For as long as they can remember, Tiffany Melenzio has knitted and sewn. But it wasn’t until quarantine that the UNC junior turned his hobby into a local, black-owned business: Cup of T.
“I’ve been sewing and knitting since I was a kid,” said Melenzio, a double major in drama and psychology. “And during quarantine, I was completely losing my mind, and I saw people recreating Harry Styles’ Today Show sweater.”
This trend led Melenzio to recreate the sweater that inspired the creation of Cup of T, their crochet company that makes handmade clothing and accessories.
“I was like, ‘OK, I absolutely need this (sweater) because I’m obsessed with Harry Styles,'” Melenzio said. “I actually knitted everything, then had cramping hands for two weeks, and was trying to find a more sustainable way to make the things I wanted.”
Melenzio wanted to explore the idea of creating an online business offering quality, handmade, sustainable items such as tops and bags.
At first, Melenzio said they faced issues with speed and tracking the quality and quantity of orders as they were placed. But, as they note in the Cup of T Instagram account bio, “Let’s be real, slow and steady won’t win the race…but it will result in a 100% handmade item.”
However, before the pressure to fill orders began to mount, Melenzio first had to decide where to start his business as a young student.
“I asked my mom because she started her own business when I was in high school, and I asked her what steps she took,” Melenzio said. “Although she sold clothes, it’s still the same path as setting up an online store.”
As a young woman starting a business, the process wasn’t free of struggles or unforeseen challenges, Melenzio said, but they made the decision to keep going.
“I’ve decided that if I love him enough, others will love him too,” they said. “One of my love languages is gift giving, so I decided what better way to do that than to have a business.”
Melenzio describes the involvement of their friends and family in the development of Cup of T as a business.
“I actually talked to my friends through this process and asked them, ‘What should I name these things?’ or ‘Do you think this is a good idea?’ and they would say yes or shoot me down, but that’s basically the process,” they said.
One of Melenzio’s friends to receive the first Cup of T products was Aditi Jain, a junior biology student.
“(Melenzio) sent me three of the bins and (they) sent me the pictures of them and we were texting, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, they’re literally amazing,'” Jain said.
Melenzio asked Jain to help name some of the tubs available for purchase on his Instagram, including “Clementine” and “Melancholy.”
In addition to the involvement of their on-campus friends, Melenzio’s cousin, Danielle Simms, notes a family connection in the Cup of T naming.
“When I think of Cup of T, I just think of how our grandmother always called us different names for the different components of her tea,” Simms said. “I would be the sugar and Tiffany would be the cup and she would call (Tiffany’s sister) her Milo.”
For Melenzio, the Cup of T name is also special in a more personal way.
“I really wanted to do something that looked like me, and that’s why I always said ‘cup of tea,'” Melenzio said. “It’s like a coincidence that my name is Tiffany, it’s a cup of T, a cup of me.”
As their business grows, Melenzio hopes she will continue to stay true to herself and uplift others.
“People become my most authentic self through my crochet,” they said. “And I really prioritize uplifting voices and ideas, especially black voices and black creatives, and I really want it to reflect something colorful and bright and space-worthy.”
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