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Greenville Business Magazine

The Tiny Tassel: Builds Its Business Through Digital Marketing Strategy

May 11, 2022 03:46PM ● By David Caraviello

Mimi Striplin clearly remembers the date: June 1, 2020. That was when demand for the unique tassel jewelry she had been selling for five years took off, to the point where her website crashed. 

That was when she had to suddenly think about expanding her small team, of keeping more supplies on hand, of opening a brick-and-mortar storefront. That was when an online business started with $500 began the transformation into a retail force that’s now poised to exceed $1 million in annual sales.

“It was pure chaos,” Striplin recalled, “in the best way ever.”

Now, the business called The Tiny Tassel operates out of a colorful store in downtown Charleston, has been expanded to include clothing and accessories, and has been featured on everything from network morning shows to business programs. 

It’s all powered by Striplin, The Tiny Tassel’s founder, owner and creative force, who’s built her business through a savvy digital marketing strategy backed by vivid photographs ready-made for social media.

“I didn’t really have a plan,” Striplin said. “I look back now and kind of cringe, because I was truly going off this belief and faith in the business that I started to grow. I knew that when I decided to leave my full-time job that it would be the source of income that I would have to support myself from.

“And it really lit a fire underneath me. Because when I decided to leave my full-time job, it was like, ‘This is all or nothing,’ and it was really exciting to feel that motivation.”

‘OK, this is a real business’

A Spartanburg native, Striplin moved to the Lowcountry to attend College of Charleston, and after graduation began working in a menswear store. One year later, she opened an Etsy shop to begin selling the tassel earrings she was making on the side. 

She worked in the menswear store during the week, and on weekends found markets or pop-up shops where she could sell her tassel jewelry. She started to develop a local customer base in addition to the one she had online, and realized it was time to take the leap.

“It was super gratifying, because I was able to physically create something and then have customers shopping from all over the world find my products,” Striplin recalled. “I’ll never forget the day that someone made a purchase on Etsy who was not like a family member or a friend of a friend. It was just a total stranger, and that was kind of the lightbulb moment of ‘OK, this is a real business.’”

It was, and soon afterward the media took notice - the “Today” show, outlets in the United Kingdom, countless blogs and platforms, all of them attracted by colorful pieces striking a bright, almost optimistic tone. 

It was after one of those media blitzes when Striplin’s website crashed from all the demand.

“It was very overwhelming,” she said. “I can truly say that we were not ready for that as a business. Because it was just me.”

Suddenly, The Tiny Tassel was at that crossroads so many other small businesses face: how to scale up, while still maintaining the uniqueness of products whose personal nature attracted all those customers in the first place. 

Even today, many pieces at The Tiny Tassel are still handmade. So Striplin began to expand her line, first into clothing designed by her mother Keiko Striplin, who studied at Bunka Fashion College of Tokyo. She added other curated brands, with an emphasis on those led by Black women, who remain underrepresented on the downtown Charleston retail scene.

The strategy to scaling up

Striplin added a collection of beaded jewelry that she and her sister design, but are made off-site. 

“That’s allowed us to scale,” she said. “That was almost like a saving grace for us. And it’s the same with our clothing — my mom designs and hand-makes every piece, and we’ve been working now with a small factory to be able to gradually transition to having some of our pieces outsourced, using our patterns and designs.

“It’s really been a learning experience for us to be able to communicate that to our customers, who kind of latch on because they love the story behind handmade and the different family facets in our business. So it’s been special to be able to grow and have our customers stick with us, even though we’re changing every day.”

Even though the Spring Street store is currently The Tiny Tassel’s lone physical location, Striplin calls it her “flagship”— hinting at more to come. 

“We have such a large customer base in Texas and in Dallas, specifically, where my sister happens to live, so we always joke and say that’s our next Tiny Tassel,” she said. 

“And so who knows, maybe that will come in a year, maybe that’ll come in five years. But right now we’re really focusing on how we can continue to just strategically plan and set goals for our team here in Charleston, and really setting systems in place to grow this business.”

And in the meantime, serve as a beacon for other Black and Asian small business owners in the South. 

“Here in Charleston, I don’t see enough of me represented,” Striplin said. “I would love, love, love for this brand to be not just about selling new products, but also an inspiration to other women and girls who look like me but never see themselves portrayed. I was 22 or 23 when I started my business with $500 saved up. I want to encourage them, and show them what’s possible, and that they can do it.”