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Life Lessons: Grade 12 students start small business during COVID-19 pandemic

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A pair of Strathcona County Grade 12 students are keeping busy in between online classes—by running their own business.

Quintin Dunham and Jessica Wolfrey design, create and distribute tongue-in-cheek T-shirts and socks that feature phrases like “I was social distancing before it was cool” and designs that incorporate toilet paper.

Socks designed by Jessica Wolfrey and Quintin Dunham. Eric Beck/Global News

The Ardrossan teens came up with “Spirit Grad Wear” while on a social distancing walk on March 22.

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“It was my 18th birthday. We had nothing better to do. We were thinking of ways to make a little light out of a bad situation and make a little extra money,” said Dunham. “Some kids I know are very upset that we aren’t able to spend our graduating year in the classroom. It’s our last year and it’s supposed to be fun.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Will students return to Alberta classrooms this school year? Call is Dr. Hinshaw’s

The teens decided to start making “Class of 2020” shirts for their peers. In less than a month, Dunham and Wolfrey had more than 70 orders.

“We didn’t expect it to go so far so fast, but it did,” said Wolfrey.

“Most of my classmates have bought shirts and their parents think it’s hilarious,” said Dunham.

The designs expanded to include teachers, parents and beyond.

A shirt designed by Jessica Wolfrey and Quintin Dunham. Eric Beck/Global News
“[We decided to make shirts for teachers] because we recognized that was a big change for them too. Their whole job is teaching kids and they enjoy seeing them,” said Wolfrey. “That’s been taken away from them. It’s a big change for them too.”
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Dunham’s mom, Roxanne, runs a local craft business. She loaned her equipment to help the teens get started on their venture.

“The kids were going through such an upheaval. I just wanted them to keep busy and have their brains being used,” said Roxanne.

“They are learning so many life skills. Customer service, fulfilling orders, taking ownership and initiative.”

“You have to do it all yourself. You don’t have an instructor. That’s been different,” said Wolfrey.

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Both Dunham and Wolfrey plan on attending post-secondary next year, and agree the skills they are learning now will help them later on in life.

“I’m going to MacEwan for a Bachelor of Commerce. I guess I’ve always been a bit of an entrepreneur. I started a lawn care company when I was in Grade 10,” said Dunham. “We’re determined to pay for [post-secondary] on our own and this is one way to do that.”
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A shirt designed by Jessica Wolfrey and Quintin Dunham. Courtesy: Quintin Dunham

Dunham said $1 from every T-Shirt will be donated to the Strathcona Food Bank.

READ MORE: Edmonton school asks for tech, food donations during COVID-19 pandemic

Running a fledgling business is not without challenges, as they learn to use technology and equipment they aren’t familiar with, but Dunham said the end result is all worth it.

“The most fun part is seeing people’s reaction to the shirt and all that. It’s bringing a smile to their face during these uncertain times.”

If you’d like to order apparel you can do so here.