Student Small Businesses: Freshman Belan Ngo Crafts Business with Homemade Apparel

Freshman Belan Ngo’s crochet designs are heavily inspired by fashion trends she sees on social media platforms, whether it be TikTok, Pinterest or Instagram. “I saw videos on TikTok, actually. There was this one girl who was making a heart crochet hat, and I couldn’t find a tutorial on YouTube, so she helped me with it and sent me different videos to learn off of,” Ngo said. “I also check people’s Instagrams and see what’s most popular at the moment and see if I can turn it into a crochet item.”

Metallic flashes of a crochet hook bob between ropes of sage-green yarn as freshman Belan Ngo meticulously constructs the first item in her new line of products for her Depop business: a woven, white-trimmed miniskirt.

From crafting and selling colorful duct tape wallets to frilly crocheted hats, Ngo has always had an eye for transforming her pastimes into profit. However, unlike many other student entrepreneurs, Ngo began her business journey in 2015, when she was only nine years old.

“On YouTube, that was where I first saw a duct tape wallet, and that was where it was trending at the moment. But I thought they were so expensive,” Ngo said. “So my dad took me to Michael’s, and we just bought the duct tape, and I became good at it, and my parents thought it was a good idea for me to sell them.”

In her first year of business, Ngo made around $300 selling duct-tape creations to her classmates. 

By 2016, she had transitioned to an online model to sell slime via Instagram and eventually started a Depop account (@belanngo) in 2018 to resell vintage clothing and, more recently, crocheted hats, hand warmers and skirts.

Ngo manages to keep her business endeavors ahead of the trend by researching on social media and staying well-connected with the interests of her peers.

“A lot of people have been looking for crochet items, and it’s starting to become super popular on Instagram. It’s been a good money-maker,” Ngo said. “My friends tell me a lot about things. A lot of the time, I’m on my phone and I’ll check my messages and they’ll say something new. I would be like, ‘That’s a good idea,’ and I would catch along with it before it starts getting big again. That’s what happened with the skirts. They sent it to me, and I made it, and now it’s just starting to become big.”

Despite her relative success, Ngo encountered difficulties along the way; from dealing with critical customers to tracking down lost shipments, she learned to adapt to the ins and outs of running a small business.

[The hardest part is] keeping track of everything, making sure I have it, talking to customers. Because they’re vintage, some of them might have flaws; if you don’t catch them, sometimes they complain.”

— Belan Ngo

“[The hardest part is] keeping track of everything, making sure I have it, talking to customers. Because they’re vintage, some of them might have flaws; if you don’t catch them, sometimes they complain,” Ngo said. “USPS lost several of my packages, and I have to refund the buyers out of my own money, which is really difficult because I basically gave it away for free.”

But in confronting these challenges, Ngo received an abundance of support from her friends and family, especially her parents, who assist her with many of the professional issues that Ngo cannot deal with on her own. 

“My dad, whenever I get any new orders, he’s always the one who drops them off at the post office. And my mom always buys stuff off of me and helps me with USPS and them losing my packages,” Ngo said. “I’d say that they are my biggest supporters.”

Ngo’s customers appear to be more than satisfied — her Depop account has accumulated over 200 positive reviews, averaging at five out of five stars. 

Ngo can spend up to six or seven hours on a single project, making sure to prioritize the quality of her pieces.

Crocheting is really difficult and because it’s handmade, there will be some imperfections, but they will be really not noticeable because she tries to get rid of them.”

— Luca Ngo

“Crocheting is really difficult and because it’s handmade, there will be some imperfections, but they will be really not noticeable because she tries to get rid of them,” Belan Ngo’s sister and junior Luca Ngo said. “I’ve seen her unravel the whole thing, even if it’s hours of work, just so she can redo it again so that it looks better.”

While Ngo is making thousands of dollars each month with her business, she still considers the endeavor a hobby, continuing to prioritize academics and taking time to pursue personal projects for her own pleasure.

“Crocheting has been a great hobby for me,” Ngo said. “Seeing my customers with their items makes me very happy.”