bees Lemonade, which was a huge hit. She went on to compete on “Shark Tank” in 2015 and earned a $60,000 investment to expand her business. Now 14, Mikaila’s lemonade is available across the country in stores such as Whole Foods and Wegmans. Ten percent of all profits from her lemonade to bee conservation groups.

Mikaila may still be young herself, but she’s mature enough to know that she can have an influence on young social entrepreneurs: “When you have a big voice, make sure that you give others a voice behind you, and that you’re not only growing yourself but helping others grow and giving your expertise to others,” she told CNBC Make It.

The Renewal Project

The Renewal Project, made possible by Allstate, tells the stories of individuals and organizations who are solving problems in their communities.
all stories