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Local teen entrepreneur earns prestigious scholarship offers

by on May 10, 2019 7:23 AM

STATE COLLEGE — Like many high school seniors nearing graduation, 17-year-old Zoe Brown has experienced “senioritis” — that sense of restlessness that is part anxiety about the future and part boredom with the status quo. However, unlike many high-school seniors, rather than reacting with a decline in motivation, she’s channeled that restlessness into a successful new business venture.

In early 2019, the State College Area High School student launched “RitzyBabes,” a vintage haute couture jewelry business after searching for affordable designer jewelry and only finding pieces that cost thousands of dollars.

“I was looking around online and found all these cool vintage things like [designer] buttons and key chains and things that are significantly less expensive,” Brown said. “I decided to try turning them into necklaces.”

Brown purchased some jewelry making equipment and started developing relationships with online sellers from as far away as Paris and Australia from whom she acquires authentic vintage buttons, charms and other baubles from high-end brands like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Supreme. Through some trial and error, Brown learned how to create jewelry that she felt would be nice enough to sell. She opened a shop on etsy.com and publicized her new business via social media. Her first customers were mostly local friends she said, but now she has customers from all over the country.

In some ways this young entrepreneur is following in the footsteps of her mother, Susan Brown, who has owned Spaces Design, a State College-based interior design firm, for 15 years.

“She’s taught me a lot, and she’s helped me a lot — even when I might not think I want her help,” she laughed.
When she begins school at the University of Michigan this fall, she will be following in the footsteps of some other relatives, even as she forges her own path.

“My uncle did the ROTC Marines Option in college and that was something I always thought was pretty cool … I really admired him. My grandpa was in the military, too, and all of my great-uncles were in different branches,” she said.

Brown will become a midshipman in the US Navy, having accepted a four-year NROTC-Nursing Option scholarship from the Department of Defense — one of less than 10 people to be awarded this scholarship this year. Upon completion of her nursing degree, Brown will be committed to completing four years of active duty with the Navy and an additional three or four years of reserve status.

“I want to be a nurse, and being a nurse in the military was something that really interested me,” she said. “I will be the first female in my family to serve in the military. That’s kind of a cool thing to be.”

According to Brown, she’s been working toward this goal since her freshman year. She loaded up her plate with community service opportunities; participated in varsity sports such as cross country and lacrosse; worked at Tannenbaum Farms (her grandparents’ Christmas tree farm in Centre Hall); earned straight A’s; and spent a lot of time on college and scholarship applications, especially writing essays and interviewing. 

She also applied for and was offered an Army ROTC nursing scholarship, in addition to several other scholarship offers she received from different universities. All told, the value of all of the military and merit scholarships she has been offered totals over $800,000.

Ultimately, Brown chose the University of Michigan because “I wanted a school with a good four-year nursing program. Michigan just built a new nursing building and they are investing a lot of time, money and energy into their nursing program. And I liked the atmosphere of the school. It has a similar feel to State College.”

“(Zoe) has worked hard, quietly and honorably leading from the front while working toward achieving her mission,” said her mother, Susan Brown. “To say we are floored and awed is an understatement.”

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