Student start-ups: Tees for Bees

From mechanical engineering to charity aspirations

Credit: 
Supplied by Kelly Butler

Some of the most interesting alumni stories over the years have come from graduates who have gone on to start their own businesses and watch them thrive.

And that’s exactly what alum Kelly Butler is currently experiencing with her start-up Tees for Bees.

Tees for Bees manufactures tee shirts that work to raise awareness of the necessity to protect bees while donating 10 per cent of the profits to the organization Bee City.

Although established as a charitable start-up, Butler’s road to the company’s creation wasn’t exactly linear.

Butler graduated from mechanical engineering at Queen’s in 2016. Realizing she didn’t want to pursue a career in the same realm as her degree, the Queen’s alum made the decision to go into business management. Following graduation, she worked for a global management training program in Toronto for Labatt Brewing Company. Even though Butler says people often think her work sounded glamourous, she recalled feeling unhappy and stressed-out for the majority of her time with the company.

This is where things took a turn for Butler: “One day at work, someone told me about e-commerce and told me about student start-ups out of Queen’s, so I put up a website one day on a whim”, she told The Journal of the start to Tees for Bees.

So why did Butler choose bees?

“I wasn’t really that invested in the bees before starting at Labatt but I loved the environment, wanted to do something with nature, ‘save the bees’ was a big campaign at the time and I thought it would be a great business”, she said.

As of now, Butler has officially quit her job at Labatt and is working on Tees for Bees full-time while waitressing to make some extra money.

Her company has teamed up with Bee City as its official partner and she’s now working to meet with more registered non-profit organizations. Butler hopes to continue spreading her environmental message and raising money for the cause.

One of her favorite parts of the job is working on the “Queen Bee” section of her website, in which she partners with social media influencers to help promote her brand while simultaneously helping them promote their talents.

Moving forward, Butler is moving to Southeast Asia to take advantage of the inexpensive cost of living and public work places to work on the growth of her company. She’s also looking forward to meeting new people and making connections for her business abroad.

Butler also plans to expand the Tees for Bees line to offer more apparel including a baseball hat featuring an image of a bee and shirts in new colours.

“My life has taken a 180 from being in an office in downtown Toronto at 1 A.M. working on Excel spreadsheets,” she said.

In addition to having learned to run an entire business, Butler says the biggest thing she’s learned from her experience is the variety of options available to students after graduation.

“Your options after university are not limited to working for a company – I have all this energy to work and get to work with all these charities, and that is not what I felt at all before.”

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