Zoë Damacela
Zoë Damaclea Apparel

Chicago, IL
NFTE Class of 2009

Zoë grew up in a single parent home, with a mother who was constantly struggling to make ends meet.  The two lived on food stamps and moved constantly,  spending many nights sleeping in relatives’ guestrooms, on floors, and in basements.  “I didn’t know that things could be better,” says the teenager.

Her greatest life lesson came at the age of eight. The young girl desperately wanted a scooter, but her mother couldn’t afford the $60 price tag. So she told her daughter that if the girl could raise half the cost of the scooter, she would come up with the rest.  “I pulled out my construction paper, my markers, and my stickers and started to make dozens of greeting cards,” Zoë recalls. Working all day selling greeting cards for $2 each, by nightfall she had the $30 she needed. “That’s what sparked my interest in business.”

Over the next five years, the young entrepreneur sold jewelry and artwork. But when Zoë got her first sewing machine as a gift, she found her true calling.  She took a sewing class and made clothes for herself and her friends. 

At the age of 14, Zoë began selling custom made clothes.  “I felt a great sense of pride because I made the money myself,” she says.  But the teenager didn’t have the business skills that she needed to figure out how to price her merchandise. “I was charging $40 for dresses that should have cost $250.”

So during her junior year, the teenager decided to enroll in the NFTE entrepreneurship course at Whitney Young High School.  “It totally changed my outlook on business, she says.  “NFTE taught me how to be more responsible and more focused.”  She created a powerful business plan for Zoë Damacela Apparel, which took top honors at the NFTE Chicago Citywide Business Plan Competition, and then went on to place 2nd in the NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge.

Since starting her own business, the high school senior has sold dozens of original designs.  She pays herself $20 an hour and reinvests most of her profits in state-of-the art sewing machines and other equipment.

Zoë has worked with Chicago designers Nicole Valeri and Tennille White; and she has extensive experience in fashion show production.  

The young entrepreneur has her own website and style blog; has been featured on Oprah’s Angel Network, The Tyra Banks Show, and even met President Obama in the Oval Office with the other National Challenge finalists last year. Zoë represented NFTE at Ernst & Young's World Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in Monte Carlo.

Zoë is currently attending Northwestern University on a full scholarship.  Eventually, she plans to open her own store.

Zoë’s advice to other aspiring young entrepreneurs:  “Find something that you’re good at and figure out a way to market it.”

You can view Zoë's business plan presentation here.