By Emmalee C. Torisk
Vindicator, Youngstown, Ohio.
Cecelia Haren had a lot of doubters.
Not many believed, as she did, that her dream of opening her own business could one day become a reality.
It didn’t come easy, however. The 24-year-old, a 2008 graduate of Lowellville High School, illustrated this during two of Pam Iarussi’s senior economics classes at her alma mater Friday morning.
“I had to get my priorities straight,” said Haren, who began devising the business plan for what eventually would become Cece Couture — a store that sells special-occasion gowns and accessories, and aims to make both girls and women look and feel “fabulous” — while still a student at Youngstown State University. “I had to decide what’s important to me.”
Doing so often meant staying in her room, estimating startup costs and defining her target market, instead of going out with friends.
Even so, it took Haren “two full years” to put together her plan. Her ideas changed, and her research changed, and she ended up with something completely different than what she started with.
But that plan, Haren said, is “what got me the money to open my business.”
In 2012, she was funded for $180,000, despite others telling her that “no bank in their right mind” would give her — then, a 22-year-old blonde, she recalls — such a loan.
“Do it. Don’t let anything hold you back,” Haren said afterward, when asked what she hoped students took away from her presentation.
This, of course, was in addition to a better understanding of all the planning and work that goes into following one’s dream.
Cece Couture, 339 Boardman-Canfield Road, opened in January — only weeks after Haren graduated from YSU with her bachelor’s degree in business administration with a focus in fashion. She majored in marketing management and minored in entrepreneurship.
Haren’s path to her degree wasn’t an easy one, either.
Though she began as a fashion-merchandising major, she found that the work wasn’t as challenging as she’d hoped and quickly lost interest.
Then, inspired by her social-worker mother, she tried social work, but discovered that she “didn’t enjoy listening to people’s problems as much as [she] thought.” Her next move was to major in psychology, which she dropped after realizing that advanced degrees likely would be required for a job.
With business administration, though, Haren “fell in love.” It was as simple as that.
Iarussi said that lesson — “don’t stop looking until you find what is right for you” — is just one of many Haren, a former student of hers, was able to share with others Friday.
She invited Haren to speak to her class after spotting a TV commercial for Cece Couture last week, and was amazed by Haren’s being “able to accomplish so much in such a short amount of time.”
“I figured she would be the first female president some day … and I’m still not ruling that out,” Iarussi said with a laugh. “She had all the qualities needed to do anything she put her mind to.”
Andi Hrusovsky and Nick Piccirillo, both seniors at Lowellville, agreed in thinking that Haren’s presentation featured a lot of good information, and also functioned as a bit of a preview for what they’d learn in class in the coming weeks.
“I liked how organized she was, and how she knew what she wanted to do,” Hrusovsky said.
“She wasn’t afraid to take risks,” Piccirillo added.
Haren acknowledged, for example, that she probably won’t make a profit — or get a paycheck — for another few years.
It’s evident that for Haren, though, making money isn’t the sole measure of success, Iarussi explained. Instead, she seems to truly enjoy what she does.
“I don’t think you can be a success in anything in life without the passion you see here,” Iarussi said.