Deborah Umunnabuike

Deborah co-founded Avant Gaudy, an online vintage clothing store that has recently grown to international proportions.

Class of 2010 | Political Science

Deborah Umunnabuike's online vintage store, Avant Gaudy, was profiled in BusinessWeek's 2007 list of 25 best businesses started by entrepreneurs under the age of 25.

When Deborah launched her online vintage clothing store in the summer of 2005 with her sister Jessica, she brought to the business a love of both fashion and challenge.

"We didn't know much about market research, managing accounts, or shipping, but we did have the belief that what we didn't know we could acquire. We did lots of research and lots of reading,” says Deborah, a political science major who expects to graduate in 2010.

Deborah later recruited Avant Gaudy's third and fourth partners, University of Chicago alumnus Vincent Choi (AB '06), who currently holds the title of Creative Director and has overseen the deployment of new products and several site relaunches, and Mariefe Nellas, a graduate of Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, and incoming CEO.

26,000 Visitors From 30 Countries

Just two years after it launched, Avant Gaudy had more than 26,000 visitors from over 30 countries. It boasts a strong consumer base in Chicago and Deborah anticipates a growing cohort of international customers in upcoming years.

"We do have a growing market internationally and we want to hone in on that and try to understand what the interests are in Europe, Asia and Africa, and how it might align with what we offer,” Deborah says.

Currently, most of Avant Gaudy's items come from the Midwest. In the near future, the founders plan to hire international buyers to seek vintage items from across the globe. Deborah expects to double Avant Gaudy's consumer base within the next year and is currently planning promotional events for the Chicago area.

Running a full-time business while juggling the demands of a rigorous course load at the University is one of the challenges Deborah opted for when she first came to Chicago, though going into her final year, she is transitioning out of her role as CEO and taking on a more advisory role for the incoming CEO.

"It has been challenging and hugely rewarding to juggle the demands of my academics and business over the years," she says. "But I am writing a B.A. thesis and would like to gain corporate experience after I graduate to complement my entrepreneurial background. It felt like the right time to step aside and have someone else take Avant Gaudy to the next level."

This past summer, Deborah recruited 8 full time interns out of an applicant pool of more than 300 for a summer internship program at Avant Gaudy. Applications for business development, marketing, and merchandising came from as far as Berkeley, CA. Avant Gaudy even received applications from more than 20 MBA candidates from business programs such as HBS, Booth, Stanford, and MIT Sloan.

"Reviewing resumes, interviewing potential candidates, and searching for office space took up a lot of spring quarter," Deborah says.

Avant Gaudy was able to receive incubation space this past summer at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship, working alongside Chicago Booth students with start-up companies of their own.

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